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Canada: Stephen Harper’s Environment Watchdog to Resign After Series of Stinging Reports
Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/
Source Date: Friday, January 18, 2013
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Country: Canada
Created: Jan 22, 2013

OTTAWA – The federal environment watchdog, Scott Vaughan, is resigning after nearly five years on the job and a series of stinging reports that have occasionally drawn criticism from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government.

“He never expressed frustration to me, but he wouldn’t be mortal if he had not been frustrated and insulted,” said Green Party leader Elizabeth May on learning the news. “I think that he was treated with disrespect.”

Vaughan is to resign as federal commissioner of the environment and sustainable development April 1, two years before the end of his term, to accept a new position as president and CEO at a Manitoba-based think tank, the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

Vaughan, who has post-graduate degrees from the London School of Economics and Dalhousie University, as well as a long history of international experience on sustainable development issues, said in a statement only that he had “largely achieved what he wanted” at the commissioner’s office and was looking forward to the challenges ahead. He declined further comment.

May and NDP environment critic Megan Leslie both said Vaughan has been a thorn in the side of the Harper government because he objectively reported empirical evidence of what was happening to Canada’s environment on a range of issues.

May said he was “respectful and patient,” despite repeated attacks, including at appearances at parliamentary committees where she said Conservative MPs “bullied” him as a hostile witness, instead of reviewing his reports and recommendations.

“I apologized to him once,” May said. “I just thought it was so awful that I apologized on behalf of MPs.”

In an interview last summer with Postmedia News, Vaughan said he had regularly briefed previous environment ministers in the Harper government on new reports, but that this was not as frequent with the current minister, Peter Kent.

“I met with Minister Kent, I think, about half the times I tabled (reports),” Vaughan said at the time. “So it really just depends … it’s really if the minister views this as being helpful, and we’ve obviously briefed other ministers, when other departments are involved.”

Kent was not available for comment Friday, but his office emailed Postmedia News a statement thanking the commissioner for his service and wishing him well in his new position.

May said Environment Canada “turns out reports that misstate where we are on greenhouse gas reductions” so it was valuable to have an environment commissioner saying “well no, there’s no plan and emissions are rising.”

Last spring, Kent questioned the credibility of Vaughan’s spring 2012 report highlighting weaknesses in federal policies on climate change and contaminated sites. The commissioner said the minister didn’t meet with him to discuss the findings, which were accepted by Environment Canada.

“I’m not political,” Vaughan said last summer. “I’m colour-blind when it comes to who I’m talking to with different parliamentarians.

“I think it is important that our work is presented in a factual way and so we present our reports. And what people say, we lose control over it when it’s in the public domain.”

In the same interview, Vaughan said that his office was planning to investigate the consequences of the government’s decision to overhaul Canada’s conservation laws, through changes adopted in July that cancelled thousands of environmental assessments of industrial development.

Leslie said she was “heartbroken” to hear of Vaughan’s departure, but added that he is moving to a reputable organization.

“He has been extremely professional,” Leslie said. “You can’t control when these (job) opportunities arise.”

Under the federal Auditor General Act, the next commissioner will be selected by the auditor general, Michael Ferguson.

May said she hopes the future candidate has a background with international experience similar to that of Vaughan.

The institute’s chairman, Dan Gagnier, who recently served as chief of staff to former Quebec premier Jean Charest, said the organization was thrilled to welcome the commissioner as its new leader.

“He brings a world of experience and a unique Canadian perspective to the role,” Gagnier said in a statement. “His vision for sustainable development is shared by the institute. It is an ideal match.”

(By Mike De Souza)
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