Ontario’s Auditor Report on Province’s Setting of Environmental Indicators and Targets, & Monitoring

The Office of the Auditor General of Ontario recently released a series of audit reports related to the environment in the Province.  One report examined the the value-for-money of setting environmental indicators and targets, and the subsequent monitoring.

Her report acknowledged the importance of the environment and its relationship to the economic health and social wellbeing of the people of the Province.   It stated that decision-makers and the public need an adequate picture of the state of the environment, knowledge of whether the environment is improving or deteriorating, and awareness of underlying environmental problems and risks. To have this picture, there needs to be thorough monitoring of Ontario’s environment, natural resources, wildlife, and agriculture, and clear public reporting.

The Provincial audit found that the Environment Ministry’s air and water monitoring programs are extensive, and respond to legislative and regulatory requirements, inter-jurisdictional agreements and other commitments. However, it found that the three lead ministries have not put into place effective systems and processes for setting targets, carrying out effective monitoring practices, and ensuring data quality and data sharing for certain aspects of Ontario’s environment.

With respect to environmental targets, the audit found that some environmental protection targets lack deadlines and are not evidence based. It also found that when the ministries had set targets, they did not always make them public.  Specifically, it stated that the Environment Ministry has not set targets for conserving water; decreasing hazardous and toxic substances in products; improving the water quality of lakes (other than Lake Simcoe and Lake Erie); or protecting and recovering species at risk.  It also found that the Environment Ministry’s targets to reduce the amount of waste disposed per capita lack publicized time frames for driving and measuring progress.

With respect to environmental monitoring, the audit noted that there is  no long-term, broad-scale monitoring of Ontario’s biodiversity, monitoring in Ontario’s protected areas is not required or consistent, and few environmental monitoring programs
are evaluated to ensure that they are effective.

In conclusion, the audit found that the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture ministries do not have effective systems and processes for setting targets, carrying out effective monitoring practices, and ensuring data quality and data sharing for certain
aspects of Ontario’s environment. These are needed for effective longer-term monitoring of Ontario’s environment, natural resources and agriculture.

In response to the audit report, the Ontario Environment Ministry stated it will explore opportunities to improve how it tracks progress and measure effectiveness of Ministry programs and how best to share program results publicly. It also stated it will review its data management approaches and look to improve the practice and application of performance measurement in our monitoring
programs.