On December 2, the Auditor General released her 2015 report.
This year's report included a chapter on management of contaminated sites. In all,
there are almost 800 contaminated sites owned by Ontario, of which
288 have recorded liabilities, estimated at $1.792 billion dollars.
Her report follows last year's report of the Parliamentary
Budget Officer who concluded the federal government has
underestimated the cost of cleaning up contaminated sites under its
jurisdiction by at least $2 billion.
The Auditor's report has an excellent overview of the
regulatory environment related to contaminated sites, and made
seven key observations and recommendations:
The government should designate a
central unit or ministry group with overall responsibility for
managing contaminated sites to ensure sites are identified,
assessed, and liabilities determined; as part of this, the
Inter-ministerial Contaminated Sites Assistant Deputy
Ministers' Steering Committee should be reconvened until such a
team is established; the government responded that it will accept
A centralized database inventory of
all sites should be developed and the public should have access to
this information; the government responded that it has the intent
to implement an enterprise-wide central inventory of contaminated
sites in 2016; also, it is currently disclosing financial
information on contaminated sites in accordance with Public Sector
Stakeholder ministries should
finalize the risk prioritization model and ensure that ministries
use it to assess all remediation funding proposals; approval of the
tool and adoption by ministries is expected in the current fiscal
To ensure ministries are sufficiently
resourced to remediate high-risk sites, stakeholder ministries
should co-ordinate the development of a long-term plan for
remediating the sites, and this plan should include both an annual
and long-term funding strategy; and they should periodically report
to the Treasury Board on their progress; the government responded
that with an enterprise-wide inventory and prioritization system in
place, they will be able to better manage risk prioritization and
funding strategy decisions;
The government must ensure that its
liability estimate is reasonably and consistently calculated
– the Office of the Provincial Controller Division should
provide formal guidance to ministries on how to account for and
measure these liabilities; the government responded that it will
undertake to work with ministries in 2015/2016 and to work with the
Internal Audit Division and Office of the Auditor General to
enhance accounting guidance;
Improve documentation regarding site
liability estimates and periodically review sites classified as low
risk to ensure that the classification remains valid; the
government responded that it will continue to refine and improve
upon the quality of its documentation and will regularly review the
information, which will serve as input into both risk management
and the Public Accounts process;
All liability estimates should be
reviewed annually, and once established, the central unit or
ministry group should provide the ministries with guidance for
carrying out the annual review; the government agreed it will
include a requirement for ministries to regularly update site
information, noting "consideration will be given by the
centralized oversight body and the ministries to the appropriate
triggers and/or timelines to initiate more in-depth site
assessments or liability estimates such as changes in technology,
site conditions, or changes in environmental standards";
Lastly, the Auditor noted that the proper management of
financial assurance through the Ministry of Northern Development
and Mines and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change is
important: a poorly run program means taxpayers ultimately have to
bear the cost of remediating these sites. These programs require
financial assurance from mines or private waste facilities (or
otherwise, in accordance with relevant legislation and the Financial Assurance Guideline).
The Auditor's report this year on Mines and Minerals noted weaknesses in the
financial security program for mine operators, particularly
inadequate financial security for future mine remediation costs.
This can create significant taxpayer contingent liability for
short-falls related to mining operations closures.
The management of contaminated sites is a significant problem
and issue for both private actors and the government. We applaud
the Auditor's report, and shortly will be providing our report
on a recent
important decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal regarding
contaminated land liability by polluting neighbours.
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
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