An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act (involvement of Parliament)

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act to ensure the full participation of each House of Parliament.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

November 29th, 2010 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill S-210 at third reading today.

The bill addresses an oversight in the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act, and I will briefly review how Bill S-210 would deal with this oversight.

The Federal Sustainable Development Act requires the government to produce a number of reports before the House of Commons. Bill S-210 proposes that the government also table the same reports in the Senate. The bill also proposes to give the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development greater flexibility regarding the timing of the tabling of some of the reports required under the Federal Sustainable Development Act. The government has no issue with tabling these reports before the Senate, nor does it have an issue with giving the commissioner additional flexibility. I believe all three parties will support the bill.

The wording for the existing provisions relating to the tabling of reports was largely borrowed from the provisions of the Auditor General Act. These only require the tabling of sustainable development strategies and the reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development in the House of Commons. The bill would correct this oversight. The government is pleased to support the bill and will support the constitutional role of both Houses of Parliament.

The Federal Sustainable Development Act allows the government to spell out its environmental sustainable priorities more clearly. It requires the development of an overarching federal sustainable development strategy for the very first time since sustainable development strategies were introduced in 1995. This federal strategy would require every department to align its respective strategy to federal priorities.

The Federal Sustainable Development Act requires that a draft of the federal strategy be delivered to the Canadian public, to the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and to a standing committee of the House of Commons for review and comment. As well, it would establish a sustainable development advisory council to be made up of representatives of the provinces and territories in order to have representation from labour, business, environmental organizations and aboriginal people who will also comment on the draft sustainable federal strategy. Delivering the draft strategy to Canadians in this way would help to increase transparency and accountability and it would help improve federal sustainable development planning and reporting.

Bill S-210 proposes to have senators review the draft of the federal sustainable development strategy and of all the other reports required by the Federal Sustainable Development Act. These include the supporting departmental sustainable development strategies and the triennial progress report on the federal strategy which is to be prepared by the sustainable development office in Environment Canada. Senate comment on all of these documents will improve transparency and accountability.

Further to this, a number of reports are required to be prepared by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development through amendments made by the Federal Sustainable Development Act to the Auditor General Act. For instance, the commissioner must offer an assessment of whether the targets and implementation strategies contained in the initial draft version of the federal strategy are capable of being assessed. The commissioner would also assess the fairness of the information contained in the progress report on the government's implementation of the federal strategy.

Finally, the commissioner would also continue to audit the departmental sustainable development strategies and report on the extent to which departments and agencies have contributed to meeting the target set out in the federal sustainable development strategy. At present, the commissioner can only table the results of such inquiries at certain limited times. The passage of the bill will enable the commissioner to offer more timely reports, as Bill S-210, in this respect, would allow greater discretion.

The federal sustainable development strategy is an excellent example of the democratic development of environmental policy. The federal sustainable development strategy would make Canada a world leader of the development of environmental policy by democratically elected leaders able to reconcile scientifically determined options with the social and economic goals of the people we represent, the people of Canada. I strongly believe that democratic governance is a far better approach to environmental policy-making than the alternative of judicial policy-making.

I realize that Bill S-210 is not highly controversial. Nonetheless, I am extremely proud that it is a bipartisan effort of Senator Tommy Banks and myself. I have appreciated Senator Bank's support and assistance and I am grateful for the unanimous support of the House for this bill to date.

I am pleased to support Bill S-210 and welcome Senate review of all the reports just mentioned and additional flexibility for the commissioner. I invite my friends from all parties throughout this House to join with me in focusing on the common concerns of all Canadians and support this bill.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

November 29th, 2010 / 11:10 a.m.
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Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate today at report stage of Bill S-210.

This bill was originally Bill S-216. It came to the House of Commons from the Senate and was sent to committee, where unfortunately discussion was stopped when Parliament was prorogued. It has now been reinstated. When Parliament is prorogued, the Senate can bring the same bill forward as long as it is identical to the original one and as long as it is done within 60 days. It then goes through the same procedure in the House. The bill is now at report stage and is being supported by all parties. That is a positive situation.

This bill would amend two acts, the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act. It would make primarily housekeeping changes to those acts. I will explain their importance again as well as the importance of the whole initiative at large.

The first change proposed by the bill is that reports would be tabled not only in the House of Commons but also in the Senate and for the Senate committees.

The second change involves the progress reports made by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development at the annual reporting time of the Auditor General. The commissioner gets to do one annual report. This change would allow him or her to report more frequently, just as the Auditor General can report several times a year.

In summary, the bill proposes to make two administrative changes to this important regime. The commissioner's reports would go to both houses of Parliament and he or she could report more than once a year.

I want to commend the member for Kitchener Centre for his bipartisan effort in making sure that we have taken a non-partisan approach to this important issue. As I have previously mentioned, all parties agree on this piece of legislation.

I also want to commend Senator Tommy Banks for his work on this bill in the Senate. This is a historic environmental bill in Canada. It is one of the most important environmental initiatives in our history.

I also want to commend the hon. John Godfrey for his tremendous work in getting the whole regime in place. Mr. Godfrey was my mentor in Parliament, and I was very excited for him to see this regime get through Parliament. The previous speaker has already outlined the tremendous environmental benefits that the regime would provide.

I want to talk about the importance of the two changes that the bill would make.

The first proposed change is that the commissioner's reports would go to the Senate and its committees. This was actually in the original regime but for some nefarious reason was eliminated. I am delighted that all parties saw that this was an obvious omission and all worked hard to put this initiative back in the legislation.

Sometimes we in this place and the other place have to remind people that we have a bicameral system in Canada. Like many countries in the world, we have two houses of Parliament. Both houses make sure that legislation, which is the foundation of our social contract and how we run our lives, gets done carefully with all the required checks and balances.

The Senate is of different construction from the House of Commons. One of the advantages of having two different bodies, if we have an understanding of group behaviour and sociology, is that it is good for a separate group that is not under the same influence to have another look at a particular piece of legislation.

The other difference is that the Senate is constructed to represent regions and minorities. Canada is a very huge country. It is the second-largest in the world. Its diverse and exciting regions have to be represented well in this Parliament. That is one of the roles of the Senate.

I represent the Arctic as the official opposition critic. Even the Arctic is not a monolith. The three territories of Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut and the people in those regions, the Inuit, the first nations people, and the Métis, are totally different. We have to ensure that they are represented in our system. In the first past the post system, minorities are not necessarily represented in this House in the same percentages as they are in the population. The Senate has a very important role to represent minorities and to ensure that they are well represented in the affairs of state.

That is a fairly obvious change, and I am sure it will be unanimously supported by every member of both houses.

The second change is that the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development would report more than once a year. The commissioner must have the ability to report more than annually, as is done in the present regime. I think this makes obvious intuitive sense to everyone on something as important as environmental change. As we know, environmental change can occur very quickly and drastically. This is crucial information. The ability to report more than just once a year would make eminent sense in the running of our great nation.

I had hoped that there would be in this debate, perhaps by the researchers of one of our four parties or even the commissioner himself, an outline of some of the reports, the advantages, the progress that has been made, and some of the failures. There was a reference earlier in the debate to a failure a number of years ago by the Department of Finance. Both the successes and the failures can show the advantages of reporting more than once a year, how this great success story could be used by other departments, or how some failure could be stopped in its tracks.

Not having real examples, I can only think of a couple of possibilities that might occur. Let us say a department in its operations was using a cleaning or air conditioning or some other chemical that all of a sudden was determined by Health Canada to be very toxic or cancerous. If some departments removed it quickly but others did not, that report coming sooner than later would certainly help remove some disastrous human health consequences.

As another example, let us say a huge district heating project was started near a federal building and a particular department of that federal building could have accessed that particular project and did not. That would be a fait accompli that could not be reversed if we had to wait a year for the report. However, if it were done quickly, the commissioner could bring up that point and the department could move ahead and make that change.

In conclusion, I would just say I am very happy that we have all-party support for these very important changes to a very important bill. Everyone knows the dramatic effects of climate change on the whole country, but especially on the north. We only have to look at last month's Canadian Geographic on climate futures and all the disastrous consequences. This bill and the reports of the department are certainly working as leaders for the country. If we do not do it as government, then we cannot expect other governments that are trying to do this, and businesses and private citizens, to move forward on making Canada sustainably developed.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

November 29th, 2010 / 11:20 a.m.
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Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to Bill S-210, which we will naturally support, along with all the other parties in this House. This essentially administrative bill was presented in the Senate on April 30, 2010, and it would amend two acts: the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act. It would ensure that when the environment commissioner provides a report on the progress of sustainable development, this report is tabled in both the House of Commons and the Senate. That is the first amendment.

The second amendment would give the environment commissioner more latitude to decide when it is necessary to table reports on sustainable development. The Federal Sustainable Development Act, which is in its infant stages, since it was just recently passed, was the result of a bill introduced by one of our former colleagues, John Godfrey. He thought it was very important for Canada, and more specifically the federal government, to have a sustainable development strategy. I will come back to this shortly.

Mr. Godfrey worked with all of the parties to ensure that Bill C-474 would be passed. The Bloc Québécois did not like the bill in its original form because it proposed only a national sustainable development strategy. In addition, this bill interfered significantly in the provinces' areas of jurisdiction, such as agriculture and recycling. It was a national, coast-to-coast strategy that would not have produced results at the end of the day.

Following talks, the parties have decided that it is important for Canada to have a federal sustainable development strategy that falls within its own areas of jurisdiction. Thus, Canada will be able to meet the Rio targets and truly put in place a sustainable development plan using resources that already exist in its various departments. This strategy would also aim to increase greening of public services and provide Canada with the means to reach its international environmental goals.

That is how Bill S-210 was introduced. It will ensure that the commissioner has more flexibility in reaching the set targets. We need greater accountability and the environment commissioner must be able to report more frequently. Over the past weeks and months, we have come to realize that the environmental strategy presented by the federal government in order to comply with Bill C-474 contained targets that were vague, weak and insufficient.

Clearly, the government was just paying lip service to the ideas of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting ecosystems and oceanographic resources. We need a transparent sustainable development strategy with clear goals. However, that is what was missing from the strategy that has been developed.

The commissioner will be responsible for assessing whether the government has met those targets. The targets are inadequate, so, naturally, the commissioner will have a hard time in the coming years figuring out whether Canada is keeping the promises made to Parliament.

We need more transparency, more accountability and greater responsibility to ensure that the government is reaching its international targets. That is almost certainly what Parliament has been lacking these past 10 or 14 years. The government was unable to achieve its environmental targets at the international level because there was no oversight and no accountability with respect to Canada's commitments.

The best example of this is the fight against climate change. Since 1997, successive governments have introduced greenhouse gas reduction plans that were supposed to be in line with Canada's greenhouse gas reduction targets. But we are a long way from reaching those targets.

In 1997, Canada promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 6% below 1990 levels by 2012. Where do we stand now? Our greenhouse gas emissions have risen by more than 25%.

Why have we failed to reach our targets? One of the main reasons is that there have been no progress reports. There has been no way to determine whether the measures, plans, policies and programs implemented are taking us in the right direction. The government can set greenhouse gas reduction targets, but without the right plans, policies and programs in place, those targets will not be achieved. The environment commissioner needs more power to present more frequent reports. That is one of the goals of this bill.

We have already given the environment commissioner a greater role. A few years ago, the Liberal Party's Bill C-288 gave the environment commissioner more power with respect to accountability for reduction targets.

We support this bill. We believe that the environment commissioner must play a greater role in efforts to reach the targets set by Canada and the federal government by focusing on three basic objectives: transparency, accountability and responsibility.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

November 29th, 2010 / 11:30 a.m.
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NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, Bill S-210 is before the House again. It is important for the House to reflect on the co-operation provided by the opposition in processing the bill through the House.

This bill came before us before the Prime Minister, in his wisdom, decided to prorogue Parliament and shut down the work of the House.

Regardless of the actions of the Prime Minister in failing to expedite the passage of the bill our parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development was entirely co-operative with the Senate and with the government in bringing the bill forward in an expeditious manner.

This bill would simply make the practice of the office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development mandatory. In other words it would require that the reports be delivered not only to the House but to the other place.

Why should we pass the bill? What is the point? The experience that we have had with the other house over the last two weeks really questions whether or not the other place even cares to hear from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.

When I spoke to this bill previously, I spoke glowingly of the work over decades by that office. The office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development is very important to this country. That division of the Auditor General's office delivers very important reports on behalf of Canadians, analyzing how well the Government of Canada is doing on delivering on its mandate, its mandate set out in law, its mandate set out in international agreements and bilateral arrangements about the environment and the protection of the environment.

What do we have? The government wants to require, not just suggest, that the commissioner also speak to the other place about the matters he has been working on and be required to report. The question I would put before the House is, what is the point? We have the circumstance of what happened in the other place in the last two weeks where reprehensibly, that place killed a bill passed by this House, by the majority of duly elected members of this House.

The Senate was created as a place of sober second thought. It was established as a place where there would be different representatives from a cross-section of society to look at legislation proposed by the elected representatives to see if there were gaps, to see if there was anything missing, to see if anything should shift to make sure that any legislation coming from the House reflected the best interests of Canadians.

What did that place do to a bill on climate change passed by a majority of members of this House? We have heard from many Canadians and I will share some of those thoughts of Canadians on the actions by that place.

Let me remind the House of a report delivered to the House by the commissioner himself in 2009. The commissioner presented to the House and also presented to the Senate an audit report on actions taken by the government on addressing climate change, on delivering on its own promises to reduce climate change. Let me again share with the House some of the highlights of that report by the commissioner. He stated:

The annual climate change plans do not fully meet the requirements of the Act.... Expected emission reductions are overstated for the Regulatory Framework for Industrial Greenhouse Gas Emissions....The descriptions of the renewable fuels and renewable power measures are not fully transparent....The annual climate change plans do not disclose uncertainties about expected emission reductions....A monitoring system has not been developed.

That was the audit report by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development delivered to the other place. Did it listen to the words and advice and findings of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development? Clearly not, for it made a determination that it would simply throw out legislation passed by the duly elected representatives of Canada.

Despite Canada's support, and without debate, it simply killed that bill. We have heard resoundingly from Canadians that they are appalled by the behaviour of the other place. Let me quote from a letter by two of my colleagues, the MP for Halifax and the MP for Sackville—Eastern Shore on the actions by the other place, having heard the report by the commissioner:

Despite Parliament’s support and adoption of this bill, the unelected, unaccountable Senate voted down and killed this much needed legislation in a snap vote at second reading. The Senate killed the bill before they studied it or even heard from expert witnesses. It is virtually unprecedented for the unelected Senate to defeat a bill passed by the elected House of Commons.

Not only did members in the other place ignore the information, advice and audit report of the commissioner, they failed to give any opportunity to Canadians to speak to that bill and to express their opinion on whether or not that bill passed by the duly elected representatives in the House of Commons should proceed.

Let me share what one of the senators had to say about the actions of that place:

In voting to defeat Bill C311, the Conservative senators betrayed the democratic process. They did so without debating the bill, although they had 193 days to do so. They also killed the bill before it could reach committee stage where it would have received detailed study. And, they still would have had third reading to defeat it.

I have received letters from Canadians from across the country who are absolutely dismayed at the actions of that place having had the opportunity to see the testimony before the committee of this House, the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development and having had the opportunity to hear the speeches by elected representatives who spoke in support of that bill over and over in this House.

One person wrote to me and said that they were shocked and appalled to learn of the defeat of a bill in the Senate, a bill which had been passed by the House of Commons. It raised a number of questions and concerns.

Another letter written to the government and copied to the members of the opposition stated:

I am outraged at the cowardly tactics the Harper government uses to have the things the way corporate lobbyists...want them to be; this last one which killed Bill C-311--

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

November 29th, 2010 / 11:40 a.m.
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Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hope of course that in spite of the comments of the previous speaker, this bill will pass with the unanimous support of all members.

It is very important to me that we proceed with environmental legislation in a democratic way. I urge the House to resist all efforts to judicialize environmental policy and instead to allow the members of this House, duly representing Canadians across the land, to consider the economic and social objectives of our people and to reconcile that with scientifically recommended options for the environment.

There has been some debate in the course of this morning's proceedings about the Senate, and of course this bill is about making sure that the reports under the federal sustainable development strategy are in fact delivered in the Senate. There are those in this House who would like to abolish the Senate. I myself, from time to time, have expressed the view that I am not a big fan of the Senate; however it is important for all of us, if we wish to maintain a law-abiding attitude, to recognize that the Constitution of Canada, the law of our land, does in fact establish a Senate and does give the Senate a role to play, and until the Senate is either abolished or reformed, the people who are placed in the Senate are very conscientiously trying to do the job that is assigned to them.

It is rather unfortunate that anyone would stand in this House and say that we will completely disregard the Constitution of Canada and say that senators do not have any role in our government, because of course that would be unlawful and I myself do not like to hear members of Parliament talking about proceeding in an unlawful manner.

In particular, when the Senate is faced with a terrible environmental bill such as Bill C-311, it is necessary for the senators to consider that legislation and to determine how they will dispose of it. It is completely irrelevant and in some ways irreverent and lawless to suggest that senators should not accept their responsibility to consider legislation from the House. As much as some of us would like not to have a Senate, as long as there is a Senate, senators have to be commended for conscientiously approaching their duties.

When it comes to Bill C-311, I spent hours and hours listening to evidence on that bill in committee, time that could have been spent much more productively actually talking about ways in which we can achieve environmental benefits for Canada, and in point of fact, the federal sustainable development strategy would do exactly that, whereas Bill C-311 would not have done that.

The previous speaker was somewhat disingenuous in saying that all Bill C-311 would have done was to require reporting. In fact Bill C-311 would have required unrealistic and unattainable greenhouse gas reductions. Bill C-311 itself did not propose any mechanisms or any means to achieve those reductions. In fact the evidence we heard at committee, from the Pembina Institute among others, was that the cost of reaching the goals that were set in Bill C-311 would have been about $70 billion between now and 2020. This would have been about twice the cost of the government's existing greenhouse gas program and would have only achieved a 16% difference in greenhouse gas reduction. It was a terrible bill, and whatever we think of the Senate, we can all rest a little easier tonight knowing that that bill has been deep-sixed and sent to an early grave.

Having said all of that, of course this is very partisan and I hope we will all focus on Bill S-210 and that we will all get behind it in a spirit of non-partisan attention to the concerns that really all Canadians have across the country.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

October 1st, 2010 / 8:35 a.m.
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Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill S-210, An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act (involvement of Parliament). I am, of course, in support of this act. Its purpose is to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act so as to ensure the full involvement of both Houses of Parliament on these very important issues.

This bill would require that reports tabled to the House of Commons under the current Federal Sustainable Development Act by the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development must be tabled to both Houses of Parliament. Currently, as written, the act does not require these reports to be tabled in the Senate, nor are they required to be referred to committees of the Senate.

The second part of the bill seeks to amend the Auditor General Act to enable the Auditor General and the Commission of the Environment and Sustainable Development to make more than one report in a year. For example, if a key issue comes up on which they wish to report after their annual report, under this amendment, this act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development and Auditor General Act, the Auditor General would have that power to make more than one report.

How did the requirement for this bill come about? The requirement to report to the Senate and Senate committees was in the original bill, as written. Amendments at committee were made to remove the Senate, one of our key Houses of Parliament. I would contend that the committee members who sought those amendments were making two key mistakes. The first mistake was to underestimate the challenge of sustainability, which is the challenge of our generation and of our century. The second mistake was to underestimate and undermine the importance of the Senate and senators in addressing these critical issues of sustainability and sustainable development.

I am pleased that those mistakes would be rectified by this bill. I hope all members of this chamber will support Bill S-210.

I consider this bill not simply to be a housekeeping or correction bill or a technical amendment. I consider it very significant legislation in that it would restore the Senate to its rightful position as being a very important body, an important group of senators who bring wisdom to the table, people who have addressed some of the very complex issue of our time over many generations. Currently, senators address issues as various and complex as equity for aboriginal people, accountability of government, budgets and fiscal management, Canada's role in the world, veterans, human trafficking, the health of Canada's democratic institutions, defence and security, human rights, immigration, official languages, combating poverty, the environment and health care. All of the important complex issues of our day are thoughtfully addressed by senators and the Senate chamber with a view to improving people's lives and making a contribution to the public good. So, restoring the role of the Senate is a very important aspect of this legislation.

Second, sustainable development, as I have named it, the challenge of our generation, is a hugely critical and complex issue. What do we mean by sustainable development? I will reiterate the most common definition. From the Brundtland report, known as “Our Common Future”, sustainable development is defined thus:

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Sustainable development, using this definition, requires that we think of the world as a system and our part in it as a system where what we do impacts others and other places and other times.

When we think of the world as a system, we realize that what happens in Alberta with oil sands development can affect the Arctic. We realize that what we do today can affect future generations. It is that realization that drives so many Canadians to be thinking of how we can address this challenge of our times.

The people of my constituency, Vancouver Quadra, are very concerned and engaged in working to meet the challenges of our time with sustainable development. From Southlands to Kitsilano, to Shaughnessy, Kerrisdale and the Musqueam lands, from Marpole through Arbutus, through Dunbar around UBC to Point Grey, the people of Vancouver Quadra are educated and engaged. They care about the health of our democracy, the issues of the day and sustainability.

The challenge of stewarding water for future generations, for example, is complex and it requires both Houses of Parliament, the House of Commons and the Senate, and the Canadian people to thoughtfully address and meet the challenges and sustain water for our future generations.

For example, in Vancouver Quadra I received well over 1,000 letters, emails and postcards calling on me to assist with ensuring that our Pacific north coast inland waters will be protected from oil spills. This is not about stopping economic development. This is about sustainable economic development. It is about the 56,000 jobs in fisheries and tourism on the Pacific coast that depend on the environment being clean.

In response to this campaign, I have worked with a number of parliamentarians and the Liberal leader has committed to a permanent ban on tanker traffic, where, I might add, there has never been tanker traffic in that area and we want to keep it that way. There are other transportation routes for our products from Alberta to go east to Asia. Those transportation routes will be able to handle capacity for many years to come and, therefore, it is not worth the risk to our waters to have super tankers in those dangerous and vulnerable waters.

The challenges of stewarding biodiversity for future generations is complex and requires both Houses of Parliament, the House of Commons and the Senate, and the Canadian people to be thoughtfully engaged and meet the challenges of sustaining biodiversity for future generations.

Many people in Vancouver Quadra are concerned about the fisheries and salmon. Runs have been unpredictable and the trend lines have been down. Many top-notch researchers at UBC are addressing the issues of salmon and any people in Vancouver Quadra have come out to my town hall meetings to hear about their research. People in Vancouver Quadra and Marpole have worked for decades to protect the riparian areas of the Fraser River, which is an important salmon habitat. It is not about stopping development or salmon aquaculture. It is about creating sustainable economic development.

These issues are complex, whether it is water, biodiversity, climate change or the involvement of our first nations so that the gap between the achievement of first nations in education and health and non-first nations is closed and those communities are fully engaged in sustainable economic development. These are complex challenges.

We need both chambers, the House of Commons and the Senate, to give thoughtful reflection and address these complex issues for the benefit of Canadians. This bill is directed to ensuring that the Senate fulfills its important role of engaging Canadians to find solutions to these challenges of our generation.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

October 1st, 2010 / 8:45 a.m.
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Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill S-210, which would allow the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to present reports not only to the House of Commons, but to the highly useless upper chamber as well.

Our position is simple. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development's work is essential, particularly given that the Conservative government's record on the environment and sustainable development is far from spotless. Although the Auditor General Act currently provides for reporting only to the House of Commons, thereby excluding senators from this kind of process, we recognize that given the existing structure, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development could present reports to the Senate as well. The Bloc Québécois does not recognize the Senate as a democratically legitimate institution—made up of friends of those in power, the Senate is anything but democratic—but until we achieve sovereignty, we have to work within this structure.

In his latest report, the commissioner stated that the government's progress—if one could call it that— toward providing guidance on greening government operations was unsatisfactory. We all agree that the Conservative government has thoroughly embarrassed itself on the international stage when it comes to the environment. Its targets are wishy-washy, repetitive, voluntary and open to interpretation.

Despite the fact that we are facing an international situation that will affect the entire planet, including Quebec and Canada, the Conservatives are taking the environment lightly and oppose any demonstration of environmental conscience. They are letting the oil industry ransack oil sands in Dene territory. These vile pursuits are ruining the environment and causing the whole planet to suffer. They are sucking oil out of the sands, polluting everything and destroying lakes by using them as waste-water dumping grounds.

I see my Conservative colleague nodding his head over there because I have obviously hit a nerve.

In short, the Conservative government's strategies cannot be effective because they are not results-focused. I can see that my colleagues agree.

We must develop a comprehensive, integrated plan. The environment is not something to be thrown in as a footnote to a report, just so the government can have a clean conscience, win votes from those who are environmentally conscious, and not cause too much trouble for the polluters. Polluters in this country are even being rewarded.

Although the government claims to be committed to being a leader in the area of the environment and sustainable development, it clearly lacks leadership in greening its own operations. When the time comes tackle all the things that can damage our planet's environment, the Conservatives' strategy is the equivalent of playing a hockey game without a goalie and with one less player on the ice. With the current provision, the commissioner only gives or lays his speech before the House of Commons.

It would not be such a terrible thing if our colleagues in the Senate, the pals of the government, Liberal or Conservative—it varies, depending on who is or has been in power—could do something else, other than play partisan politics. We know that basically, 11 out of 10 senators are appointed simply to be used politically in upcoming federal elections.

Members will recall the situation in Saskatchewan under the Conservative government. I know there are Conservatives on the other side of the House, although there are some who are not listening to the interpretation. What can I say. They do not want to learn; that is their problem, and a big one at that. About 15 ministers in the government of Grant Devine, a Conservative, ended up in prison or received heavy fines. We remember. Why did this happen? Because they cheated in their administration of public funds.

I lived in Saskatchewan, and I remember this Conservative minister who bought horse saddles on his expense account. It all came to a head, and on the day they wanted to fire their director general, he leaked the expense accounts of Saskatchewan Conservatives to get back at his corrupt party. I hope they are listening closely; they are tainted too. The judge asked why he had bought the saddles and charged them to his communications budget. He said that there was a big parade in his town once a year and he wanted his horses to have nice saddles, not small, $200 saddles, but $5,000 saddles. He added that he wanted the public to see that he had beautiful saddles for his horses. Can you imagine? He did not buy computers with his communications budget. He felt his purchase was a valid communications expenditure. He wound up in prison.

The other example I have is of the Saskatchewan Conservatives doing the same thing with computers. The computers were replaced every three months. They had new computers in their ridings almost every three months. Eventually, someone realized that these computers were ending up at an aunt's, a cousin's, a volunteer's or someone else's house. That is how the computers were replaced.

And that brings me to the Senate. Saskatchewan's deputy premier, Mr. Berntson, was appointed—

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

October 1st, 2010 / 8:55 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to extend my thanks to my colleagues for their support on this bill. I am very grateful that the bill has been an example of non-partisan consideration, even if it is just somewhat of a non-controversial one.

I am also grateful to the Liberal Senator Tommy Banks for proposing the bill and for his efforts in drafting it and promoting it. I am grateful to him for trusting me, a member of an opposite party, to sponsor the bill in the House.

This is a significant bill, as the member for Vancouver Quadra said earlier. Perhaps it might have been controversial, except that the bill is a model for three principles, which I believe are highly important in the House.

First, it is about ideas, not about personalities. When a member insults the motives or the character of another member, an opponent, it only serves partisan purposes. It does not advance the interests of our great country. When a member proposes a good idea, such as Bill S-210, all Canadians benefit.

Second, this is about legislation, the proper function of the House. The idea that the House can micromanage the executive branch is a dangerous one which is harmful to the future of our country. When the House debates and proposes legislation, such as Bill S-210, it is fulfilling its proper function.

Third, Bill S-210 is an example of collaboration. If every member demonizes his or her opponents, it should surprise no one that Canadians get the message that all politicians are a bunch of crooks and that Canadians do not bother voting at election time. When we treat each other with respect and collaboration, as Senator Banks and I have treated each other in relation to Bill S-210, and as all parties do in supporting the bill, we elevate the standing of every member in the eyes of all Canadians.

I really hope this message, which is really quite heartfelt from me, is heard by all the members in this chamber and by everyone who might be watching this debate today. My thanks, again, for the support of my colleagues for the bill.

The amendments in the bill reinforce one of this government's most fundamental priorities, greater accountability and transparency. Our government is committed to improving reporting so Canadians are better informed about the state of the environment. As members will recall, this act requires a minister of the environment to monitor implementation of the federal sustainable development strategy and to report on progress every three years. To do this, the government draws upon data available through the Canadian environmental sustainability indicators, or CESI, initiative.

To deliver the kind of accountability and transparency that Canadians expect and deserve, we need greater flexibility that existing legislation provides. It is vital to recognize that sustainable development is not a goal to be achieved in the usual sense of the word. Rather it is an elusive, ever-moving target. Even if all of our environmental indicators suggest positive results, we cannot believe that the job is finished and simply move on. To do that would jeopardize the lasting impact of our work and impinge upon the legacy that we leave future generations. As a result, we must always stay attuned to the delicate balance between our social, economic and environmental priorities. We have to monitor our progress carefully and frequently and recalibrate our actions as required. That is why the amendments in Bill S-210 are so important.

Though a key stakeholder was conspicuously missing from those consultations, in the Senate, I have no doubt that given the opportunity, senators could offer analysis and share insights that would strengthen our draft strategy. That is why I am pleased that the proposed amendments before the House today would enable senators to review the draft strategy, in addition to any other reports generated by the act.

For all of these reasons, I ask every member of the House to join with me in a great example of unanimity and collaboration by supporting Bill S-210 today.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

June 16th, 2010 / 7 p.m.
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Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

moved that Bill S-210, An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act (involvement of Parliament), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, it is truly an honour to rise today in the House to speak to this bill. I know we all say that time and again, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart.

It is an honour for me to represent the citizens of Kitchener Centre in the House. I consider this place to be a rather sacred place. I sometime wonder If we could only see around us the ghosts of great parliamentarians from our history, if our conduct in this place would somehow be improved and would benefit from their influence.

We have in this chamber over years seen many great orators, the likes of which may never be seen again. I think of John Diefenbaker and Tommy Douglas. We have had many great orators who sought to improve the spirits of Canadians and to improve the sanctity of the House. It is why some months ago I reacted so strongly when we had protestors in the gallery who interrupted the proceedings of the House.

The business of democracy is the most important business we do and I think of this House as somewhat of a cathedral of democracy. If only we could remind ourselves of that, we might speak in the same hushed tones and with the same respect and good spirit that we would if in fact we were in a cathedral. If we could only remember that the lives of millions upon millions of Canadians depend upon what we say here, we might perhaps put aside some of the play acting that we occasionally find ourselves in and proceed in a more solemn manner.

Therefore, I welcome the opportunity speak to Bill S-210, An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act (involvement of Parliament).

As the member of Parliament for Kitchener Centre, I am very proud of the people of my riding and I work hard to serve them with excellence. My riding has grown from when I was a boy. There were approximately 71,000 people in the city of Kitchener. Now there are 210,000 people in the city of Kitchener and over 500,000 in the Waterloo region. It is an urban riding and yet, in the midst of that urban hustle and bustle of housing, vehicles and transportation and a diverse industry, we have areas of secluded nature. The Grand River runs through our region. I have canoed it on occasion and have had the pleasure to watch beaver paddling down the lake. The other morning I went for a run not more than five minutes from my house, along the river and came across a deer. Many deer still populate our region and we live side-by-side with them.

I am a member of the environment committee since being elected. In that capacity, I have worked hard to serve my constituents by informing myself about the great issues of the day as they relate to the environment in Canada.

Before addressing the impact of the proposed amendments in Bill S-210, which the government fully endorses, I would like to put this legislation into a larger context, and that is the need to support sustainable development.

Our country is blessed with a natural legacy that is recognized the world over. Within our borders, we are stewards for 20% of the world's natural areas, 10% of the entire globe's forests and 7% of its renewable freshwater. Not only do we harness these resources to generate economic prosperity, but we also depend upon them to maintain the health of our ecosystem as well as the well-being of Canadians.

I have had personal opportunity to explore the wilds of Canada. Since I have been a teenager, I have been an avid canoeist. I have spent many a happy hour out in the woods. I can recommend it to anyone. There is nothing that will take away our cares. Floating out onto a pristine lake in the middle of nowhere, all of our worries melt and are absorbed into the water. It is said that is the defining trait of Canadians, a love of the outdoors.

It is said that is the defining trait of Canadians, a love of the outdoors. On the wall of my MP office and previously my legal office, hangs a print from the Sierra Club of Canada with the words endorsed upon it, “Tread softly, for the ground you walk upon may be paradise”. Indeed, in Canada we do walk upon paradise if it can be found anywhere on the face of this earth. We ignore or misuse these resources at our peril. For just as our natural resources create jobs and generate economic growth, a degraded environment throws dirty oil into our economic engine. Yet the converse is also true. If our engine gets no oil at all, our economy and quality of life will suffer.

Naturally we have debates over how to proceed and it is a good thing to hear a diversity of points of view. However, we should all remember that we are all here for the same purpose and we are all dedicated to improving our environment.

For this reason, like other responsible countries, Canada is committed to sustainable development, an approach that seeks to integrate social, economic and environmental priorities. By adhering to this principle, our drive for economic growth will not come at the expense of the environment. By the same token, our desire to protect and sustain our natural environment will not undermine our economy or the well-being of Canadians.

Since coming to office, our government has taken concrete actions to enhance sustainability. Indeed, Canada's economic action plan includes funds to support a cleaner and more sustainable environment and to help us achieve Canada's climate change objectives. Moreover, recognizing that Canada's environment and economy are inextricably linked with those of the United States, we have moved forward on both national and bilateral fronts.

Here at home we are taking a holistic approach to protecting our fresh water resources. Enforcing regulations and laws goes hand in hand with strengthening the capacity of our scientists to monitor and to address both man-made and biological pollution. Through stewardship and partnership programs, we are engaging Canadians in the process of cleaning up problem areas and keeping them clean.

To be successful, sustainable development requires the active participation of all sectors of our society. We have to get everyone pulling in the same direction and we cannot ignore what important sectors of our society have to say. That is why the government encourages Canadians from all walks of life to reduce their environmental footprint.

On the bilateral front, in February 2009 President Obama and the Prime Minister created a Canada-U.S. clean energy dialogue, a plan for our countries to move forward toward a low carbon economy. Since that time, we have pursued that dialogue through meetings and round tables with business leaders, academics and other experts from both sides of the border. Our two countries have already aligned targets in several key areas.

With respect to climate change, Canada has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by the year 2020 and we support the G8 goal of reducing global emissions by at least 50% by 2050.

Goals, targets, without measures to support them, are useless, in my view, and I have often made that point. I do not agree with those who just grandstand by setting targets without actually making concrete proposals. To help us achieve those goals, we are determined to work better together with the U.S. to develop clean energy technologies like carbon capture and storage and to replace the aging infrastructure of the North American power grid with a more efficient system. For our part, under Canada's economic action plan, we have already committed $1 billion to the green infrastructure fund over five years to support modern energy transmission lines and sustainable energy projects.

However, our commitment to bilateral co-operation does not mean we will delay our own action on the environment. In April of this year, for example, in advance of U.S. legislation, we announced our intention to regulate tailpipe emissions. We are now working with the U.S. to ensure common North American standards for greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. We breathe the same air.

These are all concrete examples of this government's commitment to sustainable development. By investing in research and technology, stewardship and effective regulation, we are working both on our own and at the bilateral and multilateral levels toward achieving the delicate balance between our social, economic and environmental priorities.

Another important illustration of that commitment was the passage, with all party support, of the Federal Sustainable Development Act in 2008, barely 18 months after our government first took office. In our collective enthusiasm for this legislation, however, several key elements were overlooked during the committee stage. The amendments before the House today in Bill S-210 would address these issues, strengthening the act so that we can work more effectively toward our mutual ultimate goal of sustainable development.

The existing act requires the government to produce several reports and table them in the House. In the interests of greater accountability and oversight, Bill S-210 proposes these reports should also be tabled in the Senate. This is a sensible change that I trust will enjoy all party support.

In addition, Bill S-210 would give the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development more flexibility in the timing of one of his reports. This would help ensure that the information is as useful and as relevant as possible. In this way, the report would contribute to greater accountability and support the drive toward sustainable development.

Our government is committed to both sustainable development and greater accountability. The amendments proposed to the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act in Bill S-210 would strengthen both these objectives.

It is worth noting that in keeping with the Federal Sustainable Development Act, the government has embarked on broad consultations for the draft federal sustainable development strategy. I submit that by reinforcing a commitment to debate and transparency on sustainable development, the amendments before the House are, thus, very much in the spirit of the act itself.

I have to say that I was particularly pleased as a Conservative member to sponsor a bill proposed by a Liberal senator, not only because I respect the work that Senator Tommy Banks has done but because I wanted to demonstrate a non-partisan, indeed a bi-partisan spirit in the House.

A bill like this serves to remind us that we all serve the same master, the people of Canada, and we should do so with civility and respect. I have worked closely with Senator Banks in moving this bill forward and I very much appreciate the support that he has shown to me.

For all of those reasons, I ask all members to join with me in supporting Bill S-210.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

June 16th, 2010 / 7:15 p.m.
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Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am more than pleased to stand this evening to speak to Bill S-210. It is a carbon copy of a bill that was originally numbered Bill S-216, a bill brought by a Liberal member of the other place and a bill, frankly, that should have been dealt with and expedited through these Houses some time ago.

The reason we are having to deal with a new version of the same bill is that the Prime Minister, in his wisdom, decided to prorogue the House of Commons for some month and a half if not two months in order to avoid democratic scrutiny. One of the unfortunate side effects of that decision is that this important bill was bumped and now, months later, on the eve of the House rising, we get the government reintroducing a Liberal bill to amend a Liberal statute.

As the member for Kitchener—Waterloo just referred to, this bill would perfect and improve the Federal Sustainable Development Act. That act was brought into being through the good work of a previous Liberal member of Parliament who is no longer sitting here but who had worked long, hard and feverishly before his departure from elected office to ensure Canada had an overarching strategy to ensure that as we grew our economy and we created employment opportunities and wealth, we would at the same time stop a fundamental fiction. The fundamental fiction is that the environment remains ancillary or outside or removed from the way in which we operate our economy. It is a view that the member understands ought to be better promoted in his government, but I do not think it is a view the Prime Minister particularly accepts. The view is that the environment and the economy are now completely and inextricably linked.

Let us look, for example, as my colleague asked moments ago, at the G8 and G20 summits being held here in Canada this year. The Prime Minister resisted and resisted dealing with the climate change issue, just as he resisted attending the Copenhagen conference last December until he became the embarrassment of the international world when he was the only leader of the top 80 or 90 countries not to intend to show. So he came to Copenhagen. I had the privilege to be there to follow the negotiations closely and it was a remarkable phenomenon to watch the Prime Minister of Canada walking the halls with literally nothing to do. In fact, when it came time to make a speech to the thousands of delegates who were there, it was the Minister of the Environment who spoke, not our head of government, while President Obama and some of other prime ministers and presidents spoke with great passion about how they were retooling their economies and countries to deal with this challenge of integrating the environment and the economy in a meaningful way.

Even if we took the government's commitment to deal with child and maternal health issues at face value, which it is going only a certain distance in addressing, is it actually possible to address child and maternal health issues today on this planet without dealing with the climate change crisis? My years in Africa on the ground working in development for UNICEF taught me a long time ago that desertification in sub-Saharan Africa, freshwater shortages, growing cycles being interrupted, environmental migration and what would now be called environmental refugees, all of these forces at play on women and children and maternal health ought to be addressed at a meeting that was serious at the G20 level that purports to address these issues.

However, the Prime Minister does not really see sustainable development or this need to show leadership on integrating the environment with the economy as a winning file. I think his chief of staff, his pollsters and his focus groups are telling him, because he is a man who lives by tactics, but I think the Prime Minister has decided that this is an area where he simply cannot win.

Instead of showing the leadership the country desperately wants, needs, and deserves, he has sloughed off the issue. He wants it to be managed and contained to ensure it does not grow into a brush fire for him.

That is what we are seeing here. The bill should have been dealt with three or four months ago. The law should have been passed in the view of the official opposition and we should be working now to actually improve a national approach to integrating the environment and the economy.

After all, the question that this generation has now and for generations to come is a simple question but an important one. Are we going to learn how to live within the carrying capacity of the planet, or not? To pretend that the carrying capacity of the planet is limitless, whether it is through resource extraction, whether it is through putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, this ruse, this fiction is over. What science is telling us is that we have a finite period of time to deal with the carrying capacity challenge. We speak of that in terms of climate change, for example, by ensuring that the planet's temperature does not increase by more than 2°C over the next 50 to 100 years.

The member who spoke on behalf of the government talked about a climate change target that the government has. We accept that target at face value. The government says it is a 17% reduction from 2005 levels in the next 10 years.

If it is a 17% reduction of greenhouse gases in the next 10 years or less, where is the plan? Where is the road map? Where is the pathway to retool our economy to ensure that we can achieve that target? There is nothing.

We have now had almost 55 months of Conservative government. We have had three ministers of the environment. We have had over 10 public promises for greenhouse gas regulations and we have no greenhouse gas regulations. We have no price on the right to emit carbon and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. As a result, people and industries will continue to pretend that the atmosphere can continue to assimilate as much greenhouse gas as we can put into it.

We know that cannot be the case and we are falling behind. We are falling behind 27 European Union countries who already have a price on carbon emissions. We are falling behind the United States where President Obama gave a keynote address last night to the nation speaking about the need to transform the American approach to its economic activities and its energy base.

Because we have no plan, it is difficult to take the government, after 54 months of governing, in any way seriously to talk about a sustainable development strategy, one that integrates meaningfully, as I said, the economy, environmental considerations and our well-being.

The greatest mistake being made by this regime is that we are losing out on opportunities like never before. The world is rushing to transform itself, jurisdiction by jurisdiction, country by country, city by city, province by province to adopt clean technologies.

Ontario, for example, recently announced that it was going to become a source of solutions for water and waste water technologies for the entire planet. That is what Ontario has decided to do. That is what we should be doing across the country. With some federal and national leadership, Canada is in a wonderful place to provide so many of the solutions, so much opportunity, so many jobs, so much wealth to be created, while at the same time improving the state of our natural environment, which is simply a necessity as we go forward.

I am pleased to rise on behalf of the official opposition. We will be supporting this bill. It is an important bill that builds on the legacy of the work done by Liberal members and Liberal senators. It is an idea whose time has come. Unfortunately, it should have come some months ago.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

June 16th, 2010 / 7:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to Bill S-210. It is a bill, as we were saying earlier, that originated in the Senate, was introduced in the Senate, and is today being studied in this House.

This bill is quite simple. It amends two acts, the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act. It makes two amendments, including one that simply would have the commissioner table reports not only in the House of Commons but also in the Senate. That is the first amendment in the bill we are studying today.

The second amendment would give the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development the possibility of tabling reports more than once a year on the progress made by the government in matters of the environment and sustainable development.

We will support this bill. Why? Because these amendments are quite simple. This is part of what we might call a new environmental governance that leaves more room for independence and assessment. Why? Because Canada has given itself a number of tools and instruments in the past few years.

For example, Canada now has environmental indicators it can use to assess the government's progress in a number of sectors from water to forestry. These tools are available to us.

We have to ensure that there is more accountability and more independent auditing, and that the commissioner can play an increasingly significant role.

I remember when a sustainable development bill was passed a few years ago. It was a Liberal member, John Godfrey, who introduced the initiative. He received the support of all political parties, with a few amendments of course. Why? Because it was high time we responded to all of the big international summits, all of the Earth summits from Johannesburg to Rio, by coming up with a sustainable development strategy.

However, a few months ago, after the government decided to respond to the passing of the bill, we realized that it had introduced its own sustainable development strategy. A close look at that strategy reveals that it contains no quantitative or numerical targets that would make it possible to really assess the government's progress. It does contain targets, but they are not clear and quantitative targets. They are just qualitative targets.

We have to give the auditor more tools to assess sustainable development progress.

This is not the first time we have wanted the Commissioner of the Environment to pay a larger part in various laws. Among others, I am thinking of Bill C-288, which was introduced by the member for Honoré-Mercier. That was a bill to implement the Kyoto accord and to get the Commissioner of the Environment involved. There was also Bill C-311, the climate change bill, which was a response given at the end of the Kyoto accord and an attempt to follow up on it.

Once again, parliamentarians tried to give the commissioner more tools to assess the government's progress.

This is important, because the Commissioner of the Environment has already looked at how the government carries out and applies its sustainable development policy.

I remember a report from the Commissioner of the Environment, when the government was examining the application of the strategic environmental assessment as part of its sustainable development policy. There is a directive from the Prime Minister's Office, dating back to 1994, which requires all departments to carry out impact assessments. Those are what we refer to as strategic environmental assessments.

These ensure that all departments' three Ps—policies, plans and programs—are consistent with sustainable development. Each policy, plan and program must be assessed by the department, looking not only at sustainable development, but also at environmental protection and social development.

What did the Commissioner of the Environment observe a few years ago? I remember the title of one of the chapters from the commissioner's report. It had to do with assessing the application of sustainable development within the Department of Finance. Talking about strategic environmental assessments, the commissioner at the time, Johanne Gélinas, titled the chapter, “Greening the tax system: Finance Canada dragging its feet”. If there is one fundamental department within a government, it is the finance department. And the tabling of the budget is a crucial time for parliamentarians, because the budget makes it possible to guide policies and utilize the tax system to bring about social and environmental governance.

What the commissioner basically indicated was that the Department of Finance was not applying the strategic environmental assessment to its policies, programs and plans. What are the consequences? The Canadian government tells us that it is important to protect the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, at the same time, the finance minister provides tax breaks to the oil industry. On the one hand, the government says we must protect the environment, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change but, on the other, it uses an available tool, taxation, to give breaks such as depreciation deductions to an industry that is a major contributor to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Had the Department of Finance respected the 1994 directive from the Prime Minister's Office requiring the Department of Finance to conduct an environmental assessment of its policies, governance would probably be quite different.

That is why we have to give the Commissioner of the Environment a bigger role to play. We have to make sure that we really get independent audits, independent being the operative word because that is what will be used to guide all sectors in Canadian and Quebec society. I am talking about independent audits, but also independence for the media and scientists. The point is that we have to make sure policy is not influenced by vested interests.

That is why we have to amend the Sustainable Development Act to give the commissioner more powers, and at the same time, the government has to be aware that when the so-called environmental watchdog sends out clear messages and strongly recommends that the government do something different, the government has to listen. The more reports the Commissioner of the Environment produces, the better governance will be, as long as this government decides to listen to independent advice and respect the people's wishes to build a sustainable society for the future.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

June 16th, 2010 / 7:35 p.m.
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NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak today to Bill S-210, which is private legislation by the hon. Senator Banks that will require the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to report not just to the House of Commons but to the other chamber of Parliament as well.

As originally passed, the Auditor General Act and the Federal Sustainable Development Act do not currently require either the Auditor General or the commissioner to report to the other place.

Despite this, the fact is that the Auditor General and the commissioner already report their findings to both chambers, by convention. However, the proposed amendments in this bill would formalize that process in law. This is a worthwhile improvement to both acts. I know that the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development supports this change.

It should be no surprise that when the hon. Senator Banks, who I know has been working diligently on this for quite some time, originally introduced this legislation as Bill S-216, it received the support of all parties in the House. Unfortunately, the government decided to prorogue Parliament, again, this year, so the legislation had to be reintroduced.

The Standing Orders dictate that private members' bills from the other place are not lost if they are passed again by the upper chamber within 60 days.

Bill S-216 was duly reintroduced and passed again by that other chamber as Bill S-210, and here we are, tasked with voting on it again in the House after the delay caused by prorogation.

It is too bad that this time has been lost, since this bill could conceivably have been passed into law by now. A number of bills are in the same situation, or worse.

Just this week I heard the Conservative member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke speak in this House complaining about how so few bills, especially government bills, had been passed in this session of Parliament. That is really the pot calling the kettle black. If the member's own leader, the Prime Minister, had not suspended Parliament, all the government bills would not have been wiped out. The Conservatives would not have had to start from square one on their legislative agenda. Moreover, if they could work better with the opposition, Parliament could work better and pass more needed legislation.

This bill is fundamentally about reporting on the government's progress on the issue of sustainable development. For over 15 years now, federal departments have been required to make sustainable development plans and to report to Parliament on their progress toward sustainability. Members know that the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development has been critical of successive governments in following these requirements. Many federal departments have had spotty records on planning and working toward sustainability. Some are not even reporting adequately.

In this context, having formal arrangements for the commissioner to report to the other chamber and to perhaps invite a bit more scrutiny is a good thing.

This bill would also allow the commissioner to report to Parliament more than just once a year. It would allow reporting to occur immediately if something urgent or noteworthy came up instead of requiring waiting a whole year to have it in the next report. That is a reasonable idea.

Right now, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development reports under the auspices of the Auditor General and is an assistant auditor. In addition to reporting on the government's progress and plans for sustainability, the commissioner is also responsible for overseeing the environmental petitions process on behalf of Canadians, which was set up to make sure that Canadians can get timely answers from ministers on environmental issues.

It has been suggested by many that the commissioner should be taken out from under the wing of the Auditor General's office and should become more of a stand-alone office. Regardless of whether that is in the cards or not, Parliament must ensure that the office of the commissioner remains independent from interference and that it is funded adequately to continue its important work.

I say this not just because the commissioner performs an important job for Parliament and allows a certain level of desperately needed accountability, but because of the track record of the government. That track record is one of generally avoiding accountability, especially regarding the environment.

Even as we speak, the government is pushing forward legislation to give itself new powers to scrap the majority of environmental assessments on infrastructure and other projects. The government wants the Minister of the Environment to be able to sidestep the checks and balances Parliament has put in place. These checks are there to make sure that we avoid environmental disasters. With the catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, one would think that the government would see fit to rethink its strategy of removing all of the precautions.

Even if the government's primary concern is the bottom line, environmental safeguards are a key element of a good business plan that ensures that projects are sustainable in all ways, economically and environmentally. They prevent hidden financial costs down the road, as BP is discovering. We either invest a little at the beginning, or we pay a lot in the end.

Sadly, gutting environmental assessments this year was just the latest in a number of examples. It was only last year that the same government granted itself the power to basically rip up the assessment process for development projects on lakes and streams in the Navigable Waters Protection Act. The obsession of the Conservative government for more and more power and less and less accountability has become very clear to Canadians and to most of us.

Parliament must remain vigilant and ensure that the various officers and commissioners of Parliament, such as the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, the Office of the Auditor General, and others, can retain their independence.

This is private legislation, and thus, members traditionally can decide on their own whether to support it or not. For my part, I am pleased to say that my support for this legislation has not wavered, and I would encourage my New Democratic colleagues to remain supportive as well. I invite all other members of the House to pass Bill S-210 so that it may get the consideration and examination it deserves in committee.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

June 16th, 2010 / 7:45 p.m.
See context

Langley
B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, it is a real treat to speak to Bill S-210, a bill that is important. It requires reporting to both this House and the other place, the Senate. It is a real treat to speak to it, because it was one of those rare occurrences when all the parties worked together to see something very positive happen.

This government is committed to preserving and protecting our fragile environment to preserve it for future generations. All too often, we have partisan attacks by the coalition members. However, that did not happen when I offered to work with a former colleague, John Godfrey, in a previous Parliament. It was good times, and we were able to work together, and now we have some fine tweaking of that bill to make it proper.

Senator Tommy Banks brought it through the Senate. It required a very special person who would carry it and present it in this House, and that is the member for Kitchener Centre.

Before I speak specifically to the bill, I just want to acknowledge what an ideal person the member for Kitchener Centre is and how fortunate that riding is to have a person of his calibre. He is actually one of the brightest minds here on the Hill. He practised law for almost 30 years and then was honoured to represent Kitchener Centre when he was elected in 2008 to this House of Commons. Almost right away he was acknowledged and recognized for his commitment. He serves on the environment committee but also on the justice committee.

A little over a year ago, our government introduced the Environmental Enforcement Act. It is very important that the laws we have are enforced. That was one of the changes we needed. Who better to carry that torch to make sure that our environment is being protected and that our laws are being enforced than the member for Kitchener Centre? He was the one who brought respect and decorum to committee, to this House, and of course, we saw that pass through this House. That was good news.

This bill is also an important piece of legislation, and again, he was asked to carry it. I am really honoured to be able to work with him on the environment committee. His goal appears to be to bring decorum. He is one of those rare persons who encourages respect and professionalism, both within this House and at committee. Again, it is a real honour to work with him. He is an ideal person. I want to thank the people from Kitchener Centre for electing a person of his integrity to represent them here in the House.

Regarding Bill S-210, I believe that it would be useful to review the existing accountability provisions in the Federal Sustainable Development Act, legislation that was passed last year with all-party support. In particular, I would like to look at the role of the environmental indicators to help promote transparency. As members know, transparency is important to Canadians and is important to this government. There actually has never been a government that has been more committed to transparency than this government under this great Prime Minister.

This government is committed to improving and reporting so that Canadians are better informed about the state of the environment. As members will recall, the act requires the Minister of the Environment to monitor implementation of the federal sustainable development strategy and to report on the progress every three years. To do this, the government draws on data available through the Canadian environmental sustainability indicators.

Environmental indicators are at the heart of the act, and while this government is committed to achieving a healthy environment for all Canadians, we need to know that our efforts are yielding results with respect to both the health of Canadians and the strengthening of the economy.

We look to environmental indicators for evidence on key issues such as the quality of the water and the air. These indicators give us the information we need to measure performance on the environment. They help us to make important policy decisions that address any gaps, and they enable Canadians to better understand the relationships between the economy and the environment, and human health and our well-being.

That is why our government has extended funding for the Canadian environmental sustainability indicators. It is an initiative from 2008 to 2009, and now again in this budget we are reflecting the importance of measuring the progress that the government is making toward a cleaner environment.

Yet, it is not enough to develop indicators to collect data on long-term trends. Nor is it enough to use these indicators as a yardstick to measure progress. Nor is it sufficient to report on our progress of implementing the strategy every three years. To deliver the kind of accountability and transparency that Canadians expect, and they deserve, we need greater flexibility than the existing legislation provides.

The Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act requires the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to prepare regular reports. These include an assessment of whether the draft federal strategy for sustainable development contains measurable targets and implementation strategies.

The commissioner is also required to assess the fairness of information provided in the government's progress report. Finally, the commissioner continues to audit departmental sustainable development strategies and reports on whether the departments and agencies have contributed to meeting the overall government targets.

The existing legislation, however, limits the tabling of such reports to certain times. In effect, this constrains the commissioner's ability to provide analysis and insight into the government's progress toward sustainable development. Not only could more frequent reports aid the government, they could also contribute to greater understanding among Canadians about the importance of sustainable development, how far we have come in meeting our targets, and how far we have yet to go.

It is vital to recognize that sustainable development is not a goal to be achieved in the usual sense of the word, rather it is an elusive, ever-moving target. Even if our environmental indicators suggest positive results, and they do, we have seen greenhouse gas emissions go down under this government by over 2%. So even though these environmental indicators suggest positive results, we do not believe the job is finished. What do we do? To do so would jeopardize the lasting impact of the good work this government is doing on the environment, and it would impinge upon the legacy that we leave to future generations. Consequently, we must always be attuned to the delicate balance between social, economic and the environmental priorities. We must monitor our progress carefully and frequently, and recalibrate our actions.

That is why the amendments in Bill S-210, brought to the House by the member for Kitchener Centre, are so important. That is why we do support this good work. The amendments will give the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development extra latitude to table more reports as required. These reports could very well heighten the impact of the government's good work on sustainable development and would surely reinforce the goal of greater transparency and accountability.

The proposed amendments would increase accountability in another way. The Federal Sustainable Development Act currently requires the government to share the draft federal strategy with the Canadian public, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, and the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development.

Our government is getting it done in so many ways. As members in the House know, we are committed to protecting and preserving the environment for this generation and future generations. I want to again thank the member for Kitchener Centre. What an amazing member he is and I applaud him for his effort in bringing unity to the House as we move together to protect the environment.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

June 16th, 2010 / 7:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to what was Bill S-216 and is now Bill S-210.

Before the member for Kitchener Centre gets too excited in his applause for the parliamentary secretary, the fact of the matter is that the leader of the government over there is the one who has put him through all the aggravation regarding this bill.

The member spoke to this bill in the House last fall and there is no reason why we should be where we are today. This bill should have long since been passed. I applaud the member for his determination and hard work on this bill, having gone through the process he has gone through to get the bill as far as he did, then have the rug pulled out from under him by his own leader at the end of the year, and now having to start the whole process over.

After reading in the Senate Hansard what Senator Tommy Banks said regarding this matter, I do not think the senator is as thrilled with the hon. member as the member pretends Senator Banks is. The Prime Minister is creating work for Senator Banks, who could be happily working on some other projects, which I am sure there are a lot of in the other place.

I wanted to speak about the history of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development during its past 131 years. The Office of the Auditor General of Canada has conducted many audits of environmental and sustainable development matters, but since 1995 it has had a very specific mandate in this area, thanks to amendments to the Auditor General Act.

The 1995 amendments to the Auditor General Act created the position of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development within the Office of the Auditor General of Canada and gave the commissioner specific monitoring and reporting duties on behalf of the Auditor General. It also added environmental impact to what the Auditor General takes into account when determining what to report to the House of Commons.

I would point out that the reports that are produced are given to Parliament, but under the 1995 legislation the Senate was left out. The government says it was inadvertent and Senator Banks says it was deliberate. I am not sure who is right about it, but, in practice, however, the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North has pointed out that in actual fact the reports that come through are shared with both Houses, in any event. I believe the need for this legislation is more housekeeping in nature than anything else.

In addition, the departments are required to prepare sustainable development strategies and update them every three years. Finally, the amendments in 1995 to the Auditor General Act also authorized the Auditor General to receive petitions, which the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North spoke about, on environmental and sustainable development matters and required ministers to respond to them.

Under the 1995 amendments to the Auditor General Act, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development is appointed by the Auditor General of Canada. The commissioner actually holds the rank of assistant auditor general and, in addition, assists the Auditor General in carrying out the environmental audit responsibilities, monitors and reports on federal department progress in implementing its sustainable development strategies, and also administers the petitions process on behalf of the Auditor General. As the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North pointed out, there is some debate as to whether this position should be separated out of the office.