House of Commons Hansard #109 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was employees.

Topics

Business of the House

June 2nd, 2003 / 11:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. member for Churchill has informed me in writing that she was unable to move her motion during the hour reserved for private members' business on Tuesday, June 3.

It has not been possible to arrange an exchange of position in the order of precedence. Accordingly, I am directing the table officers to drop that item of business to the bottom of the order of precedence. Private members' hour will thus be cancelled and the House will continue with the business before it prior to private members' hour

It being 11:07 a.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The Environment
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Jordan Leeds—Grenville, ON

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should develop and report annually on a set of social, environmental and economic indicators of the health and well-being of people, communities and ecosystems in Canada.

Mr. Speaker, surprisingly, I have had indications from a number of members that they wish to speak to the motion, which is good news.

I will briefly go over the main points of the intention of the motion, then take whatever questions members may have and then let other members speak to this important issue. This is not the first time I have introduced this idea, and I have spoken in the House on this issue before.

The motion sets out a framework for the government to develop a set of indicators or measurements, and there is certainly debate around which would be better and more applicable, so that at the end of each year, or some time during a calendar year, we could provide reports to the people of Canada that would provide objective information concerning the economy of the country, the state of the environment and measures that would deal with social well-being.

I realize there have been some concerns expressed, such as health indicators being an encroachment into provincial jurisdiction. However I want to assure members of the House that when I first began this odyssey I naively thought I could sit down with a group of people and develop these indicators. I quickly came to the conclusion, after one particular meeting at which we talked about the spiritual value of a candle flame for an hour, that it was probably better left to people who knew what they were doing.

A couple of people have been of tremendous help. I have to say again that this certainly was not my idea. This idea has been around since Marilyn Waring, a very insightful politician from New Zealand who in the 1970s started talking about the problems associated with how we measure progress.

I want to pay tribute to and thank Mike Nickerson, a gentleman from Merrickville, Ontario, who has written extensively and devoted a great part of his adult life to the issue of sustainability. I also want to thank Ron Colman from Atlantic Canada who developed a genuine progress index that I think goes a long way toward solving what types of things we might go about measuring and how we might go about measuring them.

Canadians can be proud of those people and others in that they have undertaken this issue as almost their life's ambition and have provided us with a tremendous foundation of what we need to do.

As I was looking through the material on this issue, I came across a wonderful document that was produced in the early 1990s called “Energy Efficiency Trends in Canada”. It contains over 100 pages and breaks down indicators for energy use. It is fascinating reading. It gives us very clear insight into the fact that although Canada is a large country and, in absolute terms, has an abundance of resources, even if we take into consideration climate and geography, Canadians are energy hogs. We are using far more energy in this country on a per capita basis than could ever be available if the third world even started approaching anything remotely close to our standard of living.

If we had known that in the early 1990s, had that been in the public domain and had we had a concerned citizenry, I think it would have closed the loop in terms of governments looking at energy policy and coming up with energy policies taking that into consideration. Ignoring the fact that we have waste streams associated with that, sooner or later we will run out of energy. The costs of running out and the problems associated with that would certainly be minimized if we were to start addressing the problem sooner rather than later.

In terms of the history of this initiative, my own personal involvement is directly tied to Peter Bevan-Baker, a candidate who ran for the Green Party in, I think, every provincial and federal election in my riding for a little over a decade. I would attend these debates initially as a policy advisor to my father who was the candidate and the member, and then myself.

I was always struck with the passion of Mr. Bevan-Baker's arguments. I talked to him after one of the debates and told him that I did not disagree with anything that he had to say in terms of where he thought we needed to go as a country. Where I had the problem, I told him, and I guess this is rooted back into my academic background, which is business, is that we had to get from (a) to (b in a way that people would accept it and support it.

One of the paradoxes that confronts governments is that some of the decisions they would have to make transcend an election cycle, which means there has to be an informed public that will support some tough decisions over the course of five to ten years. The public must have confidence that the government has taken the steps that will result in the outcomes that are being predicted.

I think a set of tracking indicators would be the first step and the first step only to putting in place a structure where if governments are serious about addressing energy efficiency or energy usage in this country, if they are serious about attacking problems, such as illiteracy and poverty, then we need a way to demonstrate to Canadians that the policies that are being supported by their tax dollars are actually making the situation better instead of worse.

I would argue that one of the problems we have now is that we do not have such a tracking mechanism. What we have is an extreme bias toward economic indicators. I am not saying that those are necessarily bad. What I am saying is that they do not give the total pictures.

The analogy I like to use is that the government is driving a bus full of Canadians and all the Canadians are staring at is this phenomenon. I think anyone who has driven a vehicle would understand that there are a few other things we should be keeping our eye on, such as looking out the window and taking a look at the state of our society, the sustainability of rural communities and the state of the environment. I think at the end of the day, if we were to sit Canadians down, those would be the things that they would say they value.

Unfortunately, in this society we tend to measure what we value and value what we measure. The bias there is toward economics. Certainly interest rates are a wonderful test of the functioning of an economy, the health of an economy and the confidence that capital markets have in an economy.

Gross domestic product is a measure that is widely used. However we must keep in mind, although I do not want to belabour the point, the GDP makes no distinction between good expenditures and bad expenditures. Investments in education count the very same in a GDP calculation as the costs associated with an automobile accident.

It becomes very clear that although we need economic indicators to influence an input, the decision making that goes into public policy, we certainly do not want to have that be the only thing. I would argue that although they may consider other measures the bias exists. That is what the motion, hopefully, will have the House deal with, that we have to bring some balance.

The flawed assumption in the current state of measurement or how we measure well-being is that we are making an assumption that economic activity and even economic growth directly correlate to improved quality of life and well-being in this country. I would argue to anyone that that assumption is flawed. It is not the case. Growth for the sake of growth, if we are not protecting the environment, energy use patterns, although we may be able to accept economically because of the abundance of resources in this country, over the long term will have a detrimental effect on future generations.

What the motion tries to do is expand the measure of wealth. I am not naive enough to suggest that this is an easy thing to do. I would also argue that Statistics Canada, one of the best data collecting agencies in the world, is around the corner. I think a cursory search of secondary information probably could put together a fairly good set of indicators of information, such as “Energy Efficiency Trends in Canada”, a 110 page document that we are already doing. We just need to correlate it, put it together and present it to Canadians.

We must keep in mind what the end game is here. What I hope will happen is that by reconnecting to Canadians, much like the deficit fight, when we reflect on that in a non-partisan way in terms of how a government cuts $42 billion in spending and then goes up in the polls, I think people were tracking it.

People took an interest in it, understood the importance of it and had a measure to which to hold their government accountable. I do not want to start a debate about the rightness or wrongness of the measures that they took to cut the money, but at the end of the day I think the Canadian population has shown a tremendous capacity to support responsible action in government.

However the key and the first step is to provide objective information and put that in the hands of Canadians. I have faith and trust that Canadians will hold their governments accountable according to the things they value. Although they value the interest rate, they also value minimizing the number of people living in poverty in the country. They value the state of the water and air in our environment, and this measure is a first step to hold governments accountable.

If governments find they have to move on environmental issues, for example, we will be unable to improve the state of the environment unless we take some rather drastic steps. We have to look at tax shift. We have to quit taxing things that we want to have happen and not taxing things that we do not want to have happen. We have to look at our tax system and how we can use it in a classical motivation model to encourage the proper behaviours.

Just to give a quick example of how some of these things might work, Germany has legislation called lifetime product stewardship legislation. Essentially under the plan companies that make consumer products, when those products are no longer useful, the companies have to take them back. They are not stuck at the curb for a truck to pick up and dump in a landfill site.

A number of things happen when this is done. We find that German manufacturing now is much less complicated. To the people at home who are perhaps watching this on television, take a minute and look in the back of the television set. Why in God's green earth do we have 17 or 18 different kinds of screws in a television? What we find under regimes where consumer products are manufactured with lifetime product stewardship legislation in place is they simplify, reuse and recycle. Over 30% of the parts in BMW cars are now recycled parts.

At the end of the day it may seem like a rather intrusive move into markets by government but this initiative is supported not only by the David Suzuki Foundation, it is also supported by the Canadian Chemical Producers' Association because they are looking for a set of rules. Nobody benefits if legislation allows people to pollute. The good companies that want to do the right thing are eventually put under price pressure to make changes which are not in the best interest of society.

At the end of the day, pollution pays. We have to address this a different way and there are things that government can do with the tax system. I am convinced we will turn this ship and start aiming it in the right direction but, again, the key is to have the Canadian public on side. The first step to doing that is to provide them with the most objective information about the things they value economically, socially and environmentally.

The Environment
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to talk to the motion of hon. member for Leeds—Grenville. I also would like to acknowledge that just last week I proposed a similar motion on the environment, the quality of life and contaminants. There is a movement in my community that deals with health issues that affect a community and make the quality of life very difficult for people. It also connects them to the economy, the environment and those contaminants.

Surprisingly the government right now is opposing that motion which fits hand and glove with the motion before us now. It is shocking to hear one week later the same arguments. I am glad they are coming from somebody on that side, but what I would like the hon. member to join me in my motion. More important, I ask him to address how he will influence the government to take the necessary measures because our motions are very closely tied.

The Environment
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Jordan Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question. I certainly will take a very hard look at his motion. Private members' bills on this side are not whipped.

As I said, this initiative was first launched in the House in 1998, so I have been working on it quite a while. There is actually a bill that lays out the framework for how we might do this structurally. However one thing I found was the more specific I got with what I was trying to do, the more push-back there was. That is why I backed off the bill, because it was easy for the baby to go out with the bathwater if somebody saw one little thing.

Essentially, the process which I would like to see unfold here may also address the situation about which the member spoke very passionately in his area. The environment committee is an excellent standing committee in the House in terms of the work that it does under the chairmanship of the member for Davenport. Having spent considerable years on that committee, it could look at what the indicator sets might be. Whether the Auditor General or perhaps the environmental commissioner would be the reporting mechanism, I do not know, but we need to undertake a process in this country where Canadians reflect upon what they value. We are being told they value interest rates and the GDP. The disconnect leading to environmental and health issues in his community is the same disconnect leading to environmental health issues in my community.

Anything we can do in terms of trying to shed some light on the ridiculous notion that somehow if we take care of the economy, everything else will take care of itself, I would welcome Therefore I would be more than happy to consider this motion.

The Environment
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, to follow up, it is good to hear those comments but I want to read my specific motion, Motion No. 399:

That this House call upon the government to take the necessary measures, including the drafting of legislation, to prevent medical conditions and illnesses caused by exposure to identifiable environmental contaminants.

That would create a trigger to which the government would have to respond, a very beneficial one for the communities to give public confidence. Then the information would be brought back to the House to be debated and analyzed, for a government process.

That specifically is my motion. If the member pushes forward, I would hope that his motion could join my motion because the member is striking a chord. Even the OECD is acknowledging now the environmental degradation, the effects on the economy and how it is unsustainable. To date only the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP are joining me in this fight

The Environment
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Jordan Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is very helpful and the member has identified a very serious issue. What I would say to the member is at the end of the day we will have to judge ourselves on whether we move the agenda forward on that issue. When I was first elected in 1997, one of the frustrations I had was I was up against some pretty strong forces. Sometimes it is conspiracy, sometimes it is just disconnect.

My approach is to put it in the hands of Canadians because I do not think we will find a lot of people willing to go out on a limb around here. The better approach is to identify a set of solid indicators that certainly would address his issue in a more holistic way, and then governments will start to demand that we take action on these things. To me that just seems to be much more of a long term fix than trying to pick the issues off one at a time.

The Environment
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion No. 385 brought forward by the member for Leeds--Grenville today. It reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should develop and report annually on a set of social, environmental and economic indicators of the health and well-being of people, communities and ecosystems in Canada.

As we heard in the previous discourse that this was a broad motion. However it has a relatively simple and straightforward purpose which is to replace gross domestic product as the major indicator of well-being. It would be replaced with something called the genuine progress indicator, otherwise known as GPI.

The proponent is quite wise not to get too detailed in his motion. There is a lot of work to get to where we have an index that will engender wide ranging support . To launch this index without the appropriate structural homework would be a mistake.

The current GDP is definitely a poor way to determine how well human beings are actually doing. Gross domestic product is solely a monetary measurement which does not take into account factors other than the output of a nation's economy.

This genuine progress indicator would take into account many factors, social factors, environmental factors and other indicators. The genuine progress indicator is a measurement which would introduce values other than money into our accounting system.

For example, if money were currently spent in British Columbia, Newfoundland or another jurisdiction for repairing environmental damage from an oil spill or some other environmental catastrophe, this would record as an increase in the gross domestic product. This ignores the environmental damage obviously and focuses only on money. Whereas the genuine progress indicator would also take the environmental damage into account. We could use other examples, social, environmental or other matters as well.

Therefore the genuine progress indicator has some very large positives. What we must recognize, however, is the genuine progress indicator can be, and I am not saying it will be, easily abused and manipulated if the indicators built into it are used to skew the results in a way that is designed not so much to bring a new form of transparency but to make the designers of the system look good.

This is always a concern when we leave this kind of initiative in the hands of government because government will unfailingly seek to create a form of measurement that is self-serving.

One example I could give is one could suggest that the number of factories located in a certain area would be built into the development of an indicator. This could be taken as an indicator, for example, of how much pollution is in the air, or it could indicate a higher number of jobs or it could be skewed to say a number of other things.

My point is the government or the bureaucracy could use the GPI to justify almost anything it wanted. Therefore that is probably the biggest hurdle and reason why GDP, gross domestic product, continues to be the main basis of comparison because of its predictability and the fact that it can be compared internationally despite its flaws.

We need a set of indicators for GPI to which everyone can agree so that we can get to a comparable and essentially truthful answer rather than a self-serving answer. The key is to develop a set of parameters and indicators that are objective.

A recognized objective measurement that many organizations and countries are beginning to utilize is neither the gross domestic product nor the genuine progress indicator, but something called the gross domestic product purchasing power parity. Rather than genuine GPI, some countries are tending to use GDP purchasing power parity as a more accurate measure of a nation's well-being because it takes into account the standard of living within that country.

This turned out to be a useful comparison this last month when I was in Thailand and India with the trade subcommittee because in a developing country normal measurements of GDP do not tell much about the state of the middle class or the state of how people in the workforce are actually doing.

Nearly all of the most respected international organizations now use GDP purchasing power parity to measure economic progress. This includes the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations economic reports. These groups are utilizing this new measurement. Nearly all reports must take into account the actual cost of living to express a nation's wealth and well-being. This new measurement tends to do that.

I am generally supportive of Motion No. 385. At this point in time it is not developed to the point where I believe it can be implemented usefully. Adoption of this motion, however, would signal our concern with continued reliance on and utilization of the GDP measurement.

Expansion to GDP purchasing power parity would be a positive move. Movement to the genuine progress indicator is also a positive move but needs an international push and international agreement on data input standards. Canadian support for this initiative would be a very positive step.

A fair and objective set of measurements is needed. This is something that needs to be recognized internationally and not something designed for government to make government look good. This past winter, the Canadian Alliance set up a sustainable development work group to look at this very issue. I would like to summarize their findings.

Indicators have been developed to measure progress in achieving sustainable development objectives, including Nova Scotia's genuine progress indicator and the World Bank's genuine savings sustainability indicator. However, quantification and measurement of values based on hundreds of sustainable development variables, such as soil degradation, pollution, forestry and fisheries completion, volunteer activity, natural resources values, et cetera, are extremely complex. We want to adopt sustainable development indicators.

The GPI, genuine progress indicator, is a work in progress and I support that initiative.

The Environment
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate on Motion No. 385, which says:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should develop and report annually on a set of social, environmental and economic indicators of the health and well-being of people, communities and ecosystems in Canada.

I must indicate that we will vote against this motion, which well reflects this government's obsession with wanting to take control of everything and, once again, interfering in areas of provincial jurisdiction.

This motion follows the discussions held during the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy. In its report, the national roundtable proposed that sustainable development indicators be adopted to ensure that calculations relating to present and future economic development be enhanced with six new measures: changes to the Canadian forest cover, freshwater quality, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, extent of wetlands, as well as educational attainment.

It also wants calculations such as the GDP to be broadened to take human, social and environmental factors into consideration, while ensuring that the quality of environmental information is improved.

This is what Mr. Stuart Smith, co-chair of the Environment and Sustainable Development Indicators Initiative had to say about the six indicators:

You only manage what you measure. Other countries are looking at Canada. The OECD, for instance, and the World Bank are watching with interest—

What Mr. Stuart called:

—ground-breaking work.

He added that it was crucial to keep track of the human and natural capital in assessing our economic performances.

Mr. Smith greatly insisted on the fact that this study was commissioned by the former finance minister and prime minister in waiting and not the environment minister. I will come back to the ties between Mr. Smith and the former finance minister, and members will understand better why Mr. Smith is backing him.

The roundtable recommended that the finance minister play a leadership role by agreeing to use the new indicators and helping to set up new priorities in order to expand the system of national accounts. Statistics Canada has committed to producing an annual report on the recommended indicators and, as soon as it gets the resources needed, it will expand the system of national accounts to include all of the assets. As for Environment Canada, it has agreed to implement the Canadian information system on the environment.

What are we to think of this? It is all very well, but the hon. member for LaSalle--Émard has had 10 years to realize that, as far as the economy is concerned, environmental impacts must be taken into account, as well as the human and social capital of the world that surrounds us. Yet it is he who slashed transfer payments to the provinces, among other things.

It is rather odd that this report is coming out now, when the campaign to replace the outgoing Prime Minister is in full swing.

Do members know who this Stuart Smith is? He is the co-chair of the environment and sustainable development indicators committee. At a press conference, he praised the hon. member for LaSalle--Émard. According to a report by Charles Côté in La Presse , Mr. Smith is a personal friend of the hon. member for LaSalle-Émard and a former leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario.

That said, hon. members will understand my mistrust of this individual and the fact that we are distancing ourselves from the motion being debated.

We do basically support the recommendations of the round table, as the federal government has neglected to take these indicators into account, which should not be viewed as a novelty. When it comes down to it, it is surprising that it has taken this study to oblige the federal government to make the appropriate calculations for all these items.

There are some points that need to be clarified, however. What kind of consultations will there be with the Government of Quebec and the provinces?

We are told these indicators will make it possible to calculate the true value of the economic capital of Canada, but we must be cautious here. The population of Canada and Quebec lives in a concentrated area along the border with the United States, while huge expanses are virtually empty. We fear the statistics will be misused and will end up letting the federal ministers and their officials see things through rose coloured glasses.

Another interesting example given at the press conference related to carbon sinks, an area we know requires further study. The Bloc Quebecois favours reduction of emissions at the source. The effectiveness of these carbon sinks is not yet known. We sincerely hope that calculating forest cover in order to reduce the Kyoto objective is not one of things the aspiring successor to the outgoing Prime Minister and hon. member for LaSalle—Émard has in mind.

The concept of a consumption index, such as the “ecological footprint”, could have been chosen, for various reasons; the information collected could be used as the basis to draft legislation as required, and to encourage more accurate targeting by federal government initiatives within its fields of jurisdiction such as fiscal incentives, for example.

Quebec's jurisdiction must be respected, in health, the environment and management of natural resources.

The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development notes that the Liberal government, under the current Prime Minister and under the former finance minister and member for LaSalle—Émard, has not fulfilled its sustainable development commitments. This is seen in her October 2002 annual report. She says:

The federal government is not investing enough—enough of its human and financial resources; its legislative, regulatory, and economic powers; or its political leadership—to fulfil its sustainable development commitments.

And she continues:

The federal government says it is managing its fiscal deficits to avoid leaving a burden for future generations, but its failure to deal in a timely manner with the environmental legacy of contaminated sites in its own backyard passes on another burden.

She adds:

Our audit findings this year make me more concerned than ever about the environmental, social and economic legacy we are leaving our children—we are burdening them with a growing sustainable development deficit.

In conclusion, while the motion in itself appears worthwhile, we have doubts about the reasons for the continuing lack, 10 years after the Rio conference on sustainable development, of solid economic measures, as presented in the motion.

Since we have no guarantee that reporting on such indicators would not have an impact on Quebec's sovereignty in its fields of jurisdiction, because the government is not prepared to establish these indicators in cooperation with the provinces, and especially with Quebec, we shall vote against this motion.

The Environment
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my responsibility to enter some remarks for the record on Motion No. 385. As you are aware, Sir, the motion states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should develop and report annually on a set of social, environmental and economic indicators of the health and well-being of people, communities and ecosystems in Canada.

The goal of the motion is to develop a comprehensive set of indicators to evaluate the well-being of Canadians on an economic, social and environmental level. If the motion passes, it will actually encourage the probability for the Standing Committee on Environment to vigorously examine and improve on the wording of the motion itself. As it stands right now, I would say that the language of the motion is somewhat vague, but the idea is there and it needs to be examined. It is a very good and solid first step in bringing forward this system of indicators. I am proud to say on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada that we fully intend to support this motion.

I believe the idea behind the motion is accountability. Oftentimes governments, and in particular from a partisan perspective this Liberal government, have had a history of making promises and commitments that we never see fulfilled. As reference documents, I suggest hon. members peruse red books one and two.

It is interesting to note that in February this year the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Madam Gélinas, appeared before the environment committee and shared the very same idea that the member for Leeds--Grenville is advocating here today. In the commissioner's address, she challenged committee members to pursue the Liberal government to live up to its Johannesburg commitments. She said action was needed from the government and committees should serve to help motivate it.

The summit in Johannesburg, in which I was a participant, produced a plan that contains noble ideas and commitments which indeed need to be followed through with. As hon. members know, the summit was held to discuss and develop a plan for sustainable development. In my view, sustainable development encompasses a wide range of issues, including a state of well-being. Whether we are talking about biodiversity, health, industry, technology, trade or the environment, it all falls under one umbrella of sustainable development. We know that a healthy economy is necessary in a progressive society, but after all, if we cannot drink the water or breathe the air, what is the point?

The summit reaffirmed sustainable development as an central element of the international agenda and gave new impetus to global action to fight poverty and to protect the environment. Governments agreed to and reaffirmed a wide range of concrete commitments and targets for action to achieve more effective implementation of sustainable development objectives.

Canada is already forced to comply with the commitments that were made in Johannesburg. Therefore, it would seem to be a logical progression to establish a set of indicators within Canada to measure sustainable development or overall well-being. The commissioner of the environment herself advocated this approach to the environment committee members. She said that government must establish an action plan for the future based on the commitments made in Johannesburg. Further, she went on to say that this progress must be monitored and tracked.

Those individuals who come from a corporate or business background say that if we cannot measure it, we cannot manage it, and I think that really speaks to the intent of the motion itself. We need to avoid the situations that happened after the Rio convention in 1992, when sustainable development promises were made by the Progressive Conservative Party but not kept by the Liberal government; as hon. members might remember, we were downsized a little bit about a calendar year later. Eleven years later, we do not want to repeat those very same mistakes.

Madam Gélinas has recommended that the government produce a report with long term goals and a destination for Canada to move toward in terms of sustainability. The motion being debated today on the floor of the House would effectively push the government in the right direction toward following through with sustainable development commitments that would ensure the well-being of Canadians. It would provide for the definition, development and periodic publication of a set of indicators of the economic, social and environmental well-being of our country, communities and ecosystems.

Through the motion being brought forward, the committee will have an opportunity to continue the work that the commissioner of the environment has outlined and challenged our committee to do. It is extremely important that we contribute to the overall achievement of developing a plan for sustainable development in this country. The environment committee could then in turn receive input from the public through submissions and public hearings to determine the broad societal values of what such indicators should be based upon.

Once again, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada supports this private member's motion. As vice-chair of the environment and sustainable development committee, I must say that I am looking forward to putting my shoulder to the wheel and helping the member for Leeds—Grenville in this worthwhile pursuit he has tabled before the House.

The Environment
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by acknowledging the good work that the member for Leeds—Grenville, the author of the motion, has put into this issue and, as he indicated to us in his opening remarks today, for quite an extended period of time.

There is no question that the intent of the motion is to get in place and then implement indicators of progress, wealth and well-being that are not, in any significant manner, assessed at this point, so again I congratulate the member for Leeds--Grenville for having brought forward the motion. As my colleague for Windsor West has indicated, he is working to a smaller degree in another area. We hope that all members on the government side will support both of these motions.

However, in that regard, and it gives me great cause for concern, this type of index and the promulgation of these types of indicators is not a new idea. We heard that it came out of Australia and New Zealand in the late 1970s when it was first enunciated in a general way that we assess our wealth and our progress in a holistic fashion. That goes back well over 30 years now.

Canada has looked at this issue repeatedly. More specifically, I would point out that in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the current government was in opposition, their environmental critic, the member for LaSalle—Émard, indicated very clearly that this methodology, these indexes or these indicators, had to be proceeded with and he was in full support. Then, after the Liberals became the government and that same member became the minister of finance, and was until quite recently, he was regularly lobbied by environmental groups and social activists in this country to begin to establish this index or these indicators. Right up until this time, we do not have it and in fact very little work has been done at the federal level to deal with this issue.

Again, the member for Leeds--Grenville has worked on it and one may only hope that with a change in the administration of the government perhaps that member will become the minister of the environment and be able to implement it at a much faster rate than his predecessors have, if he is allowed to do that by the new prime minister.

There has been a lot of work done on this issue in Nova Scotia. I want to draw the attention of the House to that. Professor Ron Colman has been working on developing this index. In fact, he has been taking what I consider to be very impressive steps to establish what this index would look like and in fact how we would put in place these measurements. He has been receiving some assistance in this work, a lot of assistance from other people in Nova Scotia and some from Statistics Canada in terms of providing some resources and a lot of the data that is necessary to build this index. I have to be careful not to give him all the credit because I am sure he would be the first one to say that it is not all his work, but he has broken down the index into a number of headings.

The first heading is time use. Under this heading, a person would actually determine the economic value of civic and voluntary work and the economic value of unpaid housework and child care, work hours that are not now assessed, and in addition, the value of leisure time.

Next is natural capital, which I have always had the most difficulty in grappling with, because it takes into account esthetic values in some respects. How do we quantify them and assess them? Quite clearly I do not have the ability to do that, but people with perhaps greater creativity can. Under natural capital, Professor Colman talks of the value to the human species of soils and agriculture, forests, the marine environment and fisheries, and non-renewable subsoil assets. Dollar figures can be put on some of them, but for others it is much more difficult. In fact, even moving away from the dollar figures and just trying to quantify the value of that to any given society is going to be difficult. Again, Professor Colman is working on that.

He then goes on to deal with the next heading, which is environmental quality. Again we get into the same issue of the value of certain items to society, not using a dollar figure and not in an economic way, but oftentimes in an esthetic way and even by looking at the beauty of the natural environment. How do we put that into some kind of an index so we will have a clear indication as to whether the quality of the beauty in the natural environment is being augmented by our activities or to some degree being desecrated by it?

Under environmental quality is a number of subheadings. One of the prominent subheadings, which we are all trying to deal with now, is the issue of greenhouse gas emissions. Professor Colman also addresses the issues of sustainable transportation, air quality, water quality and solid waste. One of the indicators he is using is one that has become quite prominent in the environmental movement and that is the analysis of an ecological footprint. I think that is a real test and an indicator that in fact we will be able to use. More research is being done on that. It is becoming clearer how we could use that analysis in this overall index.

Professor Colman then moves on to socio-economics and the issue of how we would use the tax system to re-address issues that at this point in time are warped in many respects. This is one of the issues raised by my colleague from Leeds--Grenville. Oil and gas and the nuclear industry are subsidized to a very significant degree in this country, but we do not do likewise for wind and solar power, sources of energy that of course have much less impact, if any, on the natural environment. Under socio-economics, we deal with a number of traditional issues found in the GDP.

Finally, he deals with social capital. Under this subheading are health care, educational attainment, the costs of crime and the human freedom index. Here we would be bringing in within our society those social activists who have looked at these issues and see the benefits to quality of life by enhancing health care and education and by reducing crime and violence, and there is the whole issue of our civil liberties and civil rights. This would benefit all members of society

Members can see, then, that the province of Nova Scotia has gone a very long way toward establishing this index and these indicators of social progress that would measure human progress much better than the use of the gross domestic product index does now.

In conclusion, I will say that the real tragedy here is that this issue has been worked on for a number of years now, and numbers of people in this country have worked on other indexes of a similar nature. The real issue is why we as a country and as a government in 2003 are now looking at these indicators and saying they sound like a good idea when what we really should be saying is that all the research has been done, we have the indicators, here is the index and now let us implement it.

The Environment
Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is the House ready for the question?

The Environment
Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Question.

The Environment
Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

The Environment
Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The Environment
Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

No.