House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was legislation.

Topics

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

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

Bill C-474--National Sustainable Development Act--Speaker's Ruling
National Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons on December 11, 2007, concerning the national sustainable development act, Bill C-474, standing in the name of the hon. member for Don Valley West, and its requirement for a royal recommendation. I wish to thank both the hon. parliamentary secretary as well as the member for Don Valley West for their submissions on this matter.

In his intervention, the hon. parliamentary secretary contended that the bill's provisions to establish a new and independent Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development would not only require new government spending but also represent a change in the conditions and qualifications of the royal recommendation that accompanied the 1995 amendments to the Auditor General Act.

He also contended that the establishment of a new Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development was similar to the creation of a new government department and that such provisions needed to be accompanied by a royal recommendation. He cited a ruling of July 11, 1988 when two report stage motions, the first of which proposed the establishment of a separate department of government and the second a separate commissioner of multiculturalism, were ruled out of order on the basis that they offended the royal recommendation which accompanied that bill.

Finally, citing a ruling of September 19, 2006 on the Development Assistance Accountability Act, Bill C-293, which concluded that a royal recommendation was required for the establishment of an advisory committee for international cooperation, the parliamentary secretary argued that the creation of an advisory council on sustainable development also requires a royal recommendation on the basis that it would result in the expenditure of public funds in a manner and for a purpose not currently authorized.

In his submission on January 31, 2008, the hon. member for Don Valley West conceded that the bill needed to be accompanied by a royal recommendation. He indicated that he would work with other members at the committee stage to amend the bill in such a way that any impediments to its progress would be removed. The Chair wishes to commend the hon. member for his constructive approach.

In order to assist the House, the Chair has carefully reviewed the provisions contained in Bill C-474 to identify the provisions that caused concern regarding the royal recommendation while at the same time responding to the point of order raised by the hon. parliamentary secretary .

The appointment of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development is currently carried out under section 15.1 of the Auditor General Act. It states:

15.1(1) The Auditor General shall, in accordance with the Public Service Employment Act, appoint a senior officer to be called the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development who shall report directly to the Auditor General.

Bill C-474, on the other hand, would provide for the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to be appointed by the governor in council as an independent commissioner instead of being appointed by and reporting to the Auditor General. Although funds may have already been appropriated for the position of Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development under the Auditor General Act, the Chair agrees with the arguments put forward by the hon. parliamentary secretary to the effect that the provisions contained in Bill C-474 would clearly alter the conditions under which these appropriations were originally authorized.

Bill C-474 also proposes a new mandate for the commissioner. The current mandate is spelled out in section 21.1 of the Auditor General Act. It states:21.1 The purpose of the Commissioner is to provide sustainable development monitoring and reporting on the progress of category 1 departments towards sustainable development—

Category I departments are defined in the act as any departments named in Schedule I of the Financial Administration Act, in the schedule to the Auditor General Act or identified by the governor in council under subsection 24(3).

However, clause 13 of Bill C-474 would modify the mandate of this new independent commissioner to require, namely, the development of “a national sustainability monitoring system to assess...the state of the Canadian environment, nationally and by province” as well as “...the national and provincial performance in meeting each sustainable development goal...” listed in the bill.

Goals listed in the bill include “generating genuine wealth, shifting to clean energy, producing healthy food and building sustainable cities”, to quote the bill.

As House of Commons Procedure and Practice points out, on page 711:

A Royal Recommendation not only fixes the allowable charge, but also its objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications.

The clause 13 requirements would impose additional functions on the commissioner that are substantially different from those foreseen in the current mandate. In the Chair's view, clause 13 thus alters the conditions set out in the original bill to which a royal recommendation was attached.

Finally, the hon. parliamentary secretary argued that the creation of the sustainable development advisory council provided for in Bill C-474 requires a royal recommendation since this would require the expenditure of public funds in a manner and for a purpose not currently authorized.

Clause 7 of the bill provides for the governor in council to appoint 25 representatives to the advisory council. Section 23 of the Interpretation Act makes it clear that the power to appoint includes the power to pay. As the provision in Bill C-474 is such that the governor in council could choose to pay a salary to these representatives, this involves an appropriation of a part of the public revenue and should be accompanied by a royal recommendation. If the intention of the bill is that these representatives would not be paid, then this should be clearly expressed in the bill.

For all of these reasons, I will decline to put the question on third reading of this bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

However, debate is currently on the motion for second reading and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the second reading debate, of course in conformity with the Standing Orders of the House.

Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport.

Bill C-474--National Sustainable Development Act--Speaker's Ruling
National Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca
Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address the House on the second reading of Bill C-474, the proposed National Sustainable Development Act.

As my colleagues have stated previously and as the government recently laid out in the Speech from the Throne, this government is clearly committed to improving environmental sustainability throughout this country.

We are implementing a very ambitious plan to cut greenhouse gases and to cut air pollution. For the first time ever, our government will be regulating the big industrial polluters. It took this government to take those steps to do that.

Among other measures, the government has taken action to protect water quality, which is so important to Canadians, including tough new regulations against the dumping of raw sewage as well as improving raw sewage treatment in municipalities and first nation communities across Canada. We are expanding our capacity to enforce our environmental laws. We are taking the environment very seriously.

We know that protecting and sustaining our natural environment is central to the quality of life of Canadians and this country, to our very prosperity and to the health and well-being of all Canadians. We have also been clear about our commitment to greater accountability in every step of government, especially in the environment, in advancing sustainable development.

When the former minister of the environment tabled the fourth round of sustainable development strategies in December 2007, she stated the need to take action to address the inaction of previous governments and to ensure that Canada become a leader in sustainable development.

Today, we already have the tools to do the job for Canada to become a leader in sustainable development. Canada is one of the very few countries in the world that has enshrined sustainable development in actual legislation. We are proud of that.

The Auditor General Act ensures that federal departments and agencies take action to advance sustainable development within their mandates. Each of these departments and agencies reports every year to Parliament on its progress. That is correct: every year.

The Auditor General Act also ensures that federal progress on the environment and sustainable development is monitored by the Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.

Over the past 10 years, the commissioner's reports have offered constructive criticism on governments' progress on sustainable development strategies. According to the reports, what has been lacking by past governments is simple: action.

However, that is changing under our Conservative government. Based on the commissioner's most recent report, this government has committed to undertake a thorough review of the current approach in order to achieve major improvements in sustainable development strategies. The commissioner is pleased with our commitment. We have agreed to complete our government-wide review by no later than October 2008.

Bill C-474, the proposed act before us today, does not create a more effective tool and is problematic for a number of reasons.

For example, the bill proposes to establish a role for the Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development that is both unworkable and unnecessary. Let me outline a few of these issues.

First, Bill C-474 extends the authorities of the commissioner to that of both advocacy and audit, a clearly unworkable situation. The proposed bill, for example, states that the commissioner shall “provide advice and monitor progress in achieving sustainable development”, as is stated in paragraph 13(4)(c).

It is very difficult to be viewed as a non-partisan body if that body both advises on policy and then subsequently audits its implementation. Such a body would be open to accusations of bias given that it would be auditing what it helped to create. It is a clear conflict of interest.

Indeed, in its recently released report, the green ribbon panel established by the Auditor General carefully circumscribed what the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development should advocate about. It warned against an advocacy role related to policy but supported advocacy on best practices and environmental management, which is exactly what we are arguing today.

This is an issue understood by the Office of the Auditor General. Its performance manual, in 2004, stated:

Special care is required when audit findings touch on government policy. As officers of Parliament, we do not want to be seen to be second-guessing the intentions of Parliament when it approves legislation, or of Cabinet when it selects a certain policy direction.

That is an important statement.

Second, Bill C-474 would extend the authority of the commissioner beyond that of federal jurisdiction to that of assessing the state of the environment by province and of reporting annually on provincial performance in meeting sustainable development goals relative to the performance of other industrialized countries.

This is just the kind of interference in the jurisdiction of provinces and territories that has caused a number of wrangles, and, in the past, one in which we cannot be and should not be a party. A clear interference in provincial jurisdiction; something that the government stands well entrenched again.

Third, Bill C-474 proposes the creation of a commissioner of the environment and sustainable development and such government bodies as a cabinet committee, secretariat and advisory council. The creation of a cabinet committee is clearly the prerogative of the acting prime minister.

The creation of a commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, the secretariat and an advisory council would require, clearly, the government to spend money and, therefore, a royal recommendation would be required as you, Mr. Speaker, have recently ruled. These issues also, clearly, require much further study.

However, it is time to act. The government is taking proactive steps on the environment. Very clearly, this is a government of positive action for Canadians, getting positive results.

Fourth, Bill C-474 would unnecessarily deepen the authority of the commissioner with respect to the current petitions process.

Petitions are letters sent by Canadians to the Auditor General as a way to present their environmental concerns and questions to specific ministers of the federal government. Ministers are required to respond in writing within 120 days.

The commissioner concluded, in his 2007 report, that on balance the petitions process is a good news story. He noted:

Our retrospective study of petitions shows that petitioners value the process, which provides a forum for voicing their concerns and assures them of a formal response.

The commissioner also flagged that the volume and the complexity of petitions has increased significantly in recent years. The current approach to petitions, according to the commissioner himself, is working very well. Let us spend our efforts on what really does need our attention.

That is the proposal of this government: investment where it is necessary and where we are going to get positive results. We are currently taking steps to ensure that implementation of sustainable development is strengthened across the federal government.

As I mentioned earlier, a management review is currently under way that will draw on a decade of experience with the current approach and best practices internationally. That will identify clear means to improve the current approach.

That is what the government is looking forward to doing, and is doing on many other files.

In addition, the government has taken steps to ensure greater department accountability for the strategy process. The Federal Accountability Act, which we are all on this side of the House very proud of, ensures that deputy ministers are responsible before Parliament for their management responsibilities, and that includes departmental commitments to sustainable development.

We already have the legislative and regulatory authority to strengthen the sustainable development strategy process and to ensure accountability for Canadians. This government is taking positive steps for Canadians, and we are getting positive results.

Bill C-474--National Sustainable Development Act--Speaker's Ruling
National Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity today to talk about Bill C-474, An Act to require the development and implementation of a National Sustainable Development Strategy, the reporting of progress against a standard set of environmental indicators and the appointment of an independent Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development accountable to Parliament, and to adopt specific goals with respect to sustainable development in Canada, and to make consequential amendments to another Act.

I would like to begin by expressing our support for Bill C-474, which was introduced by my Liberal colleague, who is also a member of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. We will vote in favour of the bill in principle. In essence, the bill has two main goals. First, it provides for a sustainable development strategy based on the precautionary principle. Second, it provides for the appointment of an independent commissioner of the environment and sustainable development with the Auditor General's office.

We support the bill's first goal, which would create a sustainable development strategy for Canada. One thing I really like about the bill is that it reminds us of the importance of applying the precautionary principle to every decision made by the federal government. This has not been the case in the past, as we have seen clearly in various environment and sustainable development committees, not to mention with the environment commissioner, in the ten years since I first came to this House.

This principle is recognized internationally and should apply to all sectors and federal departments. That is where the problem is now. On page 29 of her 2003 report, the environment commissioner reminded us that in terms of sustainable development, objectives and related performance expectations need to be clearer, more concrete, and more results-oriented.

Furthermore, results—especially outcomes—need to be more systematically measured. Performance reporting needs to be improved. That was a 2003 report.

I know that the Liberals are introducing this bill today, but the commissioners' reports show that the previous government did not implement a sustainable development strategy. Today, in this House, they can very well brag about introducing a bill on a sustainable development strategy, but there were a number of shortcomings in terms of sustainable development with the previous government. Once again, these shortcomings were revealed in the report by the Commissioner of the Environment in 2007. On page 39, she said:

In half of the strategies we examined this year, the targets are neither time-bound nor expressed in measurable terms. Most do not refer to a clear deliverable, and the frequent use of words like "promote" and "facilitate" renders many commitments unclear, along with the departments' level of responsibility for accomplishing them.

Neither the previous Liberal government nor the current Conservative government have implemented adequate measures to ensure that sustainable development underlies each federal plan, policy and program. This is the other subject I want to discuss today.

The federal government has a useful tool at its disposal, which is the strategic environmental assessment. This is a useful tool as part of a sustainable development strategy but it has never been implemented here in Canada. For more than 25 years, the Prime Minister's Office has directed that every federal government policy, plan, program and bill—from every department—must be subject to an environmental assessment. These assessments should not be left to just the promoters. They must also be the rule in all federal departments.

It is clear that neither this government nor the previous one ever applied strategic environmental assessment with any real diligence. In fact, a few years ago, in 2004, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development titled a chapter in one of her reports “Greening the tax system: Finance Canada dragging its feet”.

In chapter 4 of that report, Ms. Gélinas noted that the federal government could not assure the public that the environmental impacts of new plans, policies or programs bound for Cabinet approval would be assessed systematically. Again using the example of Finance Canada, the commissioner referred to government Bill C-48, which was passed and would eventually entail yearly expenditures of $260 million primarily benefiting the oil and gas industry. Finance Canada never conducted a strategic environmental assessment on that bill, even though such an assessment is a key component of the department's sustainable development strategy.

I find it ironic that, on the government side, the member who spoke on a sustainable development strategy this morning was our friend from Fort McMurray—Athabasca. That is where the growth in tar sands oil production will be the highest, yet the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca is the one lecturing us about a sustainable development strategy. This goes to show how much the federal government, and this Conservative government in particular, cares about a sustainable development strategy.

I would also like to talk about interference in the provinces' jurisdictions. We support the bill in principle, because it emphasizes applying the precautionary principle by adopting sustainable development strategies, which must be specific to each department. However, Bill C-474 involves a great deal of interference in the provinces' jurisdictions.

A few years ago, Quebec adopted its own sustainable development strategy and appointed its own commissioner of the environment. We are wondering why this bill sets clear medium- and long-term targets in a series of areas. I will give a couple of examples.

Is it the federal government's job to set recycling targets for the provinces and especially for municipalities? Is it the federal government's job to develop a water consumption strategy? I do not think so.

In Quebec especially, we have proven that our water quality is among the best and that we are able to put in place sustainable development strategies based on the precautionary principle. In addition, our environment commissioner has an international reputation. Harvey Mead works as an independent government watchdog to make sure the Government of Quebec is not tempted to ignore the principles of sustainable development, which seek to build a cohesive society through economic, social and environmental development.

In conclusion, we will support Bill C-474 because we believe that each department must have a sustainable development strategy that incorporates the precautionary principle. We also support the appointment of an independent commissioner, as we have often stated in committee. We believe that this commissioner must be independent and must have similar powers to the Commissioner of Official Languages or the Privacy Commissioner. But it is clear that if this bill is referred to committee, we will have no choice but to amend it.

Bill C-474--National Sustainable Development Act--Speaker's Ruling
National Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe this bill, which proposes the national sustainable development act, put forward by my colleague from Don Valley West, is an idea whose time has truly come.

We are struggling as a nation, under a new government, to assert the proper integration of the environment, the economy and the social well-being in Canada. This is a struggle that transcends Canada as a single nation state. It is a struggle that the planet is trying to achieve in terms of making progress and moving forward.

Sustainable development for many Canadians is a conundrum. It is a mystery. What do we mean by sustainable development, some might say. In fact, many argue against moving forward in a coherent way, as is proposed by my colleague, because it is often very difficult, if not impossible, to define what sustainable development means.

Sustainable development is not a destination. It is a direction for the way in which we order our affairs in Canada and around the world. It is a direction that looks to this proper integration of the economy, the way we operate in the free market, environmental integrity and, of course, the social well-being that flows from that appropriate integration.

Sustainable development is a little bit like 50,000 pieces of a puzzle in a puzzle box without a cover picture on the box. Slowly, if we do this right, under a national sustainable development act, we will assemble 50 to 100 to 250 pieces of the puzzle at a time and we will slowly craft a new picture for the future, an idea, as I say, whose time has truly come.

Only a few countries in the world actually have a commissioner for sustainable development and the environment. Our government was perspicacious. It was wise to create this position in Canada in the Auditor General's office.

I am disappointed in the government's conduct around the motion that was passed through committee by all parties but the Conservatives to make truly independent the commissioner for the environment and sustainable development and strengthen that office. However, that is another matter, on which we just heard a ruling from the Speaker, and I am sure will continue to be debated in committee.

There are core principles in the notion of sustainable development. The fact that we cannot necessarily describe what it looks like, what the picture looks like, does not mean that is an excuse for inaction. We know about the precautionary principle, which is increasingly informing our legislation in this country. We understand the polluter pays principle. Many of these principles have been codified through practice, and that is a very good thing.

When it comes to the notion of sustainable development and the strategies in the federal government, which the government is required to prepare, 24 to 25 or 26 line departments and a smattering of agencies, boards and commissions and occasionally crown corporations that prepare these strategies every two years, there are eight cross-cutting themes that cut right across all of these strategies.

However, one of the challenges the government has not addressed whatsoever is the true accountability for performance under these strategies, which is why I so strongly support the bill put forward by my colleague from Don Valley West. In part, one of the things the act would do is ground, locate and make responsible in the very centre of the federal administration, from a machinery of government reform perspective, it would very critically establish a sustainable development secretariat within the Privy Council office.

That is where the buck stops. That is the Prime Minister's own personal department to backstop his political office, the Prime Minister's Office. If there were such a secretariat within the Privy Council office, it would help integrate all these strategies across all the line departments and make them more robust and more accountable for their performance and it would them all together with quantifiable and measurable goals.

The bill also deals with things like making Canada a world leader in living sustainably, reducing our air pollution, changing our production consumption patterns, dealing with water stewardship, which is a critical issue for the future, and the kinds of cities in which we will live as quality of life becomes the defining factor for attracting capital now in our cities.

All those questions are neatly tied into the bill put forward by my colleague. For the first time in recent Canadian history, we see a bill that is something we ought to be moving aggressively with as a Parliament going forward.

I am disappointed that the government, in its own approach to the machinery of government issues around sustainable development, appears to be backing off. For example, the national round table on the environment and the economy, which I used to run, ought to be reporting, as it is structured, directly to the Prime Minister and the Privy Council office. Unfortunately, after nine years of such reporting functions, the Prime Minister in his wisdom has decided to shift the national round table out of his office and put it over into the line department called Environment Canada.

Some people would say that seems to be coherent. In fact, it is completely incoherent because it sends a signal to Canada that environmental issues are marginalized issues, that sustainable development issues are only about the environment when they are not. What we are looking to do here through this bill is to fully integrate into our federal government, the nation state, a new approach which integrates right across all the line departments.

In a perfect world, we may not have an environment department in due course because these issues would be treated, as they should be, in each line department at the right level and in the right way. Transport Canada and Agriculture Canada ought to be examining these questions and issues.

Taking this agency and pushing it over and marginalizing it with the Minister of the Environment is in fact a step backwards. We are looking for more integration, not less.

Those are some of the features of the bill that I think Canadians should be aware of that are particularly positive as we look to lead the world.

We have lots to learn. The United Kingdom and Sweden, for example, by law require the production of a national sustainable development strategy with clear goals and objective reporting. Our previous government did two things that would strongly support and buttress this act. We developed eco-efficiency metrics. These are measurements, such as energy intensity measurements, water intensity measurements and materials intensity measurements. We devised these as a previous government with the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants so they could be measurable both in public and in private sectors in those settings.

Second, our previous government designed new environment and sustainable development indicators which ought to be used alongside this bill, this new approach, for national reporting. We would know then how well we were doing as a nation state, how well we were doing when it comes to air quality, water quality or the extent of wetlands in Canada or forest cover.

This is all available, shrink-wrapped as they say, on the shelf for the government to use. Unfortunately, both of those initiatives dealing with eco-efficiency metrics and the environment and sustainable development indicators have been thrown out by the government as it continues to marginalize environmental issues in a line department, while grossly underfunding it.

Those are some of my comments. I am looking forward to seeing this bill arrive in committee. It is an idea whose time has come. I appreciate the fact that this would require a cabinet committee with a constant, unwavering focus on a sustainable development strategy. It reminds me of those folks who golf and who sometimes yell at the golf ball and ask it to sit down on the green somewhere. It is time for sustainable development to sit down on the green and the logical place for it is in PCO, something contemplated in this bill.

I strongly congratulate my colleague from Don Valley West for a terrific and very positive piece of work.

Bill C-474--National Sustainable Development Act--Speaker's Ruling
National Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak to the bill put forward by the hon. member for Don Valley West.

I first want to put on the record that the Conservative government believes in sustainable development. We do not just give lip service to it. We have taken some real action in the areas of water, air quality and climate change, which is why we are implementing comprehensive regulations of industrial air emissions. For the first time ever, we will be regulating the big polluters so they do their part as well.

As I said, we are taking action on protecting the water quality across our country, including tough new regulations against the dumping of raw sewage into our lakes, rivers and oceans, and by improving sewage treatment in municipalities. I was kind of taken aback when I realized that we did not have laws in place in respect to that already. It just makes a lot of sense. I think most of the public would be quite appalled or taken aback if they knew that we did not already have laws in place, that 13 long years of Liberal governments had not put something in place or previous governments before that.

Now we are doing that. We also are regulating chemicals that are harmful to human health and to the environment. Our approach to toxic chemicals management leads the world.

It does not end there. We have done our best in terms of protecting Canada's natural heritage. In terms of those protected areas, major expansion is occurring as well.

We are also working on a new approach to sustainable development planning in Canada that builds upon the existing legislative framework, the framework that we already have. Indeed, the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development has already made the point that significant improvements to the current process can be made within the existing legislative framework and with the existing tools that we have. All it really takes is the will to act and to move ahead on it.

When our Conservative government came into office, federal departments had started into the preparatory process for the fourth round of sustainable development strategies. The government acted to make immediate improvements where possible. The Minister of the Environment, in tabling the fourth round of sustainable development strategies, was clear that there was a lot more to be done in advance of the next round.

This Conservative government recognizes that what is needed is action, not more legislation, more paper and so on, and certainly not more time and money spent on government processes.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and others have recognized Canada's current legislative tool as having a great deal of merit, even if it has suffered from some challenges in terms of its implementation.

It would be shortsighted to repeal what has the potential to be a real contribution to the federal planning process prior to completing a thorough analysis of it to determine how it might be better implemented. We have the tools needed to make substantial improvements for sustainable development and that is fully what we intend to be doing.

The proposed Liberal private member's bill that is before us today is unnecessary and it is problematic on a number of levels. Some of those have been sketched out already but I will draw members' attention to a few more.

First, the scope of the bill is unclear. Although it is called the national sustainable development act, the stated purpose of the legislation is to “...accelerate the elimination of major environmental problems and make environmental decision-making more transparent....”.

I am certain that my colleague is fully aware of the fact that the environment and sustainable development are not one and the same. They are not synonymous. To be sure, they are mutually exclusive, but there are some different facets involved.

Second, the bill calls for the government to enshrine a set of sustainable development goals in legislation. The legislation itself, however, contains two rather different sets of sustainable development goals. One is in the text of the bill and another one is in a schedule appended to the bill, the latter of which includes some vague goals that are outside the stated purpose of the bill, as in the preface, one of those being creating genuine wealth.

Third, the bill states in its title that progress would be reported in “against a standard set of environmental indicators”. However, those indicators are not mentioned anywhere in the bill, nor is there any mechanism noted for the development of those environmental indicators.

Furthermore, one of the sets of goals in the bill includes goals that are not environmental in nature. If the legislation really does mean for there to be environmental indicators, exactly how non-environmental goals can be measured against a set of environmental indicators is rather unclear.

A fourth point is that clause 13 of the bill calls for the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development to report on the state of the Canadian environment nationally and also by province and to report on progress in meeting each of the listed sustainable development goals nationally and by province on an annual basis relative to the performance of other industrialized nations.

What is troubling about this part is that the bill implicates the provinces in terms of reporting on both the state of the environment and on their progress in achieving the sustainable development goals. However, the bill does not provide for any tools to engage them in acting on the goals, such as by providing new resources, nor on the results of any report findings. This is quite unworkable and amounts to a recipe for conflict with the provinces and our territories.

Fifth, the timeframes associated with this piece of legislation are wholly unworkable. The government would be thrust into an ineffective cycle of continuous planning and preparing with no time left for implementation before the cycle would repeat itself again. The Conservative government believes in action, not just planning for action as the Liberals have sometimes done.

One of the most outstanding examples is in clause 10 which states:

Within 30 days after a National Sustainable Development Strategy is tabled in each House of Parliament, the Minister shall make regulations prescribing the targets and the caps referred to in the National Sustainable Development Strategy and revoke any regulations prescribing targets and caps referred to in the National Sustainable Development Strategy that was tabled previously.

Anyone familiar with the regulatory process, as the member no doubt is, knows that this is completely unworkable. Good pieces of legislation take time to prepare. There are notices and there are various things in that process. They require true and genuine consultations with the stakeholders. They are not something that can be drafted in just a matter of days.

A sixth problem with the bill before us today is that the process outlined for consultation in the bill in reference to the development of the national sustainable development strategy is ineffectual and unnecessarily onerous. It calls for consultations only once a draft of the strategy has already been written. Every guide to meaningful consultations will tell us that consultations need to be started early, well before the approach is decided upon in respect to what we are going to do.

The approach outlined in the legislation before us today only brings in consultations late in the process. It requires an onerous level of ministerial involvement and response, and is a staggering waste of time and resources for an uncertain result.

Regarding the ministerial duty to make regulations, this piece of legislation is highly and unnecessarily prescriptive. It enacts upon the minister a number of duties, leaving no room for ministerial discretion. It is unproductive and does not enable the minister to make effective improvements to the sustainable development planning process. Therefore, such rigidity is a hindrance to the process, not a help.

In summary, the bill is unnecessary. Its scope and its intent are unclear. The authorities and processes it describes are not thoughtful and not thought out in a clear and deliberate way.

What is needed to make progress on sustainability is not new legislation. It is the ability to set national federal level objectives in a reasonable manner and within workable timeframes, and to have a clear mechanism for measuring the government's progress. We can do that under existing legislation and with existing tools.

This Conservative government is committed to sustainable development. That is why we are taking concrete action to make improvements rather than spending time and resources on instituting new and unnecessary legislative processes. That is why we will not be supporting the bill. We feel it is flawed on a number of points as we have outlined here.

Bill C-474--National Sustainable Development Act--Speaker's Ruling
National Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is critically important that we deal with the issue of having sustainable development. If Canada continues in the way it has been proceeding in the last 30 years, the climate change and greenhouse gas emissions will go sky high.

In the last 20 to 30 years there has been a dramatic increase of greenhouse gas emissions. We have heard a lot of empty promises. I recall in 1993 in the former Liberal government's road map, the red book, there was a promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2000. Of course, that did not happen. They went up by 25% instead of going down by 20%. We have lost a lot of time. However, that does not mean we should not take action on the environmental file.

We absolutely have to deal with the oil sands development. We have to look at putting a moratorium on oil sands development so that we can control our greenhouse gas emissions.

It would be totally unfair if our generation and the Conservative government did not take action on the environmental file, because we would leave a terrible environmental legacy for future generations. It would not be fair to our young people in Canada and elsewhere on the planet.

We have to deal with the oil sands development, because the majority of greenhouse gas emissions comes from that development, but we also have to deal with the whole question of the building code.

For years many provinces have been saying that it is really important for Canada to take a leadership role and define what is sustainable development.

In my riding in downtown Toronto a lot of condominiums are being built. Often ordinary Canadians, the folks downtown, ask why these new developments are not state of the art, and energy efficient. They want to know why are we continuing to build buildings that are not energy efficient and why we are not putting in solar panels or wind devices to capture solar and wind energy. The building code is a provincial jurisdiction. If we were to raise the point of energy efficient buildings with the territorial and provincial governments, they would say it is not being done because the federal government has not determined the guidelines for a green building, a building that is energy efficient.

There is a tremendous amount of buck passing between different levels of government. As a result any of the new housing that is being built is not necessarily energy efficient. There is a great deal of concern and desire among ordinary Canadians to live in buildings that are energy efficient.

There has been a lot of discussion regarding targets and goals. Instead of focusing on this bill, I want to talk about how we can lock the Bali targets into what the government does.

We need to have 80% reduction below the 1990 levels by 2050. We have to develop medium term targets of 25% below the 2020 targets. The world came together at the Bali conference and said that has to be done. We have to find ways to lock the government in, but this bill does not do that, unfortunately.

There is another private member's bill, Bill C-377. I hope the House will debate that bill because it certainly would lock in the government with specific targets.

With respect to targets and transparency, it is important to have a reporting mechanism. A progress report is needed every five years on how the government is performing. Within six months of a bill being passed it is really important that a road map be established. Also, if the government does not meet the targets we have to ensure there are offences and penalties in place. The other aspect that is very important is that there be regular reviews. There need to be independent outside coordinators to say that the government is performing and is on the right track so that the people of Canada know that the government is taking the right route to deal with greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to talk briefly about the importance of sustainable development. I certainly hope that the government focuses on the environment as one of its prime priorities.

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Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to hearing the commentary of the hon. member for Don Valley West on a very important bill, An Act to require the development and implementation of a national sustainable development strategy, the reporting of progress against a standard set of environmental indicators and the appointment of an independent commissioner of the environment and sustainable development accountable to Parliament, and to adopt specific goals with respect to sustainable development in Canada.

Recently the polling firm POLLARA asked Canadians what their priorities were, what were the most important things on their minds in terms of what the Government of Canada and Parliament should address. It came as no surprise that the issue of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions were the top issues to be addressed.

Throughout the debate so far, it is very clear that all parties, except the government, support the proposed legislation. The government continues along the same kind of approach toward climate change issues as it did when Kyoto was the big topic of discussion.

I remind the House that our international commitment to achieve targets within certain timeframes was opposed by the government. In fact, it described Kyoto as a money sucking socialist plot. That is the starting point of the Government of Canada with regard to climate change, that it is some sort of a plot to somehow deal with the economic implications to deal with climate change and how it might impact what the government really has in mind.

The government wants the economic benefits to continue to operate at the same and more intense levels than we have today. I must admit it did not surprise me that one of its proposals was to allow the petroleum industry to continue to produce its products at the same level of intensity that created greenhouse gases. There was no reduction. It could continue to increase as long as the net intensity was not greater than today. That is basically a policy of, “Let's do more of nothing. Whatever we have today is acceptable”.

All the science before Canadians is very clear. We have a problem and it has to be addressed, not simply left to the next generation to try to deal with the consequences of the failure of the government to address climate change issues. This is the real issue.

Look at the record. Look at what the government has done or what it has not done with regard to climate change. Virtually every program introduced by the previous Liberal government has been cancelled by the current government. Why? Because it does not want any impact on the economy.

The whole concept of having sustainable economic development calls on Canadians, business and individuals, to do their share. It means that when we do things within business and industry, we have to ensure not only do we not make it worse, but we make it better. We have to show progress.

It is not good enough to say that some time in 2050 we will hit some target. I doubt anybody who is currently in the House will still be here come 2050. This is passing off some sort of an undertaking to someone else. It is very clear that by 2050 the trend line we are on right now will have enormous consequences. If we look at poverty groups, like Make Poverty History, they will talk about the implications of not addressing climate change on the international scene.

The economic impacts of doing nothing are going to be much greater than anyone can imagine. It is going to exacerbate the economic deprivation of many countries around the world. It is going to take away important land that people need to earn livelihood.

Canadians have been asked, through established programs, to do their share. If members are interested, they should go to a website called www.carbonfootprint.com, which is a very important site. It gives tips to Canadians as to some of things they can do to make a contribution toward reducing CO2 emissions. It shows line by line the monthly reduction of CO2 emissions if we do certain things, like getting a tune-up for our cars or buying energy efficient appliances. I think there are at least a dozen or so examples of what each and every Canadian can do.

Canadians are doing that and they are prepared to do it. They are prepared to buy energy efficient automobiles if the government would only get it straight as to what the feebates schedule should be. The Conservatives raise programs and suggestions, but never have a plan to follow it through.

I raise these things because the bill has articulated, in a very clear fashion, the extreme importance for us to have a long term sustainable development strategy. It means that we ensure we leave a situation better than when we got it, and to date we have not. To date, we need to have a plan.

Bill C-474 would provide a framework in which Canadians can have some confidence. It would provide us with the feedback mechanism we need, the reporting relationship to Canadians that we have made responsible decisions, taken responsible action and that we have the measurement systems in place to show the progress to Canadians. We need to deliver. It is not enough to talk. The time now is for action, and it is simply not happening.

It is really unfortunate that the government does not want to embrace a commitment to having a national strategy in which Canadians can feel confident. This is very unfortunate for Canada today and tomorrow.

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Private Members' Business

Noon

Liberal

John Godfrey Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues who have supported the bill and also the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie and the member for Trinity—Spadina for their support. It is quite appropriate that the member for Mississauga South, being an accountant, should be so supportive of something which demands greater accountability.

I thank everybody for participating in the debate and I look forward to meeting people in committee as we get into the fine details.

I will begin with the remarks made by the Speaker on the question of royal recommendation. As I indicated in a reply to him previously, we recognize the difficulty of the royal recommendation in establishing an independent commissioner right now. We support the principle of doing that, but we think this is mostly about a national sustainable development act. Therefore, we will use the existing office of the Commissioner of the Environment and the existing mandate.

We will also no longer require the commissioner to evaluate, in advance, the likelihood of success. We think there is a fair criticism there and we would be better off having the commissioner monitor and then audit the success of a plan developed by the government as envisaged under the bill.

Also, I want to make the point about the advisory committee on sustainable development. We will make it clear that these positions are non-remunerative. Hence, we will avoid the necessity for royal recommendation.

In response to a criticism made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, he says that all the problems can be solved by the existing situation. However, the previous minister of the environment and the current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment both have been vehement in their criticism of the current arrangement calling for change, and that is what the bill would do.

The hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie raised some problems having to do with provincial jurisdictions.

We will eliminate references to the provinces in the legislation to make it clear that this will be about federal departments and about a national plan.

The cabinet committee, which was referred to by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, does not require royal recommendation. It was never suggested so by the Speaker and his officials. It is a machinery of government issue where there are existing resources.

On the question about the petitions process, we agree that we do not need the section on the petitions process because the existing petitions process will work. Therefore, we recognize that problem and we will remediate through amendments at the committee stage.

Finally, in terms of the suggestion that everything is just fine and that a review by the environment department will solve the problem, this is what the green ribbon panel review committee said, about the very problem we are addressing here, in the report just released within the last month:

This decentralized, department-by-department approach to sustainable development strategies is unique internationally. Many countries have developed national sustainable development strategies and then assigned responsibility to departments for implementing the components.

Over the years, the Government of Canada has made a number of commitments to develop an overall sustainable development strategy, but has not done so. Many of the people we talked with—inside and outside government—view the absence of an overall strategy as a key gap in Canada's efforts to move along a sustainable development path. And the absence of concrete objectives and milestones makes the assessment of progress—a key part of the Commissioner's mandate—more difficult.

In this legislation we are simply responding to the criticism of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, responding to the criticism of the previous minister of the environment, responding to the criticism of the commissioner himself and responding to the criticism of the green ribbon panel.

What we will be doing, within the appropriate scope of a private member's bill, is addressing all these issues. We will eliminate some of the problems, thanking very much both the government for its suggestions and the Speaker, but we will accelerate the process of coming to grips with a real problem, which is there is no legislative framework that allows the commissioner to do the job and the Government of Canada truly to pursue a national sustainable development strategy.

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Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

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

Bill C-474--National Sustainable Development Act--Speaker's Ruling
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12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Bill C-474--National Sustainable Development Act--Speaker's Ruling
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12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Bill C-474--National Sustainable Development Act--Speaker's Ruling
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Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Bill C-474--National Sustainable Development Act--Speaker's Ruling
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Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.