House of Commons Hansard #75 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

8:35 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

It being 8:35 a.m., pursuant to order made Monday, September 27, 2010, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from June 16 consideration of the motion that Bill S-210, An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act (involvement of Parliament), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

8:35 a.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

8:45 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

8:50 a.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Edmonton Centre, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The diatribe about what happened in a provincial government years ago is hardly relevant to the issue of sustainable development. If the hon. member wants to rant and rave, I would ask him to do so outside the House. If he is going to talk about a private member's bill or anything else, he should try to stick to the topic, please.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

8:50 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I thank the hon. member.

I would ask the hon. member to take note of the remarks.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

8:50 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

I apologize, Madam Speaker. I realized that people were very interested in my speech and that some people were listening more attentively than I thought.

Coming back to the Senate, as everyone knows, we want the whole issue of sustainable development to also be brought before the Senate by the commissioner of sustainable development.

Sitting in the Senate are sometimes people like Mr. Berntson, who was deputy premier of Saskatchewan. He was also part of Grant Devine's cabinet. He was forced to resign and face the music. He was tried in a Saskatchewan court for his fraudulent spending and wound up in prison. From the Senate to prison. We certainly cannot say he went from one five-star hotel to another, but nevertheless, this gives an idea of the kind of people who sometimes make it to the Senate. Let the commissioner go and give her presentation to such people who are sitting in the Senate. Perhaps it will be worthwhile for the few people there who have a conscience, but for the pals of the government, that will not be the case.

We are in favour of abolishing of the Senate. We support the bill in question.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

8:50 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Kitchener Centre for his final right of reply.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

8:55 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Is the House ready for the question?

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

8:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

8:55 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

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

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

8:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

8:55 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Suspension of Sitting
Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

9 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Given the time and the fact that the motion has been adopted, I will suspend the House until 9:30 a.m., as per the order.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 9 a.m.)