House of Commons Hansard #106 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.

Topics

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill S-210, An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act (involvement of Parliament), as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

There being no motions at report stage, the House will now proceed without debate to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at the report stage.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

moved that the bill be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When shall the bill be read the third time? By leave, now?

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I commend the member for his work on this bill. Does he have any examples of some of the good work that has resulted from the framework that is in place from these reports that he mentioned, feeding into the federal strategy?

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the bill is relatively new having been passed I think in 2006 or 2007. In the meantime, in just a few short months the government developed the strategy and tabled it in the spring of this year. It is currently out for review, as I indicated in my earlier remarks, and we expect that those reports will be coming back and a final strategy will be implemented very shortly.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, while I am used to hearing this typical tirade from the members opposite, this is a private member's bill and it is usually friendly debate. Perhaps the hon. member could refrain from using members' names in the House. She has been here long enough. She ought to know better.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The member is correct. All hon. members of this place should refrain from using the names of other members in this place, including when they are reading a quotation. The hon. member used the Prime Minister's name.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was not aware that I should change a member's name in a quote from a letter and I shall do that in future.

I will close with those quotes, although I could go on and on with other quotes. I have received letter after letter from Canadians writing to say that many Canadians spoke in favour of the passage of the climate legislation passed by this House, climate legislation that simply called for accountability of the elected officials, accountability by the Government of Canada to report regularly to the elected officials on actions they are taking on addressing climate change.

The question before us is why then should we make it a mandatory obligation on the commissioner to report to a house that does not even give due consideration to legislation passed by this House, does not give due consideration to reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development showing the need for stronger action to address climate change?

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

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

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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