House of Commons Hansard #64 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was child.

Topics

National Hunting, Trapping and Fishing Heritage Day Act
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

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

National Hunting, Trapping and Fishing Heritage Day Act
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

National Hunting, Trapping and Fishing Heritage Day Act
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

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

National Hunting, Trapping and Fishing Heritage Day Act
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Pursuant to Standing Order 37, the House will now proceed to the consideration of Bill S-210, under private members' business.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

June 16th, 2010 / 7 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated some of the heartfelt language of the member opposite in terms of his deep concern for the environment. I imagine that he must be very embarrassed to be part of a government that had to be shamed into even mentioning climate change at the G8-G20 summit. The government was planning to do nothing on that issue with the leaders of the world.

He talked about measures but his government ignored the very organization it had appointed, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. It came out a year ago with a plan of measures to address and accomplish the government's own goals and the government ignored that. It is not putting the measures in place that its own advisors recommended. In fact, it has lowered its target instead.

When an independent audit under the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act shows that under the Conservative government emissions are rising and will keeping rising, why are his colleagues claiming in the House that the opposite is true?

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the short answer is that the opposite is true. In fact, the most recent numbers indicate that emission levels have dropped by something in the order of 2.1%.

I am very proud of what our government has done. The world can be grateful that our government stuck to its guns in relation to international climate change negotiations because, as a result of our government's position, we now have an agreement at Copenhagen that includes the major emitters like the United States and China. Without those major emitters, it would not matter what the rest of the world did. It was really through Canada's efforts and insistence that we bring those emitters along that we have that great agreement coming out of Copenhagen.

More work needs to be done, a lot is scheduled and Canada is in the forefront of it. There is a lot that I could talk about regarding our efforts in this area. We have invested $1.48 billion over 14 years in eco-energy for renewable power and in 99 projects to increase low impact renewable power by 4,000 megawatts. We have 773 solar water and solar air projects across the country. I could go on but I just do not have the time to review them all right now.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, in case anybody is watching us tonight, I think they might be surprised to know that this bill is just about correcting an oversight that occurred during the development of the Federal Sustainable Development Act. It would allow for reports that are tabled under that act and that are reported to Parliament to also be reported to the Senate. That is what we are really talking about here.

However, because the government prorogued the House, the member had to bring this bill back before the House. It just demonstrates how inefficiently run the government is when, in the first place, we would have to introduce a bill to give permission to table reports in the Senate and that we would have to go through this process a second time because the government cannot run its legislative agenda correctly.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the act originally suffered from a defect that, as I understand it, arose at the committee level as a result of an amendment the committee proposed that introduced language from the Auditor General Act that h was not quite up to snuff.

I am quite happy to correct that. Perhaps I will take a moment to mention some of the other initiatives that our government has under way. For example, we have the eco-energy for biofuels initiative to which we have devoted $1.5 billion over nine years, ending in 2017. We are supporting 21 proponents in the production of renewable fuels, representing $966 million and the potential protection of 1.6 billion litres of biofuels attainable by 2012.

The fact is that our government is getting the job done and we are delivering.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

7:45 p.m.

Langley
B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

7:55 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Private Members' Business

8 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona will have five minutes remaining when the House returns to this matter.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.