Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in what appears to be the final round of debate on Bill C-474, the National Sustainable Development Act.
This bill was introduced by the hon. member for Don Valley West. I want to add my best wishes to him as he leaves this place and goes on to new challenges. It is great that he is able to leave the House of Commons on this note, where there is all party agreement to support this important piece of legislation. It is a good way to end his career in the House of Commons.
I want to make it clear that New Democrats support this legislation. We supported the decision only minutes ago to ensure that the bill gets to the Senate after the finish of the debate today. It is very important to move this bill forward.
When we talk about sustainable development, I cannot hear that term without thinking of a friend and colleague, a former member of the B.C. legislative assembly, the former member for Burnaby-Willingdon and the former B.C. environment minister, Joan Sawicki.
Joan Sawicki is someone who has a clear vision of sustainable development for Canada. She has worked tirelessly and continually to educate Canadians and political leaders on the importance of inventing the principles of sustainable development and environmental protection in all we do as governments and as a society. I want to thank Joan Sawicki for raising my consciousness on this issue and for helping get this kind of commitment on the political agenda here in Canada.
I also want to note that the bill before us today is very similar to Bill C-437, which was tabled by my NDP colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster back on May 1, 2007. It seems that one way or another this legislation was going to be before the House. That shows the importance of it and the dedication from all corners of the House to see this dealt with.
The member for Burnaby—New Westminster acted quickly on the suggestions of the Suzuki Foundation when they were originally put forward. He also engaged a process of community consultation with the people of Burnaby and New Westminster before tabling his version of the bill. I know that he had looked forward to the opportunity to have that legislation discussed in the House, but as I said, we are pleased that the member for Don Valley West, who had a higher priority on the private members' list, was able to get it before the House and through the process and before us today.
At the time that my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster tabled his legislation, which is very similar to this bill, he noted that Canada was 28th of 30 countries in terms of environmental performance and that we were the eighth largest producer of carbon dioxide. That was a record that needed to be addressed. This legislation will go some way to dealing with some of those issues.
The legislation before us was developed by the Suzuki Foundation as part of its report, “Sustainability within a Generation”. In that report it noted that the countries that are ranked highest in the OECD in terms of progress on environmental issues have sustainable development strategies in place. Canada was one of the countries that did not have such a strategy in place, along with Belgium, Spain and the United States.
Canada has committed to such a strategy at many international forums, including the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the 1997 Earth Summit+5 in New York, and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. Finally, we are debating legislation that would ensure that this issue remains planted firmly on the agenda of our government here in Canada.
Sadly, over the years, Canada missed the mark on some of the key best practices with regard to sustainable development, best practices such as comprehensive goals and targets. Canada was often criticized for having fragmented goals across many sectors. On the other hand, Sweden had 16 legislated environmental quality objectives and 71 measurable targets with short, medium and long term timelines. It is a very different way of looking at the idea of comprehensive goals and targets.
Another key best practice is progressive monitoring and reporting. Canada has some monitoring, but it is not linked to targets specifically. There is no benchmarking of Canada's performance relative to that of other countries. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, monitors 68 environmental indicators and assesses them against quantifiable goals.
Another best practice was environmental governance and leadership. Before the legislation came forward, Canada had no single integrated strategy and no overall government leadership and coordination on the environment.
Other countries, like Germany, Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom all have central agencies and high level prime minister's office and cabinet committees that coordinate environmental development and implementation of environmental policy.
It is clear that there was lots of room for improvement, lots of room for Canada to catch up with countries to which we often look for ideas, for commitments and to whose standards we hold ourselves, so this legislation is very important in that regard.
In this corner of the House, New Democrats believe that a sustainable development strategy is a complex of important measures. It is like a three-legged stool that needs a number of measures to be successful.
We believe that a cap and trade system is very important to a sustainable development strategy. We believe that institutional changes to implement cap and trade and to promote and enforce the culture of sustainable development in government is also a key component
We also believe that selective green fiscal measures that would cover specific measures is also very important. That is why we are pleased that today we are dealing with one aspect of that which is a crucial piece of an overall sustainable development strategy and will lead us in the right direction.
It is very clear that we must integrate a commitment to sustainable development into all the work of government. It is hard to believe that anyone who reflects on the current situation of our planet would deny the importance of taking this step. I am glad that there is unanimity here in the House on this issue.
My colleague for Burnaby—New Westminster put it this way when he tabled his version of this bill. He said:
It is time that sustainable development be a front-running issue for every ministry and become a part of our political culture.
We believe Bill C-474 would do just that.
We also believe that Bill C-474 complements, in a very positive way, Bill C-377, the Climate Change Accountability Act put forward by the member for Toronto—Danforth and the leader of the New Democratic Party.
That bill provides scientifically based medium and long term targets for Canada to avoid dangerous levels of climate change. It identifies specifically the necessary steps to avoid the 2° threshold for catastrophic climate change. The destination of 80% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 and regular benchmarks are identified in the bill of the member for Toronto—Danforth, which has passed the House and hopefully will be considered by the Senate in short order.
This bill, we believe, complements that well because it provides a legal framework for preparing and implementing a national sustainable development strategy that aims at integrating through institutional changes, through comprehensive sustainability goals and measurable targets to achieve sustainable development here in Canada.
We believe this is a very important measure to be taking to complement other measures already taken by the House and passed here in this place.
This is a very important achievement of Parliament. I again thank the member for Don Valley West and the member for Burnaby—New Westminster who have shown great leadership in taking the work of the Suzuki Foundation and ensuring it reached the floor of the House of Commons.
It is important to note that all parties have ensured the passage of this legislation today. Taking this step toward establishing in law a national sustainable development strategy for Canada is crucial and important and is work that we can all be proud of here today.