Mr. Speaker, this afternoon, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill S-216, which seeks to amend a bill adopted in the dying days of the 39th Parliament. The bill was sponsored by a former colleague, John Godfrey, who retired from the House just before the fall 2008 election.
Mr. Godfrey was a member of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development. I remember that he did everything in his power to ensure that his bill would make it through the committee stage and be passed in the House before the end of the spring 2008 session, because he realized that the Prime Minister was likely to call an election in the fall, which is exactly what happened.
Mr. Godfrey's bill, which is now a Canadian law, requires the federal government to develop a sustainable development strategy for its departments and agencies. Among other things, it requires the federal government to submit a preliminary version of this strategy to a House of Commons committee to be evaluated. Following the evaluation, the preliminary version would become the final version.
The purpose of the bill was to force the federal government to show leadership on environmental issues through its own activities. To that end, it must set an example for the rest of Canada and the world by taking action to protect our environment and fight greenhouse gases.
Bill S-216 would resolve a significant shortcoming in Mr. Godfrey's bill. It states that the government must consult both the House of Commons and the Senate. In other words, if Bill S-216 is passed, the preliminary version of the federal government's sustainable development strategy will be referred to committees of both the House of Commons and the Senate.
It seems very clear to me that the Senate must play a role in evaluating the Government of Canada's sustainable development strategy, and I will explain why.
First, there are many senators who consider the environment a priority and who have been interested in the environment for many years. These senators have something to say about sustainable development, and we need to ensure that their knowledge and experience will be brought to bear in developing the federal government's sustainable development strategy.
There are four senators who come to mind. The first is Senator Grafstein, who will retire from the Senate before the holidays.
Senator Grafstein has a special interest in water and has been working on this issue for years. There is Senator Lapointe, a great Quebec artist, actor and star, who has an awareness of environmental issues. There are also Senator Grant Mitchell of Alberta, who considers the environment a priority, and Senator Banks, who, when he chaired a Senate committee a few years ago—I do not know whether he is still the chair—released an extremely important report on water in Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The Senate, in terms of the senators who sit there, is well equipped to take a considered and informed look at a federal sustainable development project.
Second, we know that the Senate is sometimes a bit more representative than the House of Commons, because senators are appointed. For example, aboriginal Canadians represent 1.62% of members of the House of Commons, but nearly 6% of senators. There is also greater representation of women in the Senate than in the House.
The diversity in the Senate's membership is quite interesting. In the case of aboriginal senators, I would like to point out that these senators represent sectors or regions which, unfortunately, suffer the most devastating effects of climate change. We have Senator Watt who represents the Arctic. The Arctic is unfortunately seriously affected by the negative impact of climate change. These aboriginal senators often have a great interest in the environment. Because of the diversity in the Senate's membership, I believe that it is very important that it be consulted on these matters.
I would like to address another point. It is well and good to want to refer a bill on sustainable development to a committee, but we all know that the House committees are swamped. For example, the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development is presently conducting a number of studies. The work has backed up somewhat like traffic at rush hour on the Turcot interchange in Montreal. We are currently studying Bill C-311 on climate change. Next, we want to study the oil sands and water resources. We are also conducting the five-year statutory review of the Species at Risk Act. And we have other work.
The House committees are very busy. Why not ask a Senate committee to also have a look at it? This is another reason why I believe the Senate should be involved.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, Mr. Godfrey's bill, which we are attempting to amend, required the federal government to show leadership on environmental issues. It is the type of leadership that the Liberal party has always exercised, especially with respect to climate change. Consequently, I believe that it would be a very good thing for our country if the Senate were to be more involved in this matter.