An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

This bill was previously introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Pierre Jacob  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of Feb. 26, 2014
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Federal Sustainable Development Act to provide for an examination of bills and proposed regulations to ensure that their provisions are not inconsistent with the purposes and provisions of that Act.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Feb. 26, 2014 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

February 14th, 2014 / 12:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to talk about Bill C-481.

I want to begin by quoting the title of a book. It is a very interesting title. It is You Can't Eat GNP.

As individuals or as households, we need to know how much money we have, how much we owe. We need to keep track of our income, our household income, our salary, and then also our household expenses. It is important to account for all these things and look forward.

If we are running a business, we need a business plan. For the business plan to make sense, it has to have honest estimates of revenues and of expenses, so that our business can survive and thrive.

This is one kind of accounting.

However, for us, money is not enough. That is the point of the title of the book, You Can't Eat GNP. We need food, we need clean water, and we need clean air to live as well.

We also need strong, caring families and strong, connected communities. We need justice and we need equality of opportunity. We need broad stakeholders in society. There are a lot of social qualities we need to survive and thrive as human beings.

My point is that sustainability is about honest accounting, in a very broad sense. Honest accounting is something we know about in good business management. It is also something that is important for good economic management, the good economic management of a country and the overall management of a country.

I want to start by giving some examples of areas where questionable accounting may not be good for the country.

The first is the idea of selling government assets to balance the budget. The problem with that is that quite often assets are very old and their value is taken to be their so-called book value, which could have been their value from 20, 30, 40, 50, or 100 years ago. Then, when the government sells these assets, it sells them for the market value, hopefully, the current value, and all of a sudden the government's accounts show a huge profit.

How do we avoid that? I think the principles of good accounting say if we want to run a business or an enterprise then we should have good accounting. The problem here is that the value of the asset that was sold was not properly accounted for and the profit that was booked was not a real profit.

It makes it very hard to manage a country if we are not dealing with real numbers that mean something.

The second example has to do with values that are important, from a social point of view.

One thing that is unfortunate is that, over the last few decades, voter turnout has been decreasing consistently. That is the long-term trend, with a few ups and downs for different elections.

I think that is dangerous for democracy. People have called that a democratic deficit. It really is a deficit because the fewer people—the citizenry of Canada—who engage in their democratic government, the more poorly they are governed. It is often said that people deserve the government they get. If most people do not engage, they will not get a good government.

Sometimes the political process discourages citizens from engaging. We have examples of what comes out of campaign battles: we have negative advertising; we have attacks between politicians, ad hominem attacks. All this results in cynicism in the country about politics, and lack of confidence in the government.

Ultimately, it means the decreasing ability for the elected government to tackle big problems. That is the social cost of the democratic deficit. Sometimes, when we are fighting political battles, we do not take into account that social cost. We do not honestly account for that social cost.

The third example is this. In the budget that was presented earlier this week, approximately $250 million was set aside for disaster relief in the future. Actually, the government has had to pay out quite a lot more than that in the past because of the floods in Alberta, so we have to ask ourselves whether the $250 million amount set aside for disaster relief is enough. Disasters will continue to happen in the future, and we know that reinsurance rates are increasing. The reason is that insurance companies have been studying very carefully the expected effects of climate change and have realized that they had better charge higher premiums because they are going to have to pay out more money in the future.

This $250 million allocated right now is only for the next five years. Where, in the government's accounting, is the cost of future disasters, the money that the government knows it is probably going to have to pay out, on average, for disaster relief? It is an amount that is increasing faster than inflation, because that is what the reinsurance premiums are doing.

If I can get a little technical, let us think about the net present value of all of those future liabilities. I do not think the government is accounting for that aspect, and that is a problem. It is a problem because if we ignore it, we will think we are getting away with not dealing with climate change, but those liabilities exist, and they will bite us or our children or grandchildren. It is important to do some honest accounting in these different areas of environmental costs, social costs, and hidden financial costs.

The previous Liberal government created the environment commissioner, who releases regular reports, which I will talk about in a second. What is important is that the Liberals put this environment commissioner in the Office of the Auditor General. This idea of properly accounting for environmental liabilities and treating them just as they would be treated in a financial audit is very important.

I will go through some things in previous environment commissioners' reports that I thought were very interesting.

The environment commissioner looked at old mines and the money that was set aside to close these mines and clean up the sites. The environment commissioner questioned whether enough money was put aside to clean them up. When the decisions were first made to operate these mines 20, 30, or 50 years ago, the cost of closing and cleaning up the mines properly was probably not included in the business plans. That accounting was not done; had it been done, the mines might have been operated differently, because the companies would have been liable.

As another example, the environment commissioner also talked about whether enough money had been set aside to deal with possible accidents, such as offshore oil spills or accidents at nuclear power plants, so honest accounting is very important.

It is very important for a government that is evaluating costs and benefits to account for all possible hidden and future liabilities. If a government did that and made an honest accounting of all the costs and benefits and looked under all the rocks, this bill would not be necessary, because whatever the government tried to do in terms of laws, regulations, taxes, and spending would have automatically been carefully accounted for.

This legislation calls for the justice minister to review all bills and regulations and anything the government tries to do from the point of view of the Federal Sustainable Development Act. If a government always tried to do the best possible honest accounting, I am sure it would always satisfy the act, but I think the point is that the government we have today does not do that. That is why my hon. colleague brought forward this private member's bill.

We have some concerns about the true cost of examining every bill and regulation. My colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood, for example, brought up the cyberbullying legislation and how that is affected by consideration of sustainable development. We have to look at the cost.

However, the Liberal Party recommends that the bill goes to committee at second reading, and I urge my fellow members of Parliament to vote for that.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

February 14th, 2014 / 1 p.m.
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NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in favour of Bill C-481 at second reading, and wish to congratulate my colleague, the member for Brome—Missisquoi, for his foresight in introducing the bill.

Indeed, I am one of the members of the House who is optimistic enough to hope that we have not passed the tipping point in the damage we have done to the environment. However, even if we have not passed the apocalyptic tipping point, we have already gone so far that we have unleashed changes in our environment that will be difficult and expensive to deal with. We, as the current tenants on this planet, are already certain to leave a huge environmental debt to future generations.

Bill C-481 is an amendment to the Federal Sustainable Development Act, an act which was passed unanimously by this House in 2008. Amending that act by passing Bill C-481 would ensure that all future laws and regulations introduced by the federal minister would be in compliance with the principles of the Federal Sustainable Development Act. This would require the minister to give notice of any incompatibility to the House of Commons at the first opportunity.

The Department of Justice already has an obligations to examine all bills and regulations for conformity with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Bill C-481 simply adds another aspect to this process.

Unfortunately, the government has adopted a very narrow definition for protecting the environment, as we can easily see in budget 2014. This is a budget which contains no mention of climate change, let alone any significant commitment to combat this threat to our common future. Instead, the largest measure, what the government calls environmental protection, is nearly $400 million to improve highways and bridges so Canadians can drive through their national parks.

No one should mistake what I am saying. Of course, I support measures to reverse the neglect of the infrastructure in national parks. However, this hardly qualifies as environment protection or a measure to address climate change.

There are some additional measures in the budget which move us in a positive direction to the environment, such as a small expansion of the tax support for clean energy generation, and $500 million for implementation of the Species at Risk Act. It is my hope that a portion of this allocation for the Species at Risk Act would be used to implement a recovery strategy for the southern resident killer whale. This is a strategy that I called for in Motion No. 460 last fall, and we have yet to hear a word from the government about implementing that. In fact, on Vancouver Island, we are still waiting for action to protect this iconic species, more than 10 years after they were listed as endangered.

It is not just in the budget where we see the Conservative government ignoring the principles of the Federal Sustainable Development Act, which I remind the House was passed unanimously in 2008. Let me turn to the question of water as an example.

In the alternative federal budget 2014 called “Striking a Better Balance”, produced by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, there is an excellent chapter devoted to what is happening to what should be our most precious resource: water.

What would a sustainable development approach to water entail? We would, of course, need a national water policy that would entrench the principles of water as a human right and as a public trust. Instead, we have no national policy on water at all. Then we would need comprehensive strategies and plans for protecting water resources, mechanisms to monitor and assess the implementation of those plans, and accountability mechanisms to ensure that water is actually protected. All of these are missing in Canada.

If we had Bill C-481 in place, the gap in the performance of the government when it comes to water would be made explicit. Bill C-481 would force us to evaluate things in the current budget, such as government support for expanding offshore drilling in the Arctic, or government support for pipeline projects in terms of sustainable development. These are tests that it would surely fail.

Returning to the alternative federal budget for a moment, we can see some of the things that could have been in the budget, and proposals which would pass the sustainability evaluation test. The alternative federal budget calls for establishing a national framework for water protection and recommends some urgent projects necessary for halting the decline in the quality of our water resources and beginning the process of restoration.

It calls for strong measures to protect our groundwater. Our attention to groundwater protection has been woeful, especially considering that one-third of Canadians depend on groundwater for their drinking water. We lack even the thorough mapping of our groundwater resources that is necessary before we can tackle this program. We urgently need legislation to prohibit the extraction of groundwater in quantities that exceed the recharge rate. We need legislation to establish the principle of local users first, and to ban the bulk exports of water resources. All of these are measures that could have been included in what the government likes to call its “action plan for 2014”.

Another proposal would take action to turn Canada away from its dependence on fossil fuels. It not only contributes to climate change, but it also has a severe impact on our water quality, particularly in the ecosystems downstream from the tar sands.

Of course, if we cast our thoughts back to the Conservative omnibus budget of 2012, we would recall the wholesale withdrawal of the Conservative government from freshwater protection, with a narrowing of habitat protection to only those waters that support commercial fishing. How could anyone argue that it would have survived the scrutiny proposed by Bill C-481?

I have spent some time discussing the government's failures to protect our precious water resources. I have done so not just because of its urgency, but because the bill we are debating today, proposed by the member for Brome—Missisquoi, would provide a practical way of moving forward and making sure that all future governments work toward a more sustainable future.

It will be interesting to see how the Conservative government ultimately decides to respond to this bill, given that all parties previously supported the Federal Sustainable Development Act. I would think, therefore, that members on the opposite side would also be willing to support Bill C-481.

I know that my time is short today, and I could give many more examples of the Conservative government's failures to adhere to the principles in the Federal Sustainable Development Act, but I want to come back to some concluding principles that we need to honour here in the House.

One of these has to do with Canada's international trade. A lot of damage has been done at the international level not only by our failure to be leaders but also by our being awarded the fossil of the day award for opposition to progress on international environmental accords. Good environment protections are needed to improve Canada's international trade relationships and to help fix this damage to our international reputation.

The Federal Sustainable Development Act, which was, again, unanimously agreed to, said that sustainable development is a principle that must be at the heart of government decision-making. However, we have a Conservative government that has been in power now since 2006 and which discards those sustainability principles every time it gets the chance to.

The government tries to argue that we have to choose between a healthy economy and good jobs and a clean, sustainable environment. In fact, we cannot have one without the other. We know from all of the economic studies that investments in clean, renewable energy, dollar for capital dollar, create far more jobs than our continuing over-investment in fossil fuel industries do. Not only that, investments in renewable energy create jobs in every community in Canada, not just in the few privileged communities that sit on top of resources.

Once again, if we return to that principle of sustainable development, it is not just environmental sustainability we are talking about, it is economic sustainability. If we are to pursue a sustainable future, we have to create jobs in communities all across the country.

In my own riding, I am particularly inspired by the T’Sou-ke First Nation. I have talked about it several times in the House. When it comes to sustainable development, the T’Sou-ke First Nation is setting a shining example for all Canadians. It held a retreat of the whole communities, where leadership was provided by the elders. They said, “Let us become the first solar first nation in the country. Let us move off the grid. We lived for thousands of years without the electricity grid, so let us move off it”.

Today, the T’Sou-ke First Nation is independent of the power grid. It generates its own power, both through solar panels on the roof of its first nations office and through something else that is very interesting: the T’Sou-ke First Nation trained its young people to become solar installers, and now it has solar hot water. I believe that it is installed in every house on the reserve, with one or two at the end that are missing. Now, it also has a trained workforce that can go out and work in other communities to help them become less dependent on non-renewable energies.

Let me conclude by saying that what we need to do, as suggested in Bill C-481, is ensure that our decisions are informed by sustainable development. We must make sure that we do not create environmental and financial burdens for future generations.

The Conservative government's record on environmental issues is clearly one of failure. When it comes time to choose, Canadians will see that only the New Democrats can be trusted to stand up for Canada's environment, now and for future generations.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

February 14th, 2014 / 1:10 p.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for allowing me to make that brief statement and will now address Bill C-481 which stands in the name of my colleague, the member for Brome—Missisquoi.

Last summer's flood of the Bow River in southern Alberta was emblematic of the kinds of challenges that we are now facing more often. In addition to urban flooding, we are facing problems with extreme weather events with increasing frequency, and the costs are piling up. We have more intense heat waves and increased drought, especially in western Canada, and forest fires are increasing in number and severity too. Canada is truly feeling the effects of climate change, and the increase in our average annual temperature of 1.3° Celsius over the last 60 years is greater than what is being felt in many parts of the world.

We also know much more about the negative elements of climate change, and that is the price we are paying for the way we have developed modern industrial and post-industrial countries. It is the product of “develop now, pay later” practices.

To a degree that can be an excuse for our actions in the past, when we were not so aware of the effects of human activity on the environment, ecosystem, and weather patterns, but now, with the benefit of scientific observation and analysis, we know better. In fact, now we can view past developments and pinpoint the practices that were not sustainable. With that knowledge, we can also work toward developing our economy in a way that is sustainable and does not merely continue to pass on the negative costs to future generations.

We know that is what most Canadians desire. No one wants to leave a debt behind for their children and grandchildren, but in many ways that is what we are still doing. Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you, like most of us who have been elected, have had the privilege of visiting children in elementary schools. I am also certain that very few of us will have heard concerns from these young people about many of the things that we busy ourselves with in Parliament, save for a few select issues.

The leading concern of school-age children from the schools that I visit is indeed the environment, and the concerns of these young Canadians are actually very well founded. True, they learn about the environment and ecosystems in junior grades, and there is quite a bit of awareness messaging aimed at individuals, but they hear about it from the people in their lives as well. We also have to recognize the effect of Earth Day; a lot of schools have activities around Earth Day. It could be as simple as passing by an area that has been bulldozed for development and hearing a parent tell how they caught tadpoles there when they were young, or how a creek that is obviously polluted used to be good for fishing 30 years ago.

We see a lot of that. Manitoulin Streams is a prime example of rehabilitating the streams in that area.

The point is that our young people have concerns about the environment that are well founded, and they have expectations of us to act in the best way possible to ensure that degradation stops and their futures are not compromised.

We might consider those high expectations, but it is reasonable to assume that a country as privileged as Canada would expect its legislators to have developed safeguards to ensure that future development is more sustainable and that government initiatives and policies would be guided by those safeguards. It is a reasonable assumption, and the good news is that it is correct: we have the Federal Sustainable Development Act, which was passed unanimously by Parliament during the current government's first term,

However, there is bad news as well, which is that what we have in place is not performing in the way it was intended to. It is actually toothless.

Fortunately, we are debating a private member's bill that has the potential to increase the strength of the Federal Sustainable Development Act so that it would become a more useful tool, instead of its current status, which is somewhere between a notion and half-hearted practice.

In fact, all Bill C-481 would do is elevate a commitment from the status of an intention to that of a guiding principle. Much of what is needed is already in place. We already have the legislation that would be supercharged by this bill. There is already a process in place that sees the Minister of Justice reviewing any legislation for compatibility with the Charter of Rights.

What is missing is the political will to include the cost of our environment and ecosystems in our economic considerations. It is the product of looking at our economy as limited to monetary elements, which is wishful thinking at best and seems to be a mindset that is entrenched on the government benches.

Consider the response of the parliamentary secretary to this bill. What is his objection? It is that it would cost too much and would amount to red tape. That is a simplified argument that hides the fact that the people who would pay the most are the ones who are reaping huge and unmitigated profits in the oil and gas sector. That is the primary and almost singular concern of the Conservative government. It is clear from the way the government has entirely dismantled our environmental regulatory system, to that sector's advantage; the way it has muzzled the scientists who might warn of us of any dangers that would flow from unabated development; the way it views environmentalists as radicals; and the way it subsidizes big oil and gas while dismissing the concerns of the majority of Canadians.

Bill C-481 is, as has been stated, a very simple and elegant piece of legislation. It would take advantage of the fact that the Minister of Justice already reviews each piece of legislation to ensure that it meets the requirements of the Charter of Rights. It would merely add the lens of sustainable development to that review. Yes, it would cost money, but it would save money in the long term. However, saving money over generations is not politically attractive, especially for a government and political party that engages in full-time campaigning. For the Conservatives, long-term initiatives and future generations have little to no value.

We know that the Conservatives are against the companies that would benefit from resource extraction paying for the costs of cleanup and restoration. To do so would apparently grind our economy to a halt. Where is the vision for the day when the oil and gas reserves are depleted? What do they plan for the inevitable moment when the profits stop flowing and all we are left with is a mess to clean up? Do they expect to abandon as dead the regions that have been exploited?

Those are the choices the Conservatives are happy to leave to our children and their children. That is the cost of maximizing profits now without considering the environment as a huge part of our economy. I am reminded of the Cree prophecy that is absolutely appropriate for this discussion:

Only after the last tree has been cut down
Only after the last river has been poisoned
Only after the last fish has been caught
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten

As parliamentarians, we are faced with a choice: do what is convenient, or challenge ourselves to roll up our sleeves and begin to plan for a future that is not compromised by inaction. Will we tell the corporate executives and financial institutions that we can no longer pursue temporary prosperity that is mortgaged on the backs of future generations, or will we take the easy route and maintain the status quo?

I have grandchildren, two beautiful boys, Kade and Kian, who deserve a bright future, just like every child in Canada and all future generations. If I were to accept that we cannot afford to pursue true sustainable development, I would be turning my back on them, and I cannot do that.

I have never been afraid of a little hard work or of paying my fair share. Most people I know feel and act much the same, which is why it is only reasonable to ask the same of our government. Yet the Conservative government and the Liberal government that preceded it have never told corporate Canada that it must also do the hard work.

I will not question the motives of business. It has one job, and that is to make money. It is the government's responsibility to say what will be allowed in that pursuit. For those who would object to that statement, I ask them to consider our laws that prohibit anyone from going into business to sell narcotics. The same sensibilities that allow us to place the greater good of the public ahead of any entrepreneurial efforts on that front can also, and I would argue must also, be used to frame what the acceptable methods of resource use will be.

While the government may like to argue that this is already the case, that we already have sustainable development legislation and an environmental regulatory framework, it cannot deny that it has moved Canada backwards on that front.

Our regulations are weakened. Reviews are limited by timelines that benefit development and limit the capacity for thorough study. The Federal Sustainable Development Act cannot be a notion only. The intention of the act must be matched with action and have the tools we need to make that happen for our future generations.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

February 14th, 2014 / 1:20 p.m.
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NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, given the contemporary nature of the issue before us, that is, the compliance of statutory instruments with the principles of the Federal Sustainable Development Act, I think it is essential to highlight the fact that the concept of sustainable development is sometimes ambiguous and flexible.

I will first talk about how proponents of the extractive industry have misappropriated the concept of sustainable development. A decade ago, this concept emerged and became popular in universities and law schools. I remember studying it 11 or 12 years ago. It was promising, even then. I remember doing an assignment on Syncrude. Corporate social responsibility was also part of this concept, and there were many implications.

Since I come from a region where resources are being extracted all over the place, I can say that this concept has been misappropriated as a validation tool. Often, industry players will say that they work in sustainable development, just to give a degree of integrity to their actions or at least to add the appearance of respectability to their operations.

For the record, and to support my analysis, I would like to point out that, under this bill, sustainable development is a principle according to which a policy meets the needs of the present generation without compromising future generations. It is based on three pillars: the environment, society, and, to a lesser degree, the economy.

I did tamper with that a little. The economy was second on the list, but I decided to put it last and add “to a lesser degree”. The factors, then, are the environment, society—because without humans, there is no economy; there is nothing at all—and, to a lesser degree, the economy.

The stated objective of the legislation before us would make sustainable development central to all federal public policies in order to make Canada greener and more prosperous. However, it is essential that we avoid any undue appearance of integrity imparted by extractive industry players' habitual use of the concept.

I said “habitual” because it has become a reflex. People who propose resource extraction initiatives will always try to stick a “sustainable development” label on their proposal. It is practically the norm; we see it all the time.

As for certification bodies—I am thinking back to my own schooling—about 10 years ago, there was the ISO 14001 standard, which had to do with corporate social responsibility, and it always looked really good. I think that ISO standards are still used for certification. A company would display the banner and it looked good. However, there were enforcement measures and checks to make sure that the company displaying the banner met the standards set by the ISO certification body.

We are trying to do something similar in this case with sustainable development. However, as far as I know, there is no body that ensures that a given company or industry is applying the principles of sustainable development to the letter. This is a flexible concept, and it is too often seen as a type of certification. It is sometimes used as a trademark, for example, in the economic action plan.

There are people using the concept of sustainable development as a trademark and a type of certification. That is absolutely disgusting, since the public, environmental groups, as well as environmental and social stakeholders are increasingly wary and skeptical about the use of this concept, which was once noble but has lost its sheen over the years. This concept has become devoid of meaning and has lost a lot of its flexibility and prestige.

For the purposes of this bill, it is important that the Government of Canada support the principle whereby sustainable development is based on the need to make decisions while taking all environmental, social and, where appropriate, economic factors into account. Once again, I deliberately put the economic aspect last, but I am a little biased. I think Canadians, and my colleagues here, can detect that I am somewhat biased, because the economic aspect predominates all too often in our speeches and in the public policies that are brought forward. The economic aspect often takes precedence over other considerations, which will, in the end, lead to our demise as a nation and as a species. I wanted to point that out. We will not delve too deeply into philosophy this afternoon, but we can see that the economy without human beings and without some return and proper redistribution will lead us to our own demise.

The current Federal Sustainable Development Act is not really effective because of the government's lack of political will. There is currently a law that applies to federally regulated situations. However, given the fact that the economy and development outweigh other social and environmental considerations, we have seen very little interest in that. I even wonder why we still have an office and a commissioner of the environment and sustainable development. I submit that to you. However, this is indicative of the rather pronounced tendency of this government to promote economic growth ahead of other considerations that are nevertheless essential.

The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, a position created by the Federal Sustainable Development Act, notes that that the efforts to integrate the sustainable development strategy are incomplete. Our own Commissioner, here in Canada, has informed us that the application of these measures and of the specific principles of sustainable development is not enough. Bill C-481 would address that deficiency. That is why I felt it was imperative that I rise today, especially in view of the reality of my own riding, Manicouagan, where there is extensive natural resource extraction every day.

Bill C-481 would make it possible to strengthen the Federal Sustainable Development Act by ensuring that the House of Commons is advised of whether a bill does or does not comply with the federal sustainable development strategy implemented under the Federal Sustainable Development Act.

I really like the idea of “the House of Commons is advised”, because until recently, there have been very few notifications to the House of Commons and the general public on environmental issues—anything to do with navigable waters, for example—and any measures and initiatives that have been amended or implemented. I think the same is true today, since environmental assessments have simply been ignored. As a result, no one ends up being notified. That is really reprehensible, given the major impact this can have.

I submit this humbly and I hope you all have a good weekend.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

February 14th, 2014 / 1:30 p.m.
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NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-481, An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act.

Sustainable development is a key principle whereby a policy meets current needs without compromising those of future generations. It is based on three pillars: the environment, the economy and social issues.

To me, sustainable development is the key to having viable long-term policies. Unfortunately, far too often we have seen the government make ideological decisions that do not take long-term effects into account. These decisions create more problems than they solve. That is why it is necessary to put in safeguards to ensure that the development guidelines are respected by all governments.

The bill introduced by my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi targets this need perfectly and broadens an existing verification process to include sustainable development. Indeed, the Minister of Justice already has the responsibility for ensuring that bills are compatible with existing legislation.

What we are proposing is to simply add the Federal Sustainable Development Act to those verifications. It is true that federal legislation on sustainable development already exists. Unfortunately, it serves more as a suggestion or a smokescreen, as the Conservatives gleefully work around it.

When a Conservative government tables a budget over 400 pages long that has neither a single tangible environmental protection measure, nor even a mention of climate change, which is supposedly a priority for Canadians, we should not be surprised when it fails to respect the principles of sustainable development.

The basic principles of this act are the foundation of good sustainable policies. I will now read these basic principles.

The Government of Canada accepts the basic principle that sustainable development is based on an ecologically efficient use of natural, social and economic resources and acknowledges the need to integrate environmental, economic and social factors in the making of all decisions by government.

However, the Conservative government does not seem to accept this principle of sustainable development at all. As the opposition leader has so rightly said on many occasions, “The Conservatives...are going to pass on to future generations the worst economic, social and ecological debt in our country's history”.

There was nothing in the Speech from the Throne about sustainable development. There was nothing in this week's budget about sustainable development. The budget did not even mention climate change.

For years, the NDP has been telling the Conservatives that its headlong rush to develop Canada's resources without legislation to provide adequate protection of lands and waterways will have a major economic cost in the long term.

Acting in this way is just as irresponsible as buying a house and not insuring it. The Conservatives continue to eliminate environmental protections without even thinking of the consequences, and Canadian and Quebec families will have to bear the economic costs of these decisions and live with the consequences to their health if a problem arises.

The Conservatives insist on developing resources first and reacting to the consequences afterwards. That is very irresponsible. The Conservatives are pushing Canada beyond the point of no return.

The purpose of Bill C-481 is to remind the government that Canadians want sustainable development to be part of their MPs' decision-making process.

Take, for example, the RCM of Argenteuil, in my riding, which is working hard at sustainable development and supports my colleague's bill. The RCM's warden, André Jetté, wrote to me and said:

We studied the bill and we are in complete agreement with its content. Quebec has a similar strategy, which is set out in the Sustainable Development Act.

As for the RCM of Argenteuil, it should be noted that the 2013-17 strategic plan adopted in 2012 was based on the principles of sustainable development (see attached). One of the governance strategies is to “make decisions in a context of sustainable development”. To that end, the action plan provides for “developing a sustainable development policy for the RCM and the LDC and, by extension, the nine local municipalities”.

I am proud to represent the RCM of Argenteuil, and I am very proud of its sustainable development measures.

Now is the time for the Government of Canada to honour its commitments and laws and show some real leadership when it comes to responsible management for future generations.

Bill C-481 is part of the NDP's ongoing commitment to environmental issues. As a member of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, I am proud to play a role in these efforts. The entire NDP team has to fight to ensure that this important issue gets the recognition it deserves, as the Conservatives unfortunately keep trying to sweep it under the rug.

The committee has started a study on water quality in the Great Lakes Basin. This is an important issue that must be examined in connection with major environmental issues.

Yesterday, my colleague, the member for Drummond, moved a motion to include climate change, water levels, temperature and ecology in this study.

Unfortunately, the committee will not expand the study. The NDP will continue to pressure the Conservatives on this committee to focus on the issues of sustainable development and climate change.

I am also working hard on environmental protection, particularly with Motion No. 400, entitled “Protecting Waterways and Public Health”.

This motion asked the government to study the possibility of providing financial support to the owners of homes not connected to an adequate waste water treatment system and to bring up to standard their septic systems, in order to protect waterways, the water table and public health.

Individuals, municipalities, organizations, such as the FCM, and members of Parliament from coast to coast acknowledged the importance of such a motion and supported it. They realized that in the long term we can reduce water contamination and cleanup costs.

Unfortunately, the motion was defeated by the Conservatives in March 2013. Their inaction has a devastating impact on our lakes, rivers and the vitality of our communities that are dealing with this issue. Nonetheless, I continue to work to ensure that the government addresses this matter, which is very important for our regions.

Worse still, the Conservatives are not just failing to act to protect the environment. They are also tearing apart the protections that are already in place. Like all the NDP members, I continue to fight against the Conservatives' omnibus bills that are sabotaging the environmental protections of practically all bodies of water in Canada.

For example, changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act will leave 1,000 lakes and rivers in my riding unprotected. This is just the tip of the iceberg in the daily fight against the Conservatives' backward concept of the environment as a pool of resources to be developed, not the ecosystems we are a part of.

I believe that we and our Parliament have a role to play in helping to create sustainable prosperity. This bill would make sustainable development central to all federal public policies, thereby making Canada greener and more prosperous.

This is just one of the meaningful and innovative proposals for sustainable development that the NDP will continue to support as a basic principle.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

February 14th, 2014 / 1:40 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues who spoke to my bill, and I thank in advance all those who will vote for it.

Bill C-481 is certainly a modest bill, but it represents an important step in putting sustainable development at the heart of the debates in the House of Commons.

Years ago I realized there was an urgent need for action on the environment. A growing number of Canadians are realizing it as well. The need to develop sustainable development policies has become a political imperative. Even our colleagues opposite are beginning to admit that we must take action.

In that regard, allow me to quote the Conservative member for Kitchener—Waterloo, who, on January 6, said the following on CBC Radio:

We are seeing the effects, the impacts of climate change. With climate change comes extreme weather events. We saw that through the floods in southern Alberta, we’re now seeing that with the ice storms in Kitchener—Waterloo and Toronto.

Those are words of wisdom that point to the urgent need to take action.

In Quebec alone, the compensation paid by insurance companies as a result of storms and flooding has increased by 25% since 2001. Inaction is getting expensive, but despite the evidence, there are no measures in the most recent budget to address climate change.

However, the Conservatives unanimously voted to bring in federal sustainable development legislation that would ensure that all departments work together to make Canada a leader in this area.

My Bill C-481 would amend this law, which was passed unanimously by the Conservative members who are still sitting here today and who will soon vote on my bill. Bill C-481 seeks to ensure that all future acts and regulations comply with the principles of the Federal Sustainable Development Act. However, the Conservative members told me that there are already regulations in place that do the same thing as Bill C-481.

When I asked the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development about it, he replied that nothing similar to this bill already exists. There is no clear requirement that any proposed legislation must undergo a strategic environmental assessment. As for regulatory impact analysis, it applies only to regulations, not bills.

Many others ask me whether the Minister of Justice has the authority to verify whether a bill is consistent with the Federal Sustainable Development Act. The Department of Justice is already obliged to review all the bills and regulations that are submitted. Bill C-481 simply links this process with what has already been created by the Federal Sustainable Development Act.

As usual, the departments will provide the Minister of Justice the information he needs for making a decision. If he is missing information, he just has to pick up the phone and consult the great experts that our government has hired in the past, such as the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.

In closing, my bill seeks to remind us that Canadians want sustainable development to be included in the decision-making of their elected representatives. Including sustainable development at the heart of all federal policies is the best way to make Canada more green and more prosperous. This is urgent and I will say it again. We only have one Earth and we must protect it. Pollution knows no boundaries.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

November 25th, 2013 / 11 a.m.
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NDP

Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

moved that Bill C-481, An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to present Bill C-481. Years ago, I joined an increasing number of Canadians who have become aware of the urgent need for action on the environment. It is now absolutely crucial to develop sustainable development policies to address the many challenges of our time.

I also want to pay tribute to our environment critic, the member for Halifax, who works so hard to defend our world and the quality of life of her constituents. She is a role model who inspires me every day. As for me, I was elected in 2011 to make Canada greener, more prosperous and fairer for all.

Some people would say that Bill C-481 does not go far enough. However, I feel it is a step in the right direction. My colleagues on the other side and I should support it. Indeed, it is an amendment to an act that the Conservatives themselves passed unanimously in June 2008.

My bill seeks to ensure that any future acts and regulations introduced by a federal minister comply with the principles of the Federal Sustainable Development Act. The Minister of Justice will then report any inconsistencies to the House of Commons, at the earliest possible opportunity. The Department of Justice already has an obligation to examine all bills and regulations before the House to verify compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. All that Bill C-481 does is link this process with what has already been created by the Federal Sustainable Development Act.

I would point out there was nothing in the throne speech on sustainable development. However, the idea that human activity can cause serious and lasting damage to our ecosystems is now a key part of policy.

My bill is a reminder that Canadians want sustainable development to be included in the decision-making process of their representatives in the House of Commons. Placing sustainable development at the heart of all federal public policy is the best way to make Canada greener, more prosperous and fairer for all.

What is sustainable development? It means creating policies that meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. Sustainable development must also be guided by long-term thinking that takes into account the inseparable nature of the environmental, social and economic impacts of development activities. Unfortunately, we are leaving our children with the worst economic, social and ecological debt in the history of this country. We cannot afford to let this situation continue.

The planet's temperature is already rising. This is an undeniable reality that is hitting Canada hard. Since 1948, the average annual temperature in Canada has risen by 1.3oC, a rate of warming that is higher than in most other parts of the world. Heavy precipitation and flooding have increased in most Canadian cities. Researchers with the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy have noted an increased number of heat waves in every major Canadian city as well as more droughts, particularly in the west. There have also been more forest fires. Moreover, the serious lack of water is affecting land productivity, and that will only get worse.

Insurance plans are not adapted to these situations. In Quebec alone, the compensation paid by insurance companies as a result of storms and flooding has increased by 25% since 2001.

Lastly, scientists have documented deteriorating biodiversity conditions in all of the main types of ecosystems in Canada. Biodiversity is a cornerstone of Canadian competitiveness. It is key to continued growth in ecotourism and recreation. Falling behind on the protection of land and wildlife could lead to the disruption of valuable resource sectors like forestry and fisheries.

Our trading partners see Canada as a steward of globally significant resources. Canada’s success as a trading nation depends on continued leadership in meeting international expectations for environmental protection, expectations that are increasingly enshrined in international trade agreements.

Negligence is getting expensive. The effects are being felt across the country, and it will only get worse if we do not act now. For many years, a number of provinces have said repeatedly how important it is that Canada take a leadership role in establishing sustainable development policies. Sustainable development means creating policies that meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. This principle must be extended to all decisions made by the federal government, especially those made in the House.

Informing people and building awareness alone will not make Canada greener. We need leadership. The government and MPs must foster change that stimulates progress and prosperity in our communities.

My bill will give Canada a mechanism that encourages MPs to act in accordance with sustainable development principles. Bill C-481 is one more step in the right direction toward placing these principles at the centre of our decision-making process. By encouraging MPs to develop bills that are in line with the federal sustainable development strategy, Bill C-481 will help them make good decisions and build a greener, more prosperous and more just Canada.

The Federal Sustainable Development Act was the outcome of a private member's bill, Bill C-474, which was passed unanimously in June 2008. In passing the bill, the Government of Canada recognized the importance of making decisions that take environmental, economic and social factors into account. The bill set up a legal framework for the development and implementation of a federal sustainable development strategy.

The purpose of the strategy is to make the decision-making process more transparent in terms of the environment. It is updated every three years with a progress report and public consultations. Within a year of the strategy coming into effect, the main federal departments have to prepare their own sustainable development strategies. These must comply with the guidelines in the federal sustainable development strategy, which has four priority themes.

The first is about addressing climate change now that weather events have become more frequent and severe. We must also improve air quality to combat the growing number of respiratory illnesses.

The second is about maintaining water quality and availability, because even though our bank account is full and oil resources are everywhere, water quality is still the most critical factor for life.

The third is about protecting nature, plants and animals. The fourth is about shrinking the environmental footprint, beginning with government. The goal is to reduce polluting emissions, recycle, and set a good example for the private sector and individuals.

As it stands now, this legislation does not do much, since the current government lacks any political will.

This fall, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development's report criticized the government for missing most of its targets. Most of the targets lack clarity and measurability, which makes it difficult to assess progress over the short and long term.

Well thought-out strategies and effective action to implement them are fundamental to both the credibility and the impact of the strategies. Although the Federal Sustainable Development Act is weak and does not have teeth, I think it provides an excellent tool for us to coordinate our massive bureaucracy in order to implement sustainable development policies.

Bill C-481 will help strengthen this act by ensuring that the House of Commons knows whether a bill is in line with the federal sustainable development strategy. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development noted that the efforts to integrate the sustainable development strategy are incomplete. Bill C-481 would fix that.

We want to show Canadians that we take sustainable development into account in our decisions. If Bill C-481 passes, bills that are inconsistent with sustainable development will pay a political price. I hope that members of the House of Commons will make more of an effort to include sustainable development in their bills.

We must not be leaving environmental, economic and social debts for future generations. We must be concerned with the quality of life of our constituents; focus on prevention instead of repression; provide value-added for small businesses by giving them green infrastructure; promote buying local, which stimulates the regional economy and reduces our greenhouse gas emissions; and there are many more examples. Together, we will build a fairer, greener and more prosperous Canada.

In conclusion, I would like to share a quote from Frédéric Back's film The Man Who Planted Trees. This film served as an inspiration to me in developing this bill. Here is an excerpt:

...It is a desert no more. In these [formerly] arid regions...magnificent forests have slowed the winds, retained water and restored life. All this is the result of the quiet perseverance of a single man.

On that note, I urge all members to vote in favour of my bill.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

November 25th, 2013 / 11:15 a.m.
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NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I love that movie. I watched it when I was taking French classes in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

I would like to thank my colleague for introducing this worthwhile bill. We were chatting earlier and I joked that I wished I had thought of it.

In all seriousness, this bill is founded on a simple and elegant idea. It ensures that development is always part of our work as legislators.

I would like to know what my colleague's constituents are saying about the environment. Are the people of Brome—Missisquoi concerned about sustainable development and future generations?

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

November 25th, 2013 / 11:15 a.m.
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NDP

Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the hon. member for Halifax, for her excellent question.

All of the people in my riding of Brome—Missisquoi are asking how we will change things and ensure that sustainable development is taken into consideration. What good is a bank account full of money if there is no economy, no social justice and no environment? I live in a beautiful riding in the Appalachian corridor, where organizations are working very hard to protect the environment, so I would answer the member's question by saying that the environment is an everyday concern.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

November 25th, 2013 / 11:15 a.m.
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NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to join with my colleagues in thanking the hon. member for this excellent bill, which I feel is very important.

The Federal Sustainable Development Act received royal assent in 2008, and the House passed it unanimously. However, as we know, talk is not enough. The same is true for any law. We need to ensure that there is follow-up and that meaningful action is taken.

I would like to ask my colleague if he feels that the bill is a crucial part of truly implementing the Federal Sustainable Development Act.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

November 25th, 2013 / 11:20 a.m.
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NDP

Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie for her very good question.

A law on sustainable development has indeed been in place since 2008. I have read it. That legislation does not have any teeth. That is why omnibus bills and budget implementation bills have undermined environmental rights in many areas. Nothing can be done.

My bill will ensure accountability and make a first step toward transparency. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development will have to take this legislation into account. The Minister of Justice, who plays a symbolic role, has to ensure that legislation is in line with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What is more, whether we are talking about a bill or proposed regulations, the commissioner will ensure that all departments concerned work in accordance with the Federal Sustainable Development Act. If not, he will quickly inform the House. The department in question will have to pay the political price.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

November 25th, 2013 / 11:20 a.m.
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Oshawa Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-481. In the next 10 minutes, I will explain how the bill would create a massive new and wasteful bureaucracy that would serve no purpose other than to waste taxpayers' money. I will demonstrate how the bill is just more evidence that the NDP shows a complete lack of respect for taxpayers' money. I will show that although the bill would purport to achieve sustainable development objectives, it would actually only duplicate work that is already being done by the government.

Bill C-481 would amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act to require that the Minister of Justice examine bills and regulations to ensure that they are not inconsistent with the purposes and provisions of the act. However, rather than meaningfully doing anything, it would just add another layer of red tape, which is redundant and unnecessary in light of the actions the government is already taking.

As members are aware, the purpose of the Federal Sustainable Development Act is to establish a legal framework for developing and implementing a federal sustainable development strategy that will make environmental decisions more transparent and accountable to Canadians. It requires developing and regularly updating a whole-of-government federal sustainable development strategy, which the government began in 2010 and continues to do so.

The first main point I would like to discuss is whether the amendments proposed in the bill are necessary. They are not. As I have already pointed out, the bill would be completely redundant in light of actions the government is already taking to achieve federal sustainability objectives, as well as transparency and accountability. The government already has tools in place for assessing and reporting the environmental effects of its actions, including two particularly significant ones: strategic environmental assessments and regulatory impact analyses.

Strategic environmental assessments, which are required by a cabinet directive, identify and evaluate the potential environmental effects of government proposals. Strategic environmental assessments also involve considering whether further action could be taken to optimize the positive environmental effects of initiatives and minimize or mitigate any negative effects.

Cabinet requires that a strategic environmental assessment be undertaken for all proposals intended for approval by a minister or by cabinet whenever its implementation could result in important environmental effects, either positive or negative. The results of strategic environmental assessments inform the development of new policies, plans, and programs, and support decision-making.

In 2010, in conjunction with the release of Canada's first federal sustainable development strategy, the government further strengthened strategic environmental assessment by requiring departments to consider potential impacts on the strategy's goals and targets when conducting their assessments in the context of a broader consideration of environmental effects.

We see strengthening the strategic environmental assessment process as an important step in advancing the integration of environmental, social, and economic considerations in government decision-making. Departments are now expected to consider the potential effects of initiatives on achieving the government's environmental sustainability priorities.

I should note that unlike the government's approach to strategic environmental assessment, Bill C-481 does not include any assessment against any specific priorities or measurable objectives, such as the federal sustainable development strategy's goals and targets. This just further highlights how the bill would be a wasteful use of taxpayers' money.

In addition to requiring analysis and assessment of the environmental implications of policies, strategic environmental assessments also promote transparency and accountability in decision-making. Whenever the government conducts a strategic environmental assessment, any potential environmental effects identified are expected to be summarized in a public statement that communicates the results of the assessment to Canadians.

To provide a broader view of strategic environmental assessment practices and results, the strengthened assessment process also requires departments to describe how policies subject to strategic environmental assessments have affected or are expected to affect progress towards the federal sustainable development strategy's goals and targets. We will continue to advance implementation of this new strengthened assessment process over time.

The other major mechanism I want to mention is the regulatory impact analysis statement, or RIAS. A RIAS is created for proposed regulations, and its preparation is required by the cabinet directive on regulatory management.

A RIAS summarizes the regulatory development process and the analysis conducted in support of a regulatory initiative. It describes the issues to be addressed, a cost-benefit analysis with distributional impacts of a proposed regulation, and the results of consultations. The results of a regulation's cost-benefit analysis summarized in the RIAS includes the cost or benefits to Canadians, the environment, and businesses, as well as impacts on human health and safety. Like a strategic environmental assessment, the RIAS process makes an important contribution to transparency as RIASs are made available to the public in the Canada Gazette, along with proposed regulations.

I would also like to highlight the federal sustainable development strategy as another means by which the government is making environmental decisions more transparent and accountable to Canadians.

The strategy required by the Federal Sustainable Development Act provides a whole-of-government picture of federal actions and results to achieve environmental sustainability. These actions support goals and targets under four priority theme areas: one, addressing climate change and air quality; two, maintaining water quality and availability; three, protecting nature and Canadians; and four, shrinking the environmental footprint beginning with government.

Regular federal sustainable development strategy progress reports from the government enable Canadians and stakeholders to track results achieved on the strategy's goals and targets. FSDS indicators are primarily drawn from the Canadian environmental sustainability indicators program, which provides comprehensive and objective information on environmental trends. The government has expanded these indicators to a total of 36.

Canadians are now able to get more information on what their government is doing with respect to sustainable development than ever before. We are continuing to move forward with the second three-year federal sustainable development strategy, which was tabled on November 4.

The second strategy demonstrates the government's ongoing commitment to the transparency and accountability of environmental decision-making. It has strengthened targets introduced in the first strategy. Examples are those on nutrient loading in the Great Lakes, Lake Simcoe, and Lake Winnipeg. The new strategy also reflects the results of public and open consultations. For example, in response to Canadians' comments, we have made targets more specific and measurable through clear timelines, baseline information, and quantitative benchmarks; identified indicators and actions with social and economic dimensions; and added detail on the important role that others outside government play in achieving environmental outcomes.

Taken together, these improvements, along with the previously mentioned tools in use by the government, provide Canadians with an unprecedented amount of information on the sustainable development decisions being made by the Government of Canada. This is all being done without the massive new bureaucracy the NDP would like to create and the new spending and taxes that the NDP would like to implement through Bill C-481.

As I have described, the government has already taken action to apply sustainable development in decision-making and ensure that Canadians have information on the potential environmental effects of government initiatives. By taking these legislative and regulatory initiatives, our government in ensuring that environmental factors have been fully considered in decision-making processes.

My second main point relates to the examination process proposed in Bill C-481. The examination process that the bill proposes is vague and redundant, and it is a wasteful use of taxpayers' money. I note that this examination process would go well beyond legal analysis and would constitute a significant departure from the current responsibilities of the Minister of Justice with regard to examining bills and regulations. For example, the Department of Justice currently does not have expertise in the area of sustainable development. Thus, the bill would require the government to waste taxpayers' money by creating and developing a new massive bureaucracy to duplicate the measures that I have already highlighted.

Undoubtedly, the NDP wants to pay for all this by increasing taxes on hard-working Canadian families.

In conclusion, given what the government is already doing, Bill C-481 would be a complete waste of taxpayers' money. The bill would add a layer of wasteful bureaucracy and oversight that is simply not needed.

Here I return to the most problematic part of Bill C-481, which is, of course, its true intention of creating a massive, new, and wasteful bureaucracy. This fact, I am not afraid to say, reflects the NDP's priorities completely. Here we have the NDP, which stands for nothing other than creating a massive new bureaucracy while increasing taxes on hard-working Canadian families.

This raises important questions for all Canadians. How exactly does the NDP intend to pay for those new and wasteful measures? Will it be through a $20-billion carbon tax, or does it plan to create new taxes to burden Canadian families? These are important questions the NDP has to answer that the member did not answer earlier.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

November 25th, 2013 / 11:30 a.m.
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Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to participate in this debate. It is indeed true that Canada has been blessed with incredible natural resources. With those blessings come responsibilities. Over the years, a number of measures have been introduced in this House to protect the environment. The attempt is always to balance the protection of the environment with the economic interests of the nation.

When the Liberal Party was in power, we committed our government to the principles of sustainable development and passed legislation that required each department to submit with any new legislative proposal the sustainability and environmental impact of the legislation or regulation. We also, at that time, insisted that ministers provide a gender analysis of each proposed piece of legislation.

I have noticed that the government has dropped the fiscal analysis of each proposed piece of legislation. This is particularly true for the justice section. There is no fiscal analysis attached other than bromides submitted by ministers from time to time about how this would not cost us anything at all.

As well, the Liberal Party created the office of the Commissioner of the Environment, which is attached to the Auditor General's department. It comments on and does analyses of the various environmental strategies the government puts forward from time to time.

We, along with the NDP, are truly disappointed with the government and its continuing erosion of environmental policies. The Conservative government has systematically reduced the environmental review process in resource development since taking office in 2006.

I note the parliamentary secretary's speech, which is all about taxpayers. It seems that it is all about taxpayers but never about citizens. It is the classic cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Environmental review is about the rights of citizens to know how the environment will be impacted by any initiatives. This has been systematically eroded by the government. Citizens are entitled to know, because these have environmental impacts, economic impacts, and consequences for our international reputation.

We understand and are sympathetic to the impetus of this bill, considering reports put out recently by various international bodies with respect to GHG emissions. One report ranks us dead last out of 27 developed countries in terms of GHG emissions and what we are intending to do. A UN report ranks us 55 out of 58. We beat out Iran, Kazakhstan, and Saudi Arabia. I am sure that will make us all feel a great deal better.

Dr. Chu, the former U.S. Secretary of Energy, was in Calgary last week. With several senior government ministers in the audience, he started off his speech by saying that surely to goodness, we can agree that there is climate change. How the United States views its partner in North America is that it is having a dialogue with the deaf.

In my view, Bill C-481 is a well-intentioned piece of legislation. It is not clear at this point what the costs will be. We can certainly see the benefits. I do not believe my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, that this would create a massive bureaucracy or that it would cause all the fearmongering nonsense he repeated toward the end of his speech. It would not create massive costs. In fact, if the government were doing the job in the first place, the bill would probably not be necessary.

However, when there is profound mistrust among the Canadian population of the attitude and the actions of the current government toward the environment, we get bills like Bill C-481 as a consequence, because at root, the mover of Bill C-481 does not believe that the Government of Canada is actually doing the job. He does not believe that legislative, regulatory, and economic initiatives are actually receiving a full environmental review.

I have some questions with respect to, in my judgment, the overly broad application of the bill. It says that all bills presented to this House would have to undergo a sustainability review.

At one level, it is a good idea. However, suppose the government puts forward a bill entitled the Prime Minister's award for ethics, accountability, and democratic excellence.

I know that might be amusing to some in this House, but it is possible that the Government of Canada would put forward such a bill on ethics, accountability, and democratic excellence. Would Bill C-481 apply to that bill or to a bill, for instance, on a more serious subject, such as cyberbullying and various things?

We have some questions with respect to the overly broad application of the legislation. Nevertheless, we take the view that this is a bill that is well motivated. It would address a deeply held view that the government has not addressed the environment in a sustainable fashion and that the government's actions to date have had economic impacts, have been negative on the environment, and are negatively impacting our international reputation abroad.

At this point, we in the Liberal Party will be supporting the bill, and I urge all members to have it sent to committee.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

November 25th, 2013 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by congratulating and thanking my friend and colleague from Brome—Missisquoi. His work on this bill shows that he is an ardent defender of his constituents' interests. As an educator and an MP, he is in regular contact with the members of his community and he understands that the people he represents are concerned about our environment.

The hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi also stands up for the interests of all Canadians. This initiative not only benefits his constituents, but all of us.

I would like to congratulate him on taking this initiative and introducing a well-thought-out and carefully crafted bill in the House of Commons. He began an important debate in the House on the type of government that we want and what we expect from our government.

We must always take into account the impact that our decisions could have on future generations. Bill C-481 serves to remind us that we cannot be shortsighted when it comes to environmental issues. We are responsible for ensuring that any bill introduced in the House meets the needs of today without compromising those of the future.

As my colleague explained, this bill will ensure that we remain committed to the Federal Sustainable Development Act, which was passed unanimously by the House in 2008.

It is a very simple idea and something that all Canadians expect from their government. If we pass a law that says that we support sustainable development, then all of our laws will be in line with those principles.

My colleague from Brome—Missisquoi's idea is beautiful in its simplicity.

Not only would the bill put sustainable development at the forefront of all federal government decision-making, it would integrate sustainable development principles with the policy-making process itself. It would guarantee that all government decisions were in line with the principles of sustainable development that we all seemed so committed to just five years ago.

Bill C-481 does this by reinforcing legislation that already exists. It turns our current strategy for sustainable development into an effective strategy. Unfortunately, the Conservative government does not share my priorities on the environment or, I think, the priorities of a majority of Canadians, for that matter.

The Conservatives have spoken several times about the importance they give to the Federal Sustainable Development Act. Past ministers of the environment, and by now there is quite a roster, have said that the act ensures that the federal decision-making process on matters of the environment is done in a transparent and coherent manner. However, while Conservatives like to mention the Federal Sustainable Development Act, they are all talk and no action.

The government has not been interested in the principles of the act, but it does like to use it as a talking point to distract Canadians from its dismal record in promoting sustainable development and from its failure to act on the environment. Much like Conservatives like to use the word “conservation” without acting or to talk about their missing-in-action oil and gas regulations, it is all about drawing attention away from their failure on these issues. As I have said in the House before, what we need is less rhetoric and more meaningful, forward-looking action.

In the past few years, because of this inaction, we have seen a regression. We are actually moving backward. The Conservative government has been systematically dismantling environmental protection laws and has been using the least transparent methods available. For proof of that, we do not have to go back too far, just to 2012, when the government's infamous omnibus budget bills, Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, were passed, two of the most destructive pieces of legislation I have ever encountered.

The government has consistently disregarded the principles of sustainable development by using omnibus legislation to weaken environmental protections and by passing that legislation without proper examination or debate. Gutting the Fisheries Act, ransacking the Navigable Waters Protection Act, muzzling scientists, completely obliterating the national round table on the environment and the economy, and continuing to subsidize the oil and gas industry with $1.3 billion a year does not sound like sustainable development to me. Neither does denying the science behind climate change, wilfully ignoring the effects of global warming, or failing miserably to meet low emissions targets that we committed to in international climate negotiations.

What else does not sound sustainable? Since coming into power in 2006, the Conservatives have cut Canada's targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 90%. That is not sustainable; it is actually irresponsible. Our actions now mean we are burdening Canadians who will come after us.

The Federal Sustainable Development Act was supposed to signal a change in how the government makes responsible and environmentally conscious decisions on behalf of Canadians. However, it has been five years since this legislation came into effect, and the government has failed to make this crucial transformation.

Implementing an effective sustainable development strategy is an attainable and necessary goal. It is about time that we respect the commitments we made to Canadians in 2008 by passing Bill C-481. We already agreed unanimously to the principles of the bill, so let us give it some teeth.

The bill offers an efficient strategy to achieve this by giving the Department of Justice the responsibility for reviewing bills and ensuring that all proposed legislation responds to the criteria laid out in the Federal Sustainable Development Act, which we all passed. We are not asking for a complete overhaul here. This is not about red tape or another level of bureaucracy; it is a change we can actually implement now.

Bill C-481 should be implemented. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development noted that the integration of sustainable development in decision-making is an incomplete process. Enabling Bill C-481 would help us to bridge that gap. Operationalizing an effective approach to sustainable development has worked well in Canada, and it has already been done at the provincial level in Quebec.

My leader, the leader of the NDP, in his role as Quebec's minister of the environment, sustainable development and parks, wrote North America's first sustainable development law and amended Quebec's human rights charter to create the right to live in a clean environment. That is not a privilege but a right. That is the attitude we should have in this chamber when we talk about legislation and debate ideas and think about how to work together to create a better Canada. It is a right that we need to work toward. It is a right we need to work hard to protect.

In my last few moments, I would like to turn our attention to the people who live in our ridings, whom we as members of Parliament, represent. These are families in every riding across the country in Victoria, Yellowknife, Winnipeg, Toronto, and my own riding of Halifax. As legislators, we have accepted the responsibility to represent the hopes and dreams of our constituents. For many of those people, their hopes and dreams are better lives and brighter futures for their kids and their families.

However, as it stands now, our children and grandchildren are set to inherit the worst environmental, social, and economic debt the country has ever seen. This is not intergenerational equity. It is not a future that is bright or shining with promise; it is a future that I am afraid of. It is an injustice to leave this legacy behind to the generations that follow ours.

The reality of the situation is that if we do not go forward sustainably and we do not legislate for the future instead of just thinking about the short-term gains, then we are not working to defend the hopes and dreams of our constituents or the people they care about most. We are not doing our jobs as legislators.

We owe it to future generations of Canadians to pass this bill. For them, sustainable development should not be an afterthought, window dressing, or a buzzword. An effective sustainable development policy demands that the principles of sustainability be a part of the policy-making process from the start.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

November 25th, 2013 / 11:50 a.m.
See context

NDP

Francine Raynault NDP Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, Canada has had a deplorable environmental record for quite some time. When compared to other OECD countries, Canada is ranked second last. It is very urgent that we adopt a set of measures to help us do better. That is primarily what Bill C-481 would do if it were passed.

The situation is urgent and although some would prefer to ignore the scientific evidence behind global warming, it is a factor that could adversely affect our economy, our health and the future of our children.

Since 1948, the average temperature in Canada has increased by 1.3°C and much more quickly than in other parts of the world. To get a sense of what that means for the economy, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy estimates that this will cost $5 billion by 2020 and between $41 and $43 billion by 2050.

Of course, a number of us will not be around in 2050 to see the impact for ourselves. That is precisely why sustainable development is important. I will say it again: sustainable. With all the scientific tools available, not only is it irresponsible to take no action to counter global warming, but it is also unfair because it deprives our future citizens of a world that we enjoyed.

That may be difficult for some to understand, but we have an urgent duty to attack a problem that will go down in history as one of the greatest challenges of our time. One day, our children and grandchildren will ask themselves, what did we do?

First, we must recognize that the House passed Bill C-474, Federal Sustainable Development Act unanimously in 2008. Thus, we can say that everyone agrees that something must be done. As for exactly what to do and how far to go, not everyone agrees on how to handle the challenge of climate change.

Bill C-474 did not stop the Conservative government from getting rid of dozens of climate research scientist positions, from getting rid of the Canadian census form, or from subsidizing a polluting industry at enormous cost to the taxpayers. As the saying goes, you have to walk the talk. When the House says it is going to do something, it would be good if the general public could actually see something happen.

Unfortunately, at this point, this is not the case. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, a position created by virtue of Bill C-474, states that Canada is not doing what it should to establish real sustainable development practices. It was to respond to this problem that my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi introduced C-481, which in fact does nothing more than give real power to Bill C-474. If Bill C-474 is the talk, Bill C-481 is the walk. It only remains to be seen whether this government will dare to put on its shoes.

There is nothing magical about Bill C-481. In fact, it is really only logical. It would make it possible for the justice minister to draw the attention of the House to any inconsistency between bills that have been passed and the Federal Sustainable Development Act. This way we would have a tool for measuring our commitment to sustainable development, so that we might take tangible steps toward making Canada greener, fairer and more prosperous.

In my view, the principal argument in favour of the bill currently under consideration is the fact that the justice minister already verifies all the bills. Making it possible for him to report any potential inconsistencies with the Federal Sustainable Development Act will not require any additional resources and will make it possible for the bill to be something more than just window dressing.

It must be said that sustainable development covers a great deal. It can be used for almost everything, without much regard for its real meaning. However, if we thought about this a little more, we would see that it is a vision of development that is likely to encourage green, job-creating industries, as well as increased citizen participation in public affairs.

The three pillars of this theory are as follows: a vision of economic justice, a balanced social perspective and, of course, the conservation of nature for future generations. By applying this reasoning to all our legislation, we could make a promise to our children that they too will be able to enjoy a world where there is room for everyone and where there are the resources they need to live.

In the current circumstances, I think it is urgent to improve the Federal Sustainable Development Act, because we believe that it does not have any real teeth. For instance, how is the government meeting its commitments when it gives money to the oil industry, which is already rich? How is this good for the environment? Has any consideration being given to the fact that development of the oil sands artificially inflated the value of the dollar and resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in the manufacturing sector? Have the communities that live near oil sands developments even been consulted?

Unfortunately, all too often the answer to these many questions is no. The omnibus bills introduced recently by the Conservative government have proven that the government does not listen to anyone and that it is not even living up to its own commitments.

Many measures included in these bills would fail miserably if they were put to the test of the Federal Sustainable Development Act. For instance, people can no longer oppose the installation of a pipeline for environmental reasons unless the pipeline goes directly through their property.

The government is ignoring the concept of the common good and trampling on our communities' ability to mobilize by allowing the democratic process of a vote only once every four years. Just because the government won a majority with 38% of the vote does not make this a democratic country; quite the contrary. Claiming so much power with so little support is appalling enough, but preventing communities from having their say when it really counts is completely unjustifiable from a democratic standpoint.

Since many of the Conservative government's decrees are bad for the economy, the environment and the survival of Canadian democracy, I strongly urge the House to give this country a regulatory tool, a safeguard, that will bring us closer to our goal of sustainable development.

Accordingly, I fully support Bill C-481, which will help Canada to better meet its own commitments and allow us to give our children a society in which they will want to live, thrive and participate actively.

Let us give ourselves the means to be responsible, and we will finally be able to say that we did what was needed to ensure the sustainability of our communities. At the risk of repeating myself, any attempt to limit enforcement powers regarding the environment makes anything that could be said on the matter sound superficial.

We have a serious responsibility to the future. I would like to be able to tell myself that we are doing everything we can to ensure that Canada moves in the direction of sustainable development, which will provide new opportunities that are worthy of a developed economy in the 21st century.