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.