Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I would like to begin by describing the proposed approach we are taking to the implementation of the Federal Sustainable Development Act. I will then respond to your questions and comments.
The draft strategy released last week represents focused work to improve the way the federal government plans for sustainable development and, importantly, to address weaknesses of the old system that have been noted by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and others.
Since 1995, when the Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development was created, the federal government had planned for sustainable development through the preparation and tabling of individual departmental sustainable development strategies. These strategies were produced every three years between 1997 and 2006. This was a very decentralized approach. Almost from the time of implementation, it was criticized repeatedly as lacking central leadership, coordination and follow-up.
As a result, in 2006 the Minister of the Environment, Minister Ambrose at the time, released a fourth and final round of departmental strategies committed to strengthening the overall approach to sustainable development. As members of the committee know well--as many contributed, through hard work--the Federal Sustainable Development Act was passed in June 2008 with all-party support. The purpose of the act is to provide a legal framework for developing and implementing the federal sustainable development strategy to make environmental decision-making more transparent and accountable.
We would submit that the draft strategy represents the first significant improvement to sustainable development planning and reporting since 1995, and reflects the government's commitment to environmental sustainability through improved transparency and accountability. The draft strategy is geared to making environmental decision-making more transparent and accountable. Our hope and plan is that this greater transparency would in turn drive progress in environmental decision-making. The update of the strategy and the reporting on results every three years provides the basis for constant improvement and innovation over the long term.
The greater transparency that drives the cycle of continuous progress would be the result of three key improvements coming from the new federal sustainable development strategy. The first is it provides an integrated, whole-of-government view of federal actions and results to achieve goals in environmental sustainability. So instead of a production of 32 stand-alone and sometimes inconsistent departmental reports--as was done under the previous approach--the government will now produce one sustainable development strategy that reflects actions across government.
The second is it links sustainable development planning and reporting to key planning and decision-making processes of the government, particularly the expenditure management system.
Third, it would drive real progress on environmental sustainability by establishing effective monitoring and reporting on results, which in turn allows parliamentarians and Canadians to track progress across the Government of Canada towards meeting goals and targets with respect to environmental sustainability.
I'd like to just take a minute in terms of each of these three features because they are at the heart of the new strategy. In terms of the whole-of-government approach, it is something that has been cropping up in comments from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development as far back as 2001, when he commented on the lack of a common management approach to sustainable development across the Government of Canada. The draft strategy reflects not just a common management approach but the product of significant senior-level engagement across the government to ensure a whole-of-government approach underneath in terms of the work that contributes to this strategy. A lot of that is driven through the sustainable development office that we have created in Environment Canada.
The proposed approach is to allow parliamentarians to have a one-stop view across the entire government of goals, of targets, and of implementation activities that are driving towards those.
The second element of key importance is the linking to the government-wide planning and reporting. At the broadest level, this mainstreams, if you will, the management of sustainable development as recommended by the OECD and other organizations. It brings sustainable development into the core budgeting planning processes and systems of the Government of Canada. It provides much better access to various information in terms of activities and results generating from those activities, and it reflects comments from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development where he has recommended that the sustainable development strategies adopt and follow the forms of the reports on plans and priorities as mandated by the Treasury Board Secretariat.
In terms of monitoring and reporting, we are proposing in this strategy a new approach that places a much greater emphasis on the use of objective and rigorous data that's much more focused on results with respect to the environment as opposed to processes and activities. In supporting that, we're making much better use of data under the Canadian environmental sustainability indicators program. This was a program for which the Government of Canada renewed funding in the latest federal budget.
Again, I think this would map to many comments we've seen from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development where he's looking for a standardized process for monitoring the implementation and reporting on progress. That would in turn be a powerful factor for a future federal sustainable development strategy.
The goal in this plan and in these three features is to establish a system that will, over time, drive a continuous cycle of improvement based on the principles of “plan, do, check, and improve” that are often favoured by auditors and agencies such as the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.
With these three key management features in the foundation, the strategy outlines and encompasses goals, targets, and implementation strategies in four areas that are of high importance with respect to environmental sustainability: addressing climate change and air quality; maintaining water availability and quality; protecting nature; and finally, shrinking the environmental footprint, beginning with government.
The tables in the consultation paper reflect a snapshot of the situation today with respect to the goals, targets, and implementation strategies across the Government of Canada. The proposed federal strategy is meant to provide a basis to report on these goals in a highly transparent manner. It does not, in and of itself, establish new goals or new implementation strategies, but it creates the transparency by which the core decision-making processes of governments can move forward in these areas of environmental sustainability.
As a result, there is a visage, a strategy, through which the situation with respect to goals, targets, and implementation strategies is dynamic and evolves over time; ideally, and on purpose, the transparency from this strategy would help to drive that process of advancing these issues with respect to environmental sustainability.
Online consultations on the proposed federal sustainable development strategy began last week. Canadians, parliamentarians, the sustainable development advisory committee, and others are now in the process of reviewing the strategy and providing their comments during the 120-day review period, which ends in early July. The government will then pull together a final strategy based on the advice that we receive and envisages tabling a final strategy in Parliament very soon after its resumption in the fall, within the 15 sitting days of June 26, as required in legislation.
This is a long-term endeavour. All of the advice and the best practices mention the focus on the long term, but there is a sense in this strategy that it puts in place the foundation for a cycle of continuous innovation and continuous improvement in every three-year cycle. That is at the heart of the new strategy.
I would like to close, Mr. Chair, by emphasizing the government's commitment to improving sustainable development, and as the head of the federal sustainable development office, I want to emphasize our commitment in terms of driving this change and this innovation, based on the guidance of this committee and others, in the implementation of a new federal sustainable development strategy.
Thank you for your time.