Hello, Madam Chair, honourable members.
My name is Les Linklater and I am the deputy secretary for operations at the Privy Council Office or PCO. I am responsible for PCO’s economic and regional development policy and social policy secretariats, the orders-in-council division, the cabinet papers system, and the newly created youth secretariat.
My officials are responsible for providing policy advice to the Clerk of the Privy Council and the Prime Minister on a range of files, including those that support the integrated economic, social, and environmental objectives of sustainable development.
In addition to supporting the Prime Minister, the operations branch also supports the operation of several cabinet committees including the following: diversity and inclusiveness; inclusive growth, opportunities and innovation; defence procurement; and environment, climate change and energy.
While proposals coming forward to cabinet are led by ministers, the operations branch at PCO works with departmental officials to ensure that the proposals are fully analyzed and challenged, alternative options are considered, appropriate interdepartmental consultations are undertaken, and, along with the Department of Finance and the Treasury Board Secretariat, that costs and administrative implications are clear before presentations are made to cabinet committees. We also brief the chairs of the various committees and provide secretariat services to ensure that meetings run smoothly.
While the integration of environmental, social, and economic considerations into the development of policy is not a new concept, momentum behind sustainable development and the issues underpinning this concept have been bolstered in recent months, given global milestones like the adoption at the United Nations of the sustainable development goals and the agreement in Paris to a new action plan for addressing climate change.
In Canada the government has made sustainable development a top priority. The Speech from the Throne indicated clearly that the economy and the environment go hand in hand. It also emphasized that addressing social issues, such as helping immigrants settle successfully into Canada and strengthening our relationship with indigenous communities, would support a stronger, more inclusive, Canadian economy.
Building on this foundation, the government is making climate change a key priority. As the Prime Minister indicated at the COP 21 in Paris, it is viewing climate change not only as a challenge, but as an opportunity to develop a low-carbon economy.
The Vancouver Declaration, agreed to by the first ministers on March 3, launched a federal, provincial, and territorial work program that will help develop options for a pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change. This framework will enable Canada to achieve or surpass its ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, while also setting the stage for clean growth, with an emphasis on investments in innovation and clean jobs.
The Vancouver Declaration also emphasizes the role of stakeholders, particularly indigenous Canadians, in developing the solutions to the climate change challenge. Further to these objectives, budget 2016 proposes to provide $2.4 billion over 5 years to address climate change and air pollution issues, along with significant investments in clean technology, green infrastructure, and other measures that support not only the environmental, but also the economic and social objectives of sustainable development.program
As mentioned earlier, the government also constituted the cabinet committee on environment, climate change, and energy, charged with considering issues concerning sustainable development, the stewardship of Canada’s natural resources, the environment, energy, water, and Canada’s contribution to addressing climate change. Without breaking any confidences, I assure you it is a full agenda.
At the Privy Council Office, like all public servants, we have a duty to support the government in meeting its objectives by providing well-informed, non-partisan advice to support decision-making. As it relates to sustainable development, the public service also has a responsibility to be transparent with Canadians and to lead by example. The Federal Sustainable Development Act provides us with the framework through which to do that.
By developing a federal sustainable development strategy, we have the opportunity to articulate to Canadians goals and targets, and propose approaches for meeting them. Led by Environment and Climate Change Canada, the strategy, which is now in its third cycle, identifies whole-of-government priorities and offers an inventory of the programs, initiatives, and measures undertaken to advance these priorities.
As you know, the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change has recently released, for consultation, the draft FSDS for the 2016-19 period. As she notes in her message at the beginning of the draft report, the government is seeking the public’s help in improving the report before it is finalized.
The Privy Council Office also has an important role to play in the implementation of the cabinet directive on strategic environmental assessment, which requires that policy, plan, and program proposals with potentially important positive or negative environmental effects be assessed and that the relevant information be provided to decision-makers.
Specifically, given our role in supporting the cabinet process, we can play a challenging function with departments as they develop their policy proposals, and seek to ensure that the information about a proposal's environmental effects are clearly presented to ministers as part of a memorandum to cabinet. That needs to go beyond just those memoranda dealing directly with environmental issues, and be applied not only to issues advancing through the cabinet committee on environment, climate change, and energy. In fact, it is sometimes in those areas not traditionally associated with the environment or sustainable development where understanding the potential environmental impacts could be most important. The cabinet directive prompts people to take a second look and consider all possible ramifications, even if they might not be obvious at first glance.
That said, recent findings by the commissioner for the environment and sustainable development have made it clear that government-wide we need to be doing a better job of respecting the directive. In their responses to her findings, departments have committed to improving their practices and implementing the recommendations she has made.
Within the Government of Canada, sustainable development is not just about filling out templates and ensuring that proposals consider all of the potential environmental impacts. We are also making efforts to reduce the environmental footprint of our operations through the work of the office of greening government operations housed at Public Services and Procurement Canada. The office provides guidance and advice to departments on ways to reduce energy consumption, carbon emissions, and waste, and to optimize water management. It also tracks progress against targets as outlined in the FSDS.
Internally to PCO, we continue to strive towards reducing our carbon footprint such as through the implementation of green procurement initiatives related to equipment and paper products as outlined in our departmental sustainable development strategy. Further, as was noted in budget 2016, we will be putting more focus on digital communications going forward.
The government has also made a commitment to ensuring that its words are put into action. Under the oversight of the agenda, results, and communications committee of cabinet, ministers and the departments supporting them will be accountable for demonstrating progress made against key government priorities. This process will help track progress under the government's clean growth agenda specifically, but appropriate linkages will be made with other priorities to ensure that policies are not working at cross-purposes and that the government's broader agenda is one that supports social, economic, and environmental objectives in an integrated manner.
In summary, Madam Chair, PCO is strongly involved in making sustainable development a reality through its support for the government in advancing this as a stated priority through its coordinating function on files affecting economic, social, and environmental objectives and through its efforts to support greener government internally and with other departments.