Evidence of meeting #82 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was strategy.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Stephen Lucas  Deputy Minister, Department of the Environment
Paula Brand  Director General, Sustainability Directorate, Strategic Policy Branch, Department of the Environment

10:15 a.m.

Director General, Sustainability Directorate, Strategic Policy Branch, Department of the Environment

Paula Brand

No, I am not appointed as the official. I am the director general of sustainability in the strategic policy branch, reporting up through the ADM to Mr. Lucas.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Okay. I might follow up outside the committee, because I have another question and time is short.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

You have two minutes.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

When I was the Public Works critic, we took on the Department of Public Works because of the absurdity of their sustainable development strategy. It included things such as increasing the number of recycled pieces of paper. So our committee did a review of the tax dollars that could be saved if the government invested in energy efficiency. I know this government is beginning to move in that direction, which to me raises the question that it's fine to do a strategy, but I wonder about the credibility of them.

There is a cabinet directive under which every official who is submitting a plan or policy proposal to their minister, whether or not it is being submitted to cabinet, must provide an assessment of sustainable development. What remains puzzling to me is that while the commissioner revealed to us that the Treasury Board requires a mandatory written report on gender lens, there is no such requirement on sustainable development. I'm really puzzled, because where the rubber hits the road is when a department or an official is proposing to do a project or proposal. That's where this should be happening, not in some vague overall policy. How do those tie together?

10:20 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of the Environment

Stephen Lucas

As Paula noted earlier, the cabinet directive applies to all ministers, and through them, to their officials. The Privy Council Office has overall oversight for implementation through memoranda to cabinet and other mechanisms. She spoke to the cross-link at several stages with the federal SD strategy. In the new act, there's a specific reference to the role of Treasury Board, and specifically the secretariat, in terms of the greening government operations part and their role.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

It only says “environment”. It's very troubling to me that it only says they can do guidelines on environment and not sustainable development.

10:20 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of the Environment

Stephen Lucas

To the specific point you were raising with regard to what is now called Public Services and Procurement Canada, it would address those considerations in terms of their procurement in greening government operations in the context of meeting the objectives of the environment in the act.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

Sorry, I need to cut that off.

Mr. Amos.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Thank you, Ms. Brand, for joining this conversation. It's appreciated. I think all of us really appreciate the hard work that has clearly been done to respond to a fairly comprehensive and dense report and to breathe some life into it with this bill. I know there's a whole team working with you, and we really appreciate their hard work.

I'd like you to speak to the issue I raised earlier around objectives for the statute. I appreciate the minister's point of view that one would not in any particular piece of legislation, environmental, sustainable development, or otherwise, necessarily want to be so prescriptive when trying to achieve a broad range of outcomes. I appreciate that point. However, clearly in the past there have been challenges associated with the implementation of this act as a direct function of the fact that there really weren't objectives. When one sees as an objective “freshwater and oceans”, it's next to meaningless. How do we get from not much of anything in the way of objectives that target where we want to go to something that isn't overly prescriptive but provides solid guidance for government's presence in the future?

10:20 a.m.

Director General, Sustainability Directorate, Strategic Policy Branch, Department of the Environment

Paula Brand

I do want to echo the minister's comments with respect to the principles. I think they're an important part in giving guidance about what a strategy should consider, so those principles are very important.

In terms of mechanics, over the course of putting together the last three strategies, there has been an evolution of their maturity with respect to specificity. The requirement to consult has really had a big impact on what a strategy would look like in the future, so it really does take into account a wide range of comments from Canadians and from folks. In the background, we do a lot of analysis of current issues and priorities to stay relevant. We do a lot of work to understand what other countries are doing to see what the issues are. We monitor emerging trends. We work within the interdepartmental community to understand those pieces and the work that's a priority across the government.

Therefore, the strategy draws on a lot of things. For a practitioner, the act gives guidance about where to go and the principles to use during development, which are very beneficial.

With regard to the consultation and the role that the commissioner plays during the consultation...the commissioner's office has done a very detailed review and they've been instrumental in making the evolution and the changes around progress. Therefore, as a practitioner, I think being able to have that scope and be responsive to the issues that are on the table at the time is very beneficial.

10:20 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of the Environment

Stephen Lucas

One of the elements in the purpose is respecting Canada's domestic and international obligations. As I noted, that then translates into the three-year government strategy and the individual departmental ones. For example, our obligations under the Paris agreement as manifested in Canada through the pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change, involve over 15 different departments and agencies. Therefore, there is an expectation to see their commitments and actions specifically for that three-year tranche of their strategies being brought out and then reflected in the annual reporting.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

I come at this from the perspective of a past life as an environmental lawyer, and I know that many colleagues of mine in the environmental law community in Canada look to federal statutes for guidance on legal principles around environmental protection and sustainable development. Over the last 30 years, the Supreme Court has provided very positive guidance around legal principles that apply across Canada.

I'm not familiar with the principle of collaboration. I'm not familiar with the principle of results-oriented...I forget if it was results-oriented policy or results-oriented management. However, there are a couple of principles that are proposed in this bill that I'm not familiar with, and as I mentioned previously to the minister, there are several that we recommended that aren't in there.

I wonder if you could comment.

10:25 a.m.

Director General, Sustainability Directorate, Strategic Policy Branch, Department of the Environment

Paula Brand

As we said earlier, in terms of what is in it, we looked at the range of principles that were offered through the committee's work. We looked at a number of sustainable development agreements to look at the principles that Canada has already signed on to, in terms of some of those agreements. Then we also looked at codifying the kinds of things that the act embodies, so things like transparency, working together, being specific, and using and focusing on results. Those were some of the ideas and the concepts used to determine the principles that are proposed.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

Thanks very much.

We move over to Mr. Fast.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Thank you. I'm going to take a little different direction here. Your department takes the lead in implementing the pan-Canadian framework on climate change. Is that correct?

10:25 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of the Environment

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Under that framework, NRCan apparently is proposing a suite of building code changes that will require current homeowners to renovate and make their houses more efficient.

Are you familiar with that initiative?

10:25 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of the Environment

Stephen Lucas

The pan-Canadian framework, which was agreed to by first ministers, does indeed include commitments that both the federal government and provinces and territories agreed to in terms of work to establish a retrofit code, which is then up to each individual province and territory to implement. It then establishes a code where retrofits are done.

November 2nd, 2017 / 10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Apparently they're talking about these energy efficiency improvements being required when a major “life cycle event” occurs, whether it's a major renovation of the house or the sale of the house. The Canadian Real Estate Association has voiced very significant concerns that this could impose very significant costs on homeowners when they sell their homes or if they're proactively required to renovate. The estimates coming out of NRCan are around $35,000 on average. I'm wondering if you can provide us with a commitment that the government will not require provinces to implement a policy that would require homeowners to renovate up to the standards required by government when they sell their homes.

10:25 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of the Environment

Stephen Lucas

That's not my understanding of the approach. Again, the approach is to work with the National Research Council and the federal, provincial and territorial community and stakeholders on establishing a retrofit code, which will then establish a floor for retrofits where they're done. But it's up to provinces and territories to implement. It's not tied to the sale of homes; it's on establishing a basis for improving energy efficiency through a retrofit.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Who will determine what “life cycle events” are? Is it the federal government or the provinces?

10:30 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of the Environment

Stephen Lucas

The implementation of any change in a building code is up to the provinces and territories. But again, the focus is on establishing a code as a floor for energy efficiency improvements. Indeed, there was a commitment to develop a new code for new buildings, for example, by 2022 to have a “net zero energy ready” building code developed that provinces and territories could look at.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

So it's focused on new builds, rather than on—

10:30 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of the Environment

Stephen Lucas

Well, there's a proposal in the pan-Canadian framework that first ministers agreed to for a retrofit code to be developed through a consultative process involving provinces and territories, and then subsequently for it to be implemented by them. Other areas looked at included home labelling of energy efficiency improvements, which again would be up to provincial and territorial governments to implement. But to my knowledge not elaborated, in that context, was any requirement on homeowners to retrofit their homes.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

It has to be clear that we flagged that as an issue, as a very serious concern. We don't want to saddle homeowners with an unexpected cost for renovations when they may not have the resources to do them.

I do have another question. Going back to the principles of the legislation, Bill C-57, under “Principles”, says:

(f) the principle of openness and transparency, which is the principle that the release of information should be encouraged to support accountability and public engagement.

Now, that's obviously coming out of the government, coming out of the minister's office, a commitment to openness and transparency. I think you know that we've had tremendous frustration trying to get information out of your office about the economic impact assessments that have been done with respect to the national carbon tax. We received an almost fully redacted document, and what we would like to see is a full analysis of what the carbon tax will mean for the average Canadian.

We now understand that NRCan has also done a similar economic impact study on the forest industry. That also has not been released. The mandate letter to the minister says information like this should be open by default in order to achieve that new bar that the Prime Minister was going to set for openness and transparency.

Can you tell this committee now that you will release to us any economic impact analyses that have been done on the carbon tax?