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

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

Sorry. Maybe next round.

Thank you.

Mr. Aldag.

November 2nd, 2017 / 9:15 a.m.

Liberal

John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

Good morning.

As I know you're aware, the committee here is also working on a heritage study. One of the witnesses we had was Christophe Rivet from ICOMOS Canada. I'm going to go through just a couple of things he shared with us, which I think make a nice connection from that study to the Sustainable Development Act and the sustainable development strategies.

He notes that cultural heritage is included in the international agreements related to the environment and sustainable development adopted by Canada. He notes that article 5 of the World Heritage Convention guides our assessment of Canada's compliance with it and offers us an opportunity to update our national tools. He goes on to indicate that that could include legislation to protect tools to guide decision-making and financial incentives to implement proper practices.

He indicates that another consideration is that international commitments made by Canada regarding sustainable development recognize the role of cultural heritage in achieving sustainability, including, under the 17 goals, making cities and human settlements inclusive, resilient, and sustainable.

Last, he goes on to indicate that the federal sustainable development strategy that aims to guide each department on how to achieve sustainability is an important consideration, and that there is no mechanism to report how we achieve sustainable development while considering cultural heritage, but that there is an opportunity there to put that marker down.

My question is simple. Would you consider an amendment in some form, either in principle or in another statement, to bring in cultural heritage to the Sustainable Development Act?

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Thank you very much, and thank you for all your advocacy and all your work throughout your career on protecting cultural heritage. It's clearly critical, and we need to take into account cultural heritage when we talk about ecosystem protection and also climate change. It has impacts on our cultural heritage.

The revised purpose is broad enough for the inclusion of the issue of cultural heritage, given that it specifies that the FSDS must respect Canada's international sustainable development obligations, so I do think it's broad enough. By implementing the act through the creation of the FSDS, we can put commitments such as the preservation of cultural heritage into action.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

Fantastic. Thanks.

Now I'm going to kick the rest of my time over to Mr. Fisher.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you, Minister, to you and your team for being here.

I just want to say that I was very encouraged by your response to our unanimous report which we worked really hard on. We worked as a really good, strong team, so thank you for your response to those recommendations.

Our committee found that enforcement of the FSDS was kind of lacking. I've noticed that the proposed amendments through this act would remove the mandatory requirement to ensure that performance-based contracts include provisions for meeting the applicable targets referred to in the FSDS. Our committee recommended clearing this section up and basing it on all targets in the FSDS that are relevant to a specific department.

Can you speak to why that section was removed, and whether the act will still have the accountability measures to ensure sustainable procurement?

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Section 12 of the act requires that:

Performance-based contracts with the Government of Canada shall include provisions for meeting the applicable targets referred to in the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy and the Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies.

This is something that relates specifically, as you note, to procurement rather than accountability of officials. Procurement is really the purview of Treasury Board, and it does have a strong procurement policy.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Okay.

I know I have a little bit of time left, and you sort of touched on this earlier.

Why does Bill C-57 not require the government to develop a strategy that meets the specific goals we referenced earlier?

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

The purpose of the act has been broadened. I think that's really critical. Whether you talk about future generations, intergenerational equity, or the precautionary principle, I think it's these broad principles.

I think, once again, the private member who brought in the act, John Godfrey, talked about just being careful but not being too prescriptive, and he said that once you get too prescriptive, you're not going to be able to imagine.... As I say, no one could have imagined sustainable development goals or the Paris agreement.

Clearly, sustainability is an evolving concept as we see what challenges we have and as we make progress towards taking action on them.

I think we have the broad focus and the principles that allow us to be flexible and to take action on a wide variety of issues related to sustainability.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

How do you feel that we can ensure that future governments are going to be held accountable for the things we're talking about today if they're not legislated to do so?

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Once again, thank you to the committee. The committee has really pointed out that we needed to beef up the act, that it needed to be stronger. It needed to ensure that departments didn't just say, “Yes, we're doing good things,” but that it actually required them to have clear targets, measurable targets, and measurable timelines. If you can't have a way of holding departments accountable for what they said they'd do, you're going to have a real problem.

This is a good shift, and the reporting requirements now.... Whether it's being held accountable through transparency so that it will all be made public, through the committee, or through the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, there are a number of very strong measures that will ensure that government departments must comply, that they must do what they said they were going to do and must continue to be very ambitious as they go forward.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Thank you, Minister.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

Mr. Sopuck.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, MB

Thank you very much.

As a proud Manitoban, I would make the point that Manitoba has had a sustainable development act since 1998. I hope you were able to utilize that knowledge, that traditional knowledge from Manitoba, to help write this current act. I should also note that the city of Winnipeg is home to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, which was negotiated by Conservative premier Gary Filmon and Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. I was on the founding board for that.

Manitoba has a very long history of sustainable development, and I would urge you to avail yourselves of the knowledge from Manitoba. I'm sure you will, given the new document that Premier Pallister has just put out.

In your remarks, Minister, you talk about who you consulted with. I was quite shocked to see that rural communities were not listed there. Rural and natural resource communities are at the forefront of sustainable development and are often the victims of bad environmental policy and also the beneficiaries of good environmental policy. Why were rural communities omitted in the consultation?

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

I certainly agree that Manitoba has been instrumental when it comes to sustainable development. I've spent much time working with IISD. It does really great work. I was pleased to see the Manitoba premier recognizing pollution, that there's a cost associated with pollution, and bringing in a price on it.

Look, there was a wide consultation. We reached out. Canadians had many submissions, including from natural resource companies. We were really pleased to see the feedback. It is important that we hear from all Canadians, that we hear all perspectives, and that we all be part of the solution. We heard from indigenous communities, businesses, environmentalists, and Canadians. They care greatly about this, and I agree that everyone needs to be part of it.

We reached out and asked for submissions. We were very active on social media. We reached out through a whole variety of different channels. Certainly we're always interested in hearing from all Canadians, including rural Canadians.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, MB

Yes, but even in the list you just gave orally about who you consulted with, rural, farm, and resource communities were omitted. It has been a great frustration of mine, having been on both the environment and the fisheries committees for almost seven years now, that departments consistently almost refuse to acknowledge that rural communities even exist and are part of this conversation.

When I look at the principles of sustainable development and compare them to the Manitoba principles of sustainable development, in the federal act as it's written, there's nothing that says this act facilitates economic development and the well-being of humans, or people's economic well-being. Why was that omitted?

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

In terms of the concept of sustainable development, we certainly believe it includes economic development. It includes social, environmental, health, and economic development. That's understood in the term. I agree with you, and I've always said this, that the environment and the economy go together and you can't separate them. We have to move towards a cleaner future and we need to drive the investment needed to do that. I really support that.

Thank you to my officials. They've just confirmed that we did do specific outreach to rural communities. I certainly would never exclude any community. Farmers are doing amazing things, including in Manitoba. I met with farmers and agricultural associations, talking about net-zero tilling, about climate-resilient crops they're using, and about the amazing research they're doing. I am someone who believes we're all in this together. We need to be working together and ensuring that not only are we looking at the environment and principles in relation to how we move to a cleaner future but also ensuring that doing so contributes to growing the economy, jobs, and greater wealth, including for farmers.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, MB

Minister, I have only seven minutes.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

No, you don't; you have one and a half minutes left.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, MB

I want to make the point that as somebody who has worked in the forest industry managing a wastewater treatment plant for a company and also doing environmental assessment in the oil sands, I'm always irked by this idea that we are “moving to a clean economy” as if we are in a dirty economy now.

That is absolute nonsense. Everything that's built today in the natural resources industry—forestry, mining, pipelines—is clean and is done to the highest standards in the world. I recommend that you follow the work on the Modern Miracle Network, spearheaded by Michael Binnion, who is completely frustrated by the slagging that the natural resource industry gets from this government.

I met with a group of people from a labourers' union after your government basically shut down three pipelines. These people were devastated. These are little people who wanted to work on pipelines, make a good living and, again, these people now are lost.

I met with a welding organization. There was a bunch of welders who were looking forward to the Energy East project as a way to buttress their retirement as they move along in life, and because of a process gone wild, that project was cancelled and the hopes and dreams of these people were lost.

I would urge this government to care about people first.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

I certainly care about people first, and I think people want to ensure that we have a sustainable plan. I've worked with many industry organizations, including in the energy sector, who understand that we're moving to a cleaner future. One hundred and ninety-five countries signed on to the Paris Agreement, as have businesses, as has everyone.

We need to move to a cleaner future. We need to lower our emissions, and I've been very pleased to see innovations.

Let's be clear. We did approve pipelines. Energy East did not go ahead. That was a market decision.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, MB

It was not.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

We're out of time. Thank you very much.

The next up is Mr. Gerretsen.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

I will be very quick, and then I will turn it over to Mr. Amos.

Squaring off a little bit of the conversation with Mr. Sopuck, Minister, did you purposely omit, in his words, rural Canada from the consultation?

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

No. We directly engaged with rural Canada. Also, it was a very open process. I hope the members all reached out to their own communities to encourage them to provide input. That is extremely helpful. The committee has a broad base of contacts. I certainly encourage all members, if they have rural members who they feel they want to have greater engagement with, that they should take it on themselves.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you.

My other question is in regard to his comment regarding energy. Would you say there is always the possibility and opportunities to improve upon our extraction of resources when it comes to the environmental impact they have on the world? Is that not the entire purpose of making sure we're always improving upon the extraction of resources in what we do, and that we're always pushing ourselves to new standards to better protect the environment?