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

8:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair (Mrs. Deborah Schulte (King—Vaughan, Lib.)) Liberal Deb Schulte

I'd like to welcome everyone this morning, especially Minister McKenna. Thank you very much for being here. It's always a pleasure to have you with the committee, and we're looking forward to today. This was one of our first studies. We're really glad to have it back and finally, hopefully, we will get it into legislation soon.

Also, welcome, Mr. Wilkinson and Mr. Lucas, and thank you for being here with us today.

We'll hand the floor over to you, Ms. McKenna.

8:50 a.m.

Ottawa Centre Ontario

Liberal

Catherine McKenna LiberalMinister of Environment and Climate Change

Thank you very much. It's always a pleasure to be before this committee. You guys do really great work and I love the fact that you're able to work together, which is great.

I'm going to start by recognizing that we're on the traditional territory of the Algonquin and Anishinabe peoples.

Thank you for having me here today to discuss Bill C-57, An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act.

First, let me say again that this bill would not have been possible without your help. Your recommendations are the foundation for the amendments in this bill, and I look forward to a lot of interesting discussions as we move forward. Your report clearly showed that there is room for improvement in the current system.

The current act has had positive results. For example, it has helped Canadians better understand our progress towards sustainable development by providing a more clear overarching picture. And it has led to robust public consultation, and that has played an important role in shaping each strategy.

For example, our recent 2016-19 federal sustainable development strategy, or FSDS, was created with input from indigenous organizations, leading scientists with the Royal Society of Canada, and videos from youth. We've made progress and now we have the opportunity to take that even further, to make sure future governments continue down that path. Working together, that's what I hope we can accomplish through this bill.

Today, I'd like to say a few words about my vision for this bill and our renewed approach to the FSDS—what I hope we can achieve together.

Then I want to talk in more detail about how this bill responds to the issues you brought up in your report and why I think it's the right approach to strengthening the Federal Sustainable Development Act, or FSDA.

Finally, I'd like to address some of the concerns raised during debate at second reading.

Let me start by talking about what I'd like to achieve. Looking forward, my vision is an ambitious, aspirational federal sustainable development strategy that drives coordinated action across government toward common goals and targets. It's a strategy that promotes accountability through measurable targets, clear and balanced reporting, and strong oversight by parliamentarians. It's an inclusive strategy that reflects the priorities and perspectives of indigenous peoples, stakeholders, and all Canadians and that calls for action across Canadian society.

I think we can build on the improvements that we've made with the current FSDS. This strategy raised the bar with ambitious goals, strong targets and indicators, a clear commitment to sustainable development principles, and broad participation by federal departments and agencies. Bill C-57 would make these improvements permanent and help go further in future strategies.

Let me go on now to speak in depth about a few key aspects of the bill.

Your report said very clearly that revisiting the purpose is essential to improving the FSDA. The revised purpose of Bill C-57 differs in some ways from your recommendation, but I believe it reflects many of the same basic elements.

First, it shifts the act's emphasis to advancing sustainable development and improving quality of life, not just environmental reporting. Second, it moves from a focus on environmental decision-making to sustainable development decision-making, recognizing that sustainability goes beyond just the environment. Finally, it recognizes that the FSDS needs to respect our domestic and international commitments. That includes the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

You called for a more comprehensive suite of principles to guide our actions. This bill would add seven new well-accepted principles to the act. I want to note in particular the addition of intergenerational equity. This has been at the core of sustainable development since the very beginning, and it speaks to our commitment to build a greener Canada for future generations.

You called for the amendments to enable a whole-of-government approach, and for the government to review which organizations should be required to prepare sustainability strategies. Based on your recommendation, our bill would expand the requirements of the act to more than 90 departments and agencies, compared with only 26 today. The objective is to put sustainable development at the forefront of decision-making everywhere in government, not only in organizations with a strong environmental mandate.

We heard you when you called for stronger accountability and enforceability under the FSDA. That's clearly a major focus for us, with our strong commitment to results and delivery. The bill responds to that in a few key ways. First, it would require targets to be measurable and to include a time frame, thereby providing the flexibility to address a broad range of issues in the FSDS, including emerging issues, while also ensuring that we clearly define what we want to achieve, that we can measure our progress, and that we can be held accountable for results.

Bill C-57 would also introduce a requirement for departments and agencies to report each year on their sustainable development progress. This complements the current requirement for an FSDS progress report every three years and will ensure that any remaining challenges can be identified and addressed early, so that we can meet our targets.

Finally, I'd like to address some of the concerns brought up during second reading debate.

I'll start with the 2030 agenda and how it should be reflected in the FSDA and in our strategy. Our government completely supports the 2030 agenda and its 17 sustainable development goals. The current FSDS reflects those goals.

I want to avoid limiting the act and what will be addressed in the FSDS. We know that sustainable development is an evolving landscape. This bill clarifies, within the act's purpose, that the FSDS must respect and support the commitments we have now. Those include the 2030 agenda, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and others. But it also leaves room to incorporate future commitments and issues as they arise.

I recall the testimony of the Honourable John Godfrey, sponsor of the original private member's bill that led to the FSDA, who highlighted the risk of being too prescriptive with respect to FSDS content. Speaking before this committee during your review of the act, he noted that the original draft bill didn't really talk about climate change. Today, clearly, climate change is a key area of focus throughout our strategy.

I also want to note that implementing the SDGs through legislation is not a common practice around the world. In fact, sustainable development legislation is uncommon. Canada is actually one of only five countries with sustainable development legislation, and no country that I'm aware of actually has a legal requirement for a sustainability strategy based on the 2030 agenda, so we are not an outlier in that respect.

Next I'd like to talk about a whole-of-government approach. For us, a whole-of-government approach means we're all involved. Sustainability is important for all of us. What is important is that we're all working together to take action to contribute to advancing sustainability. This bill includes amendments designed to support a whole-of-government approach, such as including more departments and agencies and specifying that all of them, including central agencies, must be engaged in developing and reporting on the FSDS.

I also want to mention the role of parliamentarians in implementing the FSDA. This is extremely important and something to which we gave a lot of thought. Our intention is for one committee to really take ownership of the act and the FSDS. Clearly, this committee has the experience and knowledge to help guide the implementation.

I have heard concerns about reforms to the Sustainable Development Advisory Council, specifically about allowing remuneration of members and reimbursement of expenses. The current act prohibits this, as it was originally a private member's bill. That means we are limited in the role the council can play. For example, with members located all around the country, it's unlikely I would ever have the opportunity to meet with them in person. Changing that provision would facilitate my ability to engage with the committee in an effective manner.

I also want to note that while this wasn't specifically recommended in your report, I said in my initial response last October that I would propose additional changes to improve the act's effectiveness and to ensure it reflects Canadian values. This is one example. The goal is to ensure that indigenous peoples and stakeholders can play a strong role in our sustainability approach.

I'll close by saying that this is a great opportunity to strengthen an important piece of legislation.

As a government, we are committed to a renewed approach to federal sustainability. We have a strong FSDS in place that supports our international commitments, including the 2030 agenda and the sustainable development objectives. We are continuing the conversation with Canadians about sustainable development and we are already beginning to report on our results.

Bill C-57 will solidify improvements we've made through the FSDS and build on our strengths, moving us toward the vision of an ambitious, accountable, inclusive strategy focused on results.

I welcome your views, comments and questions.

Thank you.

9 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

We'll now move into questions.

We have Mr. Bossio up first.

November 2nd, 2017 / 9 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you so much, Minister, for being here today.

As the chair mentioned, it is an exciting moment to have one of our reports finally being reflected in an act. In that reflection, we recommended in our report that the FSDA should have a whole-of-government approach and comprehensive engagement of all central government agencies to develop and implement a strategy.

We also recommended additional measures for improving enforceability and accountability of the strategy, which is one of my concerns. How does the bill ensure that departments are following the legislative requirements laid out in the act?

9 a.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Thank you very much.

I absolutely agree that we need a whole-of-government approach. I have seen this through my portfolio. When you talk about tackling climate change, you can't do it through just the minister, through Environment and Climate Change Canada.

I think what is really important is that we have taken that whole-of-government approach. The bill extends coverage from more than 26 departments to more than 90 departments and agencies. It would ensure that these departments and agencies are bound by the act to contribute to the development of the FSDA and its progress reports.

Critically important is that it formalizes the role of the Treasury Board. It enables consistent application across government efforts to green government operations. I've seen that it can be extraordinarily effective having the Treasury Board, as it reviews submissions, ensure that there is a whole-of-government approach. The bill would allow for further expansion to the act's coverage over time—for example, through the addition of crown corporations.

You also saw that there were submissions from the 26 departments and agencies. They all complied in providing their reports as to how they were complying with the FSDA, so I feel confident that this will result in a whole-of-government approach and will result in concrete actions.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Thank you, Minister.

We also recommended in our report the creation of a future generations advocate.

While the environment commissioner does a great job in her role of keeping government accountable on a number of environmental issues, her role is a backwards-looking audit role. The main function of her role is not looking forward to future generations. Without a forward-looking advocate for future generations, how do we ensure that enforcement, oversight, and accountability of the FSDA are being carried forward by all of government?

9 a.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Well, I certainly agree that consideration of future generations is critical to this act. That's one of the principles that's embodied: that we need to be thinking about how the actions that our government is taking across the government are impacting on future generations. We believe that is clear with the principle embodied in the act.

We also do believe that the commissioner has a critical role. The commissioner does a very good job in looking at sustainable development monitoring. Her mandate includes a respect for nature and the needs of future generations. We believe that is an effective model, both for the act and also for the commissioner for environment and sustainable development.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Chair, I'd like to pass the rest of my time over to Mr. Amos.

9 a.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Thank you, Chair.

Mr. Bossio, I appreciate that.

Minister and Parliamentary Secretary, thank you for being here. Thank you for bringing this legislation forward. It is really exciting to have parliamentarians working together.

I think this is a great step forward. This is an act that does need to demonstrate to Canadians that we can take leadership in shifting the way our federal government is accountable for its own behaviour. Hopefully, we can have the federal government lead the rest of the country as well.

There are some avenues that Mr. Bossio has pointed to already that could enable strengthening. One aspect I would like to see beefed up is the principles that are applied.

A number of principles were recommended in the original report but aren't reflected here. I'd like to hear whether you're open to other principles. There are some that stick out for me: the principle of prevention; the principle of non-regression, in light of what happened with the previous administration; the principle of environmental justice; the principle of a right to a healthy environment. Those are some of the principles that were pointed to in the original report.

I wonder if you could speak to your openness to considering others.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Thank you very much.

I think it is important that we have a proper frame that sets out the principles. In addition to the basic principle and precautionary principle that were already in the FSDA, the bill proposes to add principles of intergenerational equity, polluter pays, internalization of costs, openness and transparency, involvement of aboriginal peoples, and collaboration in results and delivery. These were principles that were selected based on issues that were raised in the committee's report and those that are fundamental to sustainability and development. We are willing to examine and explore inclusion of additional principles.

I think it's very important that we not do what John Godfrey warned against, which is to be too prescriptive in terms of principles. We know that the concept of sustainable development evolves over time. As he pointed out, climate change was not something that people were really thinking about. The SDGs did not exist at that time. I think it's important that we have broad enough principles so that they can incorporate future ideas and concepts that come up.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Thank you, Minister.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

We now go over to Mr. Fast.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Thank you, Minister, for being at committee to discuss this bill.

I'd like to get you on the record on one thing. The Sustainable Development Advisory Council is being expanded in size under this bill. As you know, during debate in the House, we made the point that we would be supporting this piece of legislation subject to one small amendment, which was to eliminate the remuneration aspect of the Sustainable Development Advisory Council. Can you tell us right here and now that you'll be supporting that amendment?

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

I'll explain the background behind remunerating council members. Right now there is no remuneration for council members. As I mentioned in my introductory remarks, this was a private member's bill so there wasn't the ability to include that. This means that I can't meet with folks because their reasonable expenses can't be reimbursed. We have members located in every province and territory from coast to coast to coast. We have youth members. We have folks who can't come and meet with me on their own dime. I think the key is to ensure effectiveness.

I understand that you would consider including reasonable expenses.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Absolutely.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

I think that's a very helpful approach. I think the focus is really on how we ensure that we are very mindful of taxpayer dollars, which I certainly agree with, while ensuring that this committee is effective. I think that is something on which we can find common ground.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Thank you. That's very helpful.

The act, as you have stated, is a whole-of-government approach to addressing the economic, social, and especially environmental challenges facing government and government decision-makers.

You've talked about the whole-of-government approach. You're familiar with the cabinet directive. The cabinet directive, supported by guidelines, requires federal departments and agencies to consider environmental concerns early in the planning of policy, plan, and program proposals before making irreversible decisions. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, as you know, recently issued a report. There are actually a number of reports. In the fourth report she says the following about the whole-of-government approach and the application of the directive: “Overall, we found that the departments and agencies we examined did not apply the Cabinet directive to almost 80 percent of their proposals. Only the Public Health Agency of Canada prepared preliminary assessments” and did a reasonable job of that.

We are expanding the number of agencies and departments that are going to be covered by the federal sustainable development strategy, and yet, even with this smaller number—26—of agencies that are covered right now, your department is not getting it done. This is certainly a failing grade from the commissioner, as 80% of the proposals did not apply the cabinet directive. That's only 20%. In any exam where you get 20% that's a failing grade. How do you expect that with the expansion of the number of agencies and departments that are covered, your department will be able to enforce what the act and the directive require?

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Let me just make an important distinction. There is the Federal Sustainable Development Act, which is what we're talking about right now; then there is the cabinet directive on the environmental assessment and policy plan and program proposals, which makes each minister responsible for implementing the cabinet directive.

These are very different things. Clearly the cabinet directive is very important, and we need to do better; I certainly acknowledge that. The FSDA, however, is prescriptive, as you know. Each department that's subject to it must comply. It must report; it will be tracked. It's more robust, because each department must say how it is complying every single year. Then, every three years there is an opportunity to review overall whether we're advancing on the framework.

That distinction is very important. The Federal Sustainable Development Act will now be more robust, with the proposed changes. Parliamentary oversight will ensure that you will see whether there are problems, if you do not believe that with the new targets, which are now measurable and time-bound, parliamentarians will be able to directly see whether there is compliance with the FSDA.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Minister, I refer you back to the fourth report. On page 1, under section 4.4 it talks about the cabinet directive and says:

Specifically, the Cabinet directive and its related guidelines require departments and agencies to consider a proposal’s effects on the goals and targets of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy....

These two are completely intermixed. They clearly impose on the minister a responsibility to ensure that our departments and agencies of government implement Canada's federal sustainable development strategy. As your responsibilities expand now under the changes that will be made under this legislation, I want to know from you how you plan to ensure that our agencies and departments implement the federal directive and our federal sustainable development strategy, when in fact it appears—certainly from the commissioner's report—that this hasn't been done.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

You are out of time, unfortunately. It's a great question, and I hope we can pick up on that question with the next questioner on your side, but we ran out of time there. I'm sorry about that.

Ms. Duncan.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Thank you. I'll certainly pick up on that.

It's great to have the minister here and it's always great to see Mr. Wilkinson. He loves it when I say that. He's a great guy. It's great to see the deputy. This may be the first meeting I've been at with the deputy.

I share the concern raised by Mr. Fast, and frankly I'm troubled. I'm curious as to why the minister has ignored the advice of the committee, the recommendation of the commissioner, and the advice of other nations that have gone through the same exercise.

We can add on a long list of people who have to do reports, but given that the commissioner has said that we have had an abject failure since the initiation of this legislation—and frankly since 1990, with the cabinet directive—in doing these analyses, it's not just this statute; it's the cabinet directive.

I'm wondering why the minister has ignored the advice, which was very clear, that a central agency such as Treasury Board or the PCO, or the Prime Minister's Office directly, should provide the oversight to send a clear message and to provide for greater enforcement of these directives.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

I think there are two parts to the question.

I would just reiterate that there is a cabinet directive on the environmental assessment of policy, plan, and program proposals. That is an across-the-board directive that departments must follow. It's not directly related to implementation of the FSDA. It is important with regard to how departments are going to respond to the requirements under the tool. The effectiveness of the FSDA is set out in the act. We have departments that are required to report. There's more robust reporting now, more robust targets. I'm very pleased that the committee said we have to have measurable targets, because I think the requirement was very weak, very vague, and not time-bound before. I think the fact that you now have a requirement, which will be in legislation, that each department—and there will now be 90 of them—be subject to the act and required to comply makes the act very robust.

I think departments will be held accountable in a variety of different ways. They will be held accountable publicly, because they will have to report and that will be transparent. They will also be held to account by parliamentarians and by this committee, which will be reviewing it. Our department and Treasury Board will be involved. I'm worried more about effectiveness as opposed to who is ultimately looking at this. It's about making sure departments deliver on their results. Ultimately, the commissioner will be looking at these reports. As I say, every department that was required to comply provided its report. There's an opportunity for review of them, including by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

With all due respect, I'm not convinced.

I've seen these reports. In various portfolios I've sat in, they file a report and it gathers dust. When they go to cabinet with a proposal for a policy, a program, or an initiative for spending, they do not consider that report. I think it needs to go to a higher, central level, particularly since the 17 goals go way beyond environment.

Another thing in the bill that completely puzzles me, Madam Minister, is that you've said that this act has been updated to reflect the 17 sustainable development goals. Yet, clause 8 gives the Treasury Board only the power to look at the environmental impact, not the full 17 sustainable development goals. We don't really seem to be moving forward.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Is that a question?

The sustainable development goal is very close to my heart; I worked in international development.

Let's be clear about what the sustainable development goals are. It's not just about what government is doing to address the sustainable development goals; it's what a country is doing. The Federal Sustainable Development Act was created before the sustainable development goals were in existence. We've tried to broaden the scope. Of course, we as a country want to make sure that whether as the federal government, municipal governments, indigenous governments, or Canadians, we're moving forward to address the sustainable development goals. That's broader than the Federal Sustainable Development Act.

I know our government is looking at who is best placed to help lead that. This mechanism will play into how we comply with the federal sustainable development goals. Clearly, it's not just the federal government's action that determines whether we have clean drinking water. It goes far beyond that. As you see, we've taken the relevant goals as recommended by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and are tackling them directly through the purview of the act.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

I'm left completely puzzled.

I don't believe you've spoken to proposed section 10.1, which limits the Treasury Board powers to environmental assessment and not to the full sustainable development goals, so I'm left puzzled.

I would like to reiterate what Mr. Amos said. Canada has already committed, under the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, to deliver on environmental justice principles. They're clearly laid out in the side agreement to NAFTA. I would deeply encourage you to include environmental justice principles in that list, because doing so would be consistent with what Canada has already committed to.

Oh, it's over. Next round.