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.