Evidence of meeting #5 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was groundwater.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Amina Stoddart  Assistant Professor, Dalhousie University, Global Institute for Water Security
Andrew Hayes  Interim Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Kimberley Leach  Principal, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Glenn Purves  Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat
Marcia Santiago  Executive Director, Expenditure Strategies and Estimates, Treasury Board Secretariat

9:40 a.m.

Interim Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Andrew Hayes

What we were saying.... We made recommendations that the department adopt a risk-based approach to their enforcement and identification measures.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Thank you.

In chapter one of the 2019 fall report, you point out that there is a “66-megatonne gap between Canada’s 2030 emission target and the reported projected emissions”. Why is there such a huge gap? Can you give us more information on that?

9:45 a.m.

Interim Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Andrew Hayes

I think you might be referring to the 2017 fall report...?

Oh, sorry, it's the SDS chapter. I just got a bit confused there. I was thinking about the climate change mitigation report we did in the fall of 2017.

In the SDS chapter, we were talking about the progress report the government provided on the federal sustainable development strategy. What we were mentioning was that on the public reporting the government did, we were concerned that it didn't report fairly on what the actual gap was in the emissions. The reasons that we as a country are not hitting the emission targets yet are challenges that I'm sure the government is tackling. We reported in 2017 that there was a significant gap to meet the 2020 target, and that the pan-Canadian framework, which was being rolled out at that time, was contemplating measures that would be needed to meet the 2030 target.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Keying in on paragraph 13 of your opening, you talked about the lack of a “governance structure and limited national consultation and engagement on Canada's approach, and there was no implementation plan with a system to measure, monitor, and report on progress nationally”.

I've keyed in on this issue with other officials that we've had before this committee. If you're going to make statements about reaching the 2030 targets, which all parties in the House agree on, or if we hear statements from the Liberal government that they're going to exceed them, it seems to me that you need to have ways to measure that and to understand whether in fact you're reaching those goals, or whether you can reach them, or whether those statements are realistic. I really didn't get, in my opinion, a good answer from earlier officials here, who said there was ongoing analysis, where they look at pluses and minuses.

But there's a lot hanging in the balance for Canadians, and the Canadian economy, if we don't understand that—

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Yasmin Ratansi

Thank you, Ms. Findlay. You won't get an answer.

Mr. Longfield, you have seven minutes.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

Actually, I'll be splitting my time with Mr. Saini.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Yasmin Ratansi

Okay.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

Raj Saini Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Thank you very much for coming here this morning. I have just two quick questions.

First, with regard to the federal sustainable development strategy, there's a long list of targets and criteria. How will you measure that criteria and how long will it take?

9:45 a.m.

Interim Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Andrew Hayes

Over the last year or two, we've taken a different approach to our examination of the sustainable development strategies. We've been focusing in using the sustainable development goals. In that context, we've been using the FSDS to help identify the departments and agencies that we should go in and look at for particular goals and targets.

Quite frankly, we could spend years looking at all of the important aspects of the sustainable development goals and the targets and implementation strategies in the government's sustainable development strategies. There is no end of work there.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

Raj Saini Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

When you have such a comprehensive document, and you're also trying to fold in the SDG goals to make them commensurate with the FSDS, how do you decide? It must be very difficult trying to decide what to study when you have such a comprehensive document.

9:45 a.m.

Interim Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Andrew Hayes

Indeed, we look at the SDGs broadly in our performance audit selection across the office. That includes the work the Auditor General does, and that gets reported to the public accounts committee. There will be some areas covered by the SDGs that the Auditor General would probably have more of a play with. An example would be infrastructure. Although we do some infrastructure work, so does the Auditor General.

With respect to the sustainable development strategy work that we do, we try to select some of our audits on the basis of areas we haven't covered elsewhere before.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

Raj Saini Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Obviously, flooding has been a big issue. Geopolitical events will sometimes impact some of the goals and direction, because something becomes more immediate. Do you reflect on what's happening not only domestically but also geopolitically? If a situation arises, do you take that into account and say, “This is an issue that's emerging. It could be very sensitive or very challenging. This is something we should apply our efforts to studying immediately?”

9:50 a.m.

Interim Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Andrew Hayes

Yes, definitely. We are always trying to stay on top of emerging issues, whether they are national or international.

With regard to flooding, we did an audit a few years ago of severe weather. We will probably come back to that topic at some point in time in the future.

The geopolitical issues that you raise can emerge in a number of different aspects of our work, whether it's in the climate change area, the biodiversity area, food safety, or all of that stuff. We are constantly monitoring what we will look at as risks, and that drives the selection of our audit work.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

Raj Saini Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Thank you. I'll split the rest of my time with Mr. Longfield.

March 10th, 2020 / 9:50 a.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

Thank you, and thank you for the briefing this morning.

We aren't currently doing a study, but we're looking at opportunities for us to study. The topic of the sustainable development goals from the United Nations is interesting. As you know, they were adopted in September 2015, so they are pretty recent to the governance discussions.

I was at the public accounts committee. We met last week as well, the last time we were together. I asked the Auditor General, at the time, whether we were using SDGs as our audit criteria in any other areas, because we also have the environment pieces under you, the SDGs around quality education, and SDG3 relating to good health and well-being. We're looking at infrastructure, decent work, and economic growth, so there are many SDGs that don't apply directly to the environment, but do apply to the work our government is doing in conjunction with provincial, territorial, and even municipal governments. It does become quite complicated to include SDGs in trying to adopt a strategy going forward.

Are you bookmarking SDGs for the different areas of the government's work, whether it's ESDC or Innovation? Who's looking at that?

9:50 a.m.

Interim Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Andrew Hayes

In the government's “Towards Canada’s 2030 Agenda National Strategy”, it does identify which departments and agencies are connected to particular SDGs. The Office of the Auditor General relies on our team for support in both the environment and sustainable development areas, so we are integrated with the work of the Auditor General.

You mentioned the territories. That is one area where we do get into things like education and health that are normally the subject of provincial jurisdiction.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

Yes, and indigenous issues as well.

9:50 a.m.

Interim Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Andrew Hayes

Exactly. The indigenous portfolio is a huge area for our office. Obviously, it intersects with many of the SDGs.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

As for how MPs interact with you through petitions—in Guelph we get a lot of environmental petitions—what's the process for handling a petition once it comes forward to us and is tabled in the House?

9:50 a.m.

Interim Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Andrew Hayes

I will turn this question over to Ms. Leach, because she is our senior manager responsible for petitions. One of the incredible value-adds to our petition process is that Canadians can get an answer directly from a minister on the question they ask.

9:50 a.m.

Principal, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Kimberley Leach

The House has a petitions process, but this is a different petitions process, created under the Auditor General Act. Under the act, Canadians can write a letter to the Auditor General or the commissioner, and they are entitled to a response within 120 days. We have a website where we summarize those petitions, so they're available publicly. We sometimes use the answers we get back from ministers to help feed into our audit work.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

There's a lot of anxiety that nothing is being done, but on that website we could actually see what is being done and where the gaps are.

9:50 a.m.

Principal, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Kimberley Leach

You can see what petitions have been submitted. Approximately 500 petitions have been submitted since the process was created. You can search it by issue.

If you have any questions on that, you can contact me directly. I can help.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

I appreciate that.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Yasmin Ratansi

Thank you very much.

Ms. Pauzé, you have the floor for seven minutes.