Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee.
My name is Richard Lindgren. I'm a staff lawyer at the Canadian Environmental Law Association, CELA. I'd like to thank the committee for this opportunity to speak to an important question: Should the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development become an independent officer of Parliament? In CELA's opinion, the answer to this question is yes, based on our involvement and our experience with the environmental commissioner of Ontario under the province's environmental bill of rights, EBR.
In taking this position, CELA is not being critical of the excellent work performed by the federal commissioner over the years. To the contrary, we greatly appreciate the reports tabled by the federal commissioner within its current mandate, as I explain more fully in the brief that I filed with the committee last Friday afternoon.
By way of background, CELA was appointed to the minister's task force that helped to draft the environmental bill of rights here in Ontario. I was honoured to be CELA's representative on the task force. Very quickly, the task force ran into the question of how we can best ensure environmental oversight and accountability under the EBR. The office of the provincial auditor general was considered as an option. We also considered using the courts or legislative committees to hold the government accountable for environmental matters under the EBR. But in the end, the task force recommended that the EBR should establish the environmental commissioner as an independent officer of the Ontario legislature.
We also recommended that the EBR should contain a broad list of powers, duties and functions for the environmental commissioner, and these task force recommendations were included in part III of the environmental bill of rights when it was enacted in 1993 by the Ontario legislature. Thereafter, I think it is fair to say that the environmental commissioner made full use of its powers under the EBR to not only conduct environmental audits but to also advocate for improvements in Ontario's environmental law and policy framework.
Overall, we regard the environmental commissioner's 25-year track record under the EBR as positive, effective and transformative.
Unfortunately, the Ontario government abolished the office of the environmental commissioner back in 2018, despite considerable public opposition and concern. Nevertheless, CELA recommends that consideration should be given to reconstituting the federal commissioner as an independent parliamentary officer. If this recommendation is acted upon, it would have to be done by way of new legislation, not more amendments to the Auditor General Act.
In addition, Mr. Chair, there are five fundamental factors that need to be addressed if the federal commissioner's office is going to be recast as an independent office.
One, the commissioner should be appointed in a non-partisan manner by Parliament for renewable fixed terms and should only be removable for cause by Parliament.
Two, all the commissioner's duties, responsibilities and obligations should be clearly entrenched in law.
Three, the commissioner must enjoy the same power as the Auditor General to compel production of documents, obtain access to information and examine witnesses.
Four, the office will need to be staffed with senior and experienced persons with training and expertise in various disciplines.
Five, the office will need sufficient budget allocations from Parliament in order to fully carry out its statutory mandate.
In conclusion, CELA recognizes that there may be pros and cons associated with restructuring the federal commissioner as an independent officer. However, based on the EBR track record in Ontario, we maintain that the advantages outweigh any perceived disadvantages.
Those are my opening remarks, Mr. Chair. I look forward to your questions.