House of Commons Hansard #225 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was development.


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4:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Frontenac had the floor before question period. He has 11 minutes remaining.

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4:15 p.m.


Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I can see that your memory is excellent. Not only did you recognize me, but you were also able to tell me that I had 11 minutes remaining. I shall take up at the very word were I left off.

Let us now ask ourselves the question: does the Office of the Auditor General have the tools required to take on these new tasks? It is well known that producing the auditor general's report every year requires a lot of work. It is therefore reasonable to wonder whether the auditor general will have enough time, and enough resources particularly, to prepare, on top of it all, a specific report on the impact of the many contradictions contained in the remarks made by the Minister of the Environment.

The answer to this question however was provided by the auditor general himself in his testimony before the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. At that time, Mr. Desautels told the committee that, depending on the scope of the mandate given to the function contemplated, his office could carry out the related responsibilities.

He also indicated that his office was already spending $4.5 million per year, or 7.5 percent of its total budget, on auditing programs that have a direct impact on the environment. He figures that his office could fulfil its parliamentary obligations with an additional $4.5 million, which would bring to $9 million the total budget allocated to the environment alone.

Officially, no amount has yet been set aside for this purpose. Unofficially, however, the auditor general has received the amounts he had requested in order to assume these new responsibilities. This fact and the comments made by the minister during an interview she gave last October suggest that she had to do some arm-twisting.

In fact, the minister's comments suggest that she understands the validity of the Bloc's argument that this mandate should be given to the Office of the Auditor General since, in a press release dated April 25, she describes this office as independent, influential and highly respected.

The bill provides not only that the Commissioner of the Environment will report directly to the auditor general but also that his first duty will be to help him fulfil his mandate with regard to the environment and sustainable development. For example, the commissioner will examine how effective departmental action plans are in meeting the objectives set out in the departments' sustainable development strategies.

Second, he will have to follow up on all petitions received from Canadian residents and dealing with the environment and sustainable development in accordance with the bill's provisions.

Third, the commissioner will make any examinations and inquiries that he considers necessary in order to monitor the extent to which departments have met the objectives set out in their sustainable development strategies.

Fourth, the commissioner will, on behalf of the auditor general, report annually to the House of Commons, including on the extent to which departments have implemented the plans set out in their sustainable development strategies, as well as on anything that he considers should be brought to the attention of that House in relation to other environmental issues.

The official opposition does not intend, at least for the time being, to challenge the mandate that the minister wants to give to the commissioner of the environment. However, we deplore the fact that, ultimately, the commissioner will merely have the power to make suggestions.

He will of course review environmental issues, look at citizens' concerns and follow up on these with the concerned departments, as well as conduct various studies and inquiries for the purpose of his report, as Mr. Desautels already does. But given the way this government has always treated the auditor general's recommendations, it can be assumed that the commissioner of the environment's report will be treated exactly the same way and will be left to gather dust on a shelf like so many other such documents.

A few minutes ago, I listened with great interest to the tribute paid to the late Jean-Luc Pepin, who represented the riding of Drummond, just a few kilometres from my riding. Jean-Luc Pepin, who strongly believed in the duality of Canada's nations, prepared a famous report, the Pepin-Robarts report. As you know, Mr.

Speaker, that report is still sitting on a shelf, buried under six inches of dust. The report tabled each year by the auditor general, Mr. Desautels, tells us about a few administrative horrors from this government, which triggers a big show lasting two or three weeks. It was the same when the Conservatives were in office. We talk about a lot about the report during the first week, a little less in the second week, and a great deal less in the third week. Then the report is tossed onto a shelf.

Therefore, if we are going to spend nine million dollars a year to produce yet another report which will just collect dust, the official opposition will be quick to withdraw its support for this amendment to the Auditor General Act.

A report should shake us up, stir us to action. I remember that, as the agriculture critic, I noticed in the last report that hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on sunflower seeds to feed small birds.

We spent almost a million dollars on a totally unwarranted expenditure, that was a waste, pure and simple. While some people in our society go hungry, we spend several hundred thousand dollars to buy sunflower seeds to feed birds.

Worse, my political assistant in my riding told me this morning that he had received two calls about some headline in today's newspapers which stated that Canada is the second richest country in the world and that each of its citizens is worth a billion dollars. That is right: one billion, not one million. My riding office got a phone call from one of my constituents who says he is ready to sell his share at a reduced price. It is a bargain, at a thousand to one or even a million to one. If you want to make a good deal with my constituent, he is willing to sell for a good price. If you ran an ad in the Courrier Frontenac , in my riding, I am sure quite a few would be ready to sell.

In a more serious mode, reports by the new commissioner of the environment and sustainable development should not be left to gather dust on a shelf, with no action taken, because it would be simply wasting $9 million annually.

Like my colleague from Charlevoix just said, we are now closing down employment centres that are 85 per cent paid for by the UI fund, that is by the workers themselves. Considering that the fund is supposed to have a $6 billion surplus, not a deficit, this year, it is a disgrace that we should eliminate services that pay for themselves.

It is really frustrating that workers should have to fight to keep their local employment centres that are functional and responsive.

In the last minute remaining, I would like to remind you about an oil barge that is still sitting on the bottom of the sea, halfway between the Magdalen Islands and Prince Edward Island. Last week was the 25th anniversary of the sinking of that barge, obviously an accident. Need I ask which party was the ruling party in Canada in 1970? I remember which party replaced in 1984 the one that was in power in 1970, and the one that has now been in power for two years already under the Right Hon. Prime Minister and member for Saint-Maurice.

However, this situation has been going on for 25 years. We do not need an auditor for the environment and sustainable development to know that this barge is down there, that it has rusted out and is now leaking hundreds of gallons of bunker C oil and oil contaminated with PCBs.

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4:25 p.m.


Gérard Asselin Bloc Charlevoix, QC

The Prime Minister says that everything is hunky-dory.

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4:25 p.m.


Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

Everything is hunky-dory, indeed. So we have an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen. I ask you to do something, Mr. Speaker, and tell this Minister and this government to wake up.

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for your kind attention.

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4:25 p.m.


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

It is important, Mr. Speaker, to very briefly indicate that if this bill is before the House in this form it is thanks to the efforts of the Minister of the Environment who certainly had to overcome a number of obstacles in ensuring that this measure would be advanced as legislation. Even if it does not fulfil all of the recommendations that the committee put forward it still represents a remarkable step forward.

I listened to the intervention of the hon. member for Charlevoix and his remarks about the Irving Whale which were also made by other members in the course of the discussion today. One thing is certain. Had we had in place a commissioner on sustainable development monitoring and reporting, that kind of role would have permitted the catching much earlier of the shortcomings of the Department of Transport and other affected departments. It would have, if not prevented, at least rectified the matter much sooner. Therefore it is only fair to conclude that we are moving in the right direction with this measure.

I must say the member for Comox-Alberni put forward in a very straightforward manner the criticism that one would actually expect from the official opposition. He did that in his usual frank style, which I fully respect. Of all of the points he made perhaps there was only one in which he was slightly off the mark, namely

by saying that the proposals in the bill before us today did not fulfil or reflect the promise made in the Liberal Party's red book.

As far as I can recall, the bill before us reflects that promise very well. It is not proposing a clerk, as the member for Comox-Alberni repeatedly said. It is proposing the creation of a position of a commissioner, which is quite different from that of a clerk.

Also it needs to be stressed that the commissioner and the bill create a completely new role in the Department of the Auditor General, because the act itself under which the auditor general is operating is being amended. Once the legislation goes through it will read: "an act respecting the Office of the Auditor General of Canada", as it does now, but will have added to it: "and sustainable development monitoring and reporting".

This is not a minor step. It is a remarkable one. It inserts in the mandate of the auditor general the importance of monitoring sustainable development strategy and implementing the meaning, significance and the interpretation of sustainable development. That is no minor feat.

It is sad that the member for Laurentides indulged in referendum matters and in the bashing of the Prime Minister in a manner that somehow serves another agenda then that of the bill before us. It is unfair and unreal to claim that the environment is being used by the federal government as a pawn to intervene or interfere in provincial jurisdiction.

For heaven's sake, as other reports from departments have done, the bill ensures that the measure being proposed is clearly and specifically restricted to the jurisdiction of the federal government. Therefore it is rather absurd to claim that the federal government is attempting, as the member for Laurentides said, to centralize, to impose massive centralization or to give more power to itself. The bill certainly does not do that.

Moving on to the substance of the measure and having listened to the minister, it seems clear that her reference to benchmarks-and she dwelt on the subject at some length-is a very important one. In analysing this measure in committee and in passing it the reference was made that we would have to be extremely careful in examining how the commissioner would operate. By benchmarks I understand her to mean yardsticks, namely a way of measuring sustainability.

The question is: How will sustainability be measured and against what? Will it be measured against the sustainable objectives of the department, or will it be measured against the sustainable development principles that are to be established by way of a regulatory process emanating from the law itself?

I hope that the yardstick against which the commissioner will be auditing will be very firm, very significant; will be one on which the entire federal jurisdiction will be able to agree; and will provide the necessary motivation and goals to move toward sustainable development. I suppose this is what the minister had in mind when speaking about benchmarks this morning. The yardsticks will have to be established in a manner that transcend those of internal regulations.

When the House passed Bill C-46 and Bill C-48 some 18 months ago, I remember the term sustainable development was included in the two pieces of legislations creating the new Departments of Industry and Energy Mines and Resources. I have been asking myself ever since how those departments implement the mandate of the minister to achieve sustainable development against the adoption of which yardsticks and against the background of what principles.

To be brief, it seems in essence the bill is about yardsticks of auditing which the committee will have to examine and the principles against which the yardsticks will be established.

We have a number of sources for principles. The Ontario round table produced six guiding principles to meet sustainable development: first, anticipation and prevention; second, full cost accounting; third, informed decision making; fourth, living off the interest; fifth, quality over quantity; and, sixth, respect for nature and the rights of future generations. These are six good yardsticks and I submit them for consideration.

There is also the question of looking at principles which deal with equity; integrated approaches to planning and decision making; integration of the economy with the environment, which is certainly a basic principle; and ensuring that the development of renewable resources and their harvesting remain sustainable.

There are questions of virtually eliminating persistent and accumulative toxic substances, of adopting a pollution prevention approach, of protecting the ozone layer, of reducing greenhouse gasses and of conserving biodiversity.

We are to examine quite a large collection of principles. I invite all members interested in this method to think about the necessity of principles and yardsticks and to provide the committee with the benefit of their advice and experience.

The question of the definition of sustainable development might have to be examined in committee because the Brundtland definition is so global and so over-arching that it needs to be filled in somehow.

A suggestion I have received is that the definition should be to the effect that sustainable development concerns the integration of

environmental sustainability into the economic development and social development objectives of the federal government.

At the present time there is a cabinet directive whereby all ministers are to include environmental considerations in policy and program memoranda prepared for them for submission to cabinet. This is done, I understand very dutifully and precisely. Some departments do it better than others. It is against this practice, it seems to me, that we should examine the question and the importance of linking the environment with economic and social objectives and perhaps improving the quality of the comments included in memoranda by ministers to cabinet.

I suppose this will be one of the tasks the commissioner will have to face. The commissioner, also it seems to me, will have to be protected against the possible threat of decreasing resources made available to the auditor general. In other words, the role and the funding of the commissioner must be ensured so that they do not suffer in times of budget cuts. I am certain this matter will be taken into account fully.

The legislation envisages the requirement within two years of the establishment of the commissioner of plans on sustainable development that each department will be requested to submit to the commissioner. The commissioner would then review them, monitor them and report in the proposed manner. It would be desirable in this process if Environment Canada were to volunteer the best possible example and be among the first and well within the two-year limit in providing its plan so as to give the other departments the example that is required and perhaps the advice that some departments will require in this respect.

We will perhaps be wise to examine in committee the question of crown corporations that at the present time are not included in the bill and possibly the review or the monitoring and reporting on international agreements.

These matters touch upon the sustainability of our economy and of the global resources particularly when it comes to delicate issues like the integrity of the ozone layer and the trend in climate change which are now being widely observed by meteorologists and scientists.

One thing is clear. The bill certainly aims at integrating the environment into federal decision making. Once passed it will represent a good addition to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to which the minister referred earlier, to the task force on economic instruments and disincentives to sound environmental practices from which we hope to hear again, and to the more recently adopted document entitled "A Guide to Green Government".

We should be very clear what is meant by incorporating the environment and sustainable development into the Auditor General Act. If we mean balancing the economy with the environment, as some speakers have indicated in this debate, we would be missing the boat badly. The two cannot be balanced. It would be a serious mistake because first of all we implicitly declare that the environment is disconnected from the economy, that the two are not interrelated. In balancing the two-and the gesture itself is very revealing-we indicate also that in certain economic times the economy would receive all the attention and precedence and the environment would suffer and would be given different treatment at a lower level, a secondary level, one might say.

I submit it would be a very serious mistake and give the wrong interpretation of sustainable development. We would be proceeding in the same manner that we did in the seventies when our agenda was limited to the protection of the environment whenever possible.

We are now in a different phase, in the phase of a sustainable development. It means instead of integration, there should be a very strong correlation of the economy with the environment. They are one. They are interconnected. There cannot be a healthy economy in the long term unless there is a healthy environment as its foundation.

It is for that reason that the interpretation and the definition of sustainable development in this bill and in government operations are so important. It is also for this reason that the question of principle becomes so crucial in the operations of departments when they do embrace-a step which we all welcome, as in the Department of Industry and in the Department of Natural Resources-the concept of sustainable development. However that embrace, that commitment has to be taken a step further and has to be fleshed out with a number of basic principles.

I enumerated a few of these principles earlier, some taken from the Ontario round table and some taken from the Guide to Green Government -I applaud them all-which were signed by each cabinet minister including the Prime Minister. Those principles have now received an imprimatur, so to say, that is of great significance. It confirms the commitment of the government to sustainable development and to the principles fleshed out in the guide.

In the time that is left to me I would like to indicate that in addition to promoting sustainable development the bill will also open the road to petitions from the public. The member for Laurentides this morning asked a number of interesting questions on the effectiveness of this procedure. We will be glad to explore the questions that she raised because they seem to be very valid. These questions will be forwarded to the minister who will then be required to respond to them.

The commissioner will monitor and annually report to the House on the government's performance. In order to be effective in this auditing capacity the definition, as I said, of sustainable development incorporating very clear principles against which the auditing will become possible is immeasurable and becomes of the greatest importance. We had cabinet endorsement in June of this year of the

basic principle of pollution prevention. I applaud cabinet for having done that.

We have adopted on a number of occasions, at home and abroad, a precautionary principle; that is, that we move and make decisions even when science is not 100 per cent in agreement, but sufficiently in agreement to warrant a certain policy action.

I mentioned earlier full cost accounting and equity. In a country like Canada it is of the utmost importance we ensure that in the fisheries and in the forests we do not erode the capital but limit our harvesting to the interest produced by such resources.

We have the delicate question of carbon dioxide emissions, which is part of the red book commitment. It is very difficult to implement. We had extensive discussions on this particular issue last spring in Berlin at the United Nations conference on climate change.

We are a fossil fuel producing country and, therefore, we rely on it for a number of reasons. However, we must ensure in the long term that we gradually but systematically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels in the interest of the global community, to ensure that the climate trend is put back on the right track.

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4:50 p.m.


Len Taylor NDP The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Davenport is a humble individual and a great parliamentarian. In his opening remarks he gave credit to the Minister of the Environment for bringing this bill forward. However, members of the House, in particular members of the environment committee and members of the environmental organizations in the country will know that the hon. member for Davenport, as the chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development made the concept of environmental auditing the subject of the very first study of that committee in this Parliament. No sooner was the government elected than the hon. member for Davenport, as the chair of the committee, chose to make this the subject of study of that committee.

It was an exhaustive study. Many witnesses were called. Members of the committee sat and studied for hours, days and weeks to come up with a very superb report. That report had few flaws in it. It was a report which many throughout Canada accepted as the very least that we could accept. The committee report could have gone one step further than it did and proposed an ombudsperson role, an investigative role which went beyond that of simply auditing and promoting the environment and sustainable development.

When the report was released the foreword of the report was written by the hon. member for Davenport as the chair of the committee. The chair writes in the foreword of the report that as a result of its deliberation the committee has concluded that the most appropriate way to implement the government's proposed functions is through the creation of a commissioner of sustainable development in conjunction with an expanded role for the office of the auditor general. The committee believes the creation of a commissioner of the environment and sustainable development is a priority, one which appropriately answers the request of the government and which will provide the necessary momentum for the shift toward sustainability.

The member for Davenport and the committee concluded that what was necessary as a minimum to meet the needs of the government's commitment to the people of Canada and the long term needs of the environment was a commissioner of the environment along with an expanded office of the auditor general. What we get in response from the Minister of the Environment is simply an expansion of the office of the auditor general. The whole proactive role of a commissioner of sustainable development as promoted by the committee does not exist.

The member for Davenport as the chairperson of the committee spoke very well about what is yet needed in this bill. He outlined a number of things that were yet needed. I applaud him for that step. I asked him how he can rationalize his comments about the need for a proactive commissioner of the environment and his support for Bill C-83 which certainly does not do that.

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4:55 p.m.


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, as usual the member for The Battlefords-Meadow Lake has quickly identified the Achilles' heel.

I can only indicate to him, drawing from my own experience, that when one goes to cabinet with a proposal one does not always get everything one wants. That applies also to committees. We did our best. We produced a report that we knew at the time was aiming a bit higher than the commitment made in our red book.

As they say in political jargon: "You win some and you lose some". Because of this I started my remarks pointing at the fact that the Auditor General Act will now be changed in its title. It will also be changed to include a new mandate. While it is not all we would have liked, as the parliamentary secretary said earlier, it represents a solid step in the right direction. It is my hope that once the commissioner has proven his or her merits within the governmental organization and has proven through monitoring and reporting this is an extremely valuable role, the commissioner will be given the additional role of indicating, beyond reporting and monitoring, what the shortcomings are of a given policy, which is a very delicate step as we know.

In committee I remember very clearly the auditor general warning us about giving this additional responsibility to the commissioner. I suppose it is good to start with what we have now even if it does not meet all of our expectations. We can build on the foundation through experience in the years ahead.

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4:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time has expired for questions and comments.

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4:55 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak on Bill C-83, an act to amend the Auditor General Act to create a commissioner of environment and sustainable development in the auditor general's office.

I completely agree with the intent and purpose of the bill to audit and to examine groups, individuals and ministries with respect to the environmental sector. However, I must ask the question why.

Why are we creating another aspect of bureaucracy to do that which the auditor general and the Minister of the Environment should by all rights do within the framework of their job descriptions.

Is it not the responsibility of the Ministry of the Environment to actually monitor these things? We are creating another level of bureaucracy at a cost of over $5 million to the Canadian taxpayer. Why are we doing this?

The bill is a metaphor for government. When we have a problem, and most hardworking members of Parliament will agree, we study it, we observe it, we report on it but do we act? Rarely. If we do, it is usually nibbling around the edges. We have what I call studyitis. Instead of acting on a problem, instead of addressing a problem, instead of getting the best solutions the country has to offer for a problem and implementing those, if only on a pilot project, we study it, we observe it and we report on it. That is what we are doing here.

The purpose of that is to give the illusion we are actually doing something. When we are engaging in these studies and reports we give the illusion we are actually addressing a problem. In reality we are putting off the actual decision making processes for another time. It has been one of the most frustrating aspects of being in the House. I know that frustration is shared by many of my colleagues. That to a large extent is what the bill represents. We are creating something new to do what should already be done by existing structures within the government.

Therefore we expose this aspect of bureaucratic expansionism at the expense of the taxpayer's pocket and should put the responsibility of these activities squarely back on the ministry's door and also back on the auditor general.

Apart from that I have some constructive suggestions the ministry can devote its time to. Instead of spending another $5 million of the taxpayer's money to do something that should already be done, let us look at some constructive ways the ministry can apply what it already has to some very pressing environmental problems that exist within our midst.

There are at least 48 identified high risk areas that are contaminated within the country. As of March 1995, 11 were deemed necessary for remediation. The moneys were put forth to remediate these areas. At the end of 1996 only 13 further sites will be marked for remediation.

That leaves a total of 24 sites of high risk to our country, particularly to the people who live around them, and to the environment. I cannot emphasize strongly enough these are high risk sites that demand attention for the people who live in the area and for the surrounding environment now-not next year, not five years from now but now. This would be a good thing for the ministry to look at.

Furthermore there is absolutely no plan whatsoever to deal with these 24 remaining sites. Where is the money coming from? When will they be dealt with? I challenge the ministry to look at this now.

To give members an example of how we are trying to offset the decision making process, in March 1989, $250 million was set aside to clean up contaminated sites. As of March 1995, how many were dealt with? Absolutely none. Furthermore there was no plan whatsoever to put this money to good use to clean up contaminated sites. It has only taken six years to get to the same state of affairs we were in six years ago.

No plans exist to identify contaminated sites in Canada. We cannot address pressing environmental issues, areas that are contaminated, unless we identify those sites first. We have not even done that. That is the first step in addressing severely contaminated sites.

For those sites that are identified, there is absolutely no idea how much it will cost to address the clean up of these sites.

The federal PCB destruction program ended in March 1995. There is no plan now to deal with sites contaminated with PCBs and there are sites right now that pose a significant risk to Canadians living in their vicinity.

Canada is a major producer of waste. We produce over 30 million tonnes of waste a year or more than a tonne per person. We recycle about 10 per cent of that. That is not bad but it is not nearly what we could be doing. It is interesting to look at some European countries that have done a remarkable job in expanding their recycling programs to become more inclusive and to involve a

larger segment of their population so their waste levels at landfills and land sites are greatly reduced.

The ministry should also, instead of reinventing the wheel, look at countries that are doing a good job and see where we can be more aggressive with our recycling.

Current landfill sites are filling up and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find sites for our waste products. Landfill sites we have are leaking contaminants to surrounding areas, a significant hazard again to those people and to the flora and fauna in the vicinity.

It is interesting also to look at the costs. We want to spend $5 million for the auditor general to do a job that should already be done. The costs for a clean up in Canada are in the order of $4.5 billion per year, and it is expanding every year.

Given the current fiscal restraints of the government and successive governments in the future, we ought to pay careful heed as to how we will be dealing with the wastes we are producing now and will be in the future. It will be a common, current and pervasive problem for all of us in this country.

I speak from personal experience in my riding when I say the ministry has shown a deplorable inability to identify, prosecute and penalize individuals and industries that are right now contaminating our environment.

If we are to deal with this problem we have to start immediately to stop the wilful neglect to the environment and the wilful dumping of hazardous wastes occurring as we speak. It is very important the ministry do this. I do not know why it is not taking a more aggressive stance with industries and individuals who continue to do this. Time and time again local communities have complained at length to the ministry. It is not being able to investigate these individuals and it is not prosecuting them as they, day in and day out, dump waste into our waterways and on to our land.

The ministry also needs to be more aggressive in recovering costs where the polluter has been identified. It has not been nearly as forthcoming as it should be in trying to recoup this money. It could be very important not only to save money for the Canadian taxpayer but also give a very clear and distinct message to polluters that it is unacceptable for them to engage in this behaviour and if they do they will be penalized and forced to engage in the full cost recovery of cleaning up the sites they have polluted.

I suggest the ministry look at the environment and sustainable growth in a global context. It is essential to understand that the amount of destruction we see to our environment is intimately and directly associated with human activity both in numbers of people and in the behaviour of those people.

Right now there are over 5.5 billion people on this planet. By the year 2000 we will have 7 billion. By the year 2020 or 2030 we will have 10 billion to 11 billion people. The doubling time for our population has gone from thousands of years to the order of 25 to 30 years. It has dropped down a decade.

If we reflect on that for a minute we will see how important this issue is; our burgeoning population and the effect that will have on our dwindling resources. We simply cannot speak about sustainable development without addressing the problem of rampant population growth and human activity and the affect that has on our environment.

It is also interesting to see that the gap is actually widening between population and the ability to provide the basic necessities for that population. When populations are unable to provide for their basic necessities we have a population under stress. When we have a population under stress it leads to conflict, population migration and a destruction of the local environment where those conflicts take place. If we want to speak self-centredly, it impacts on our defence budgets, our foreign aid and development budgets and it potentially costs Canadian lives. It also impacts on the resources we use here for our social programs and services to provide for refugees who have come to our country from areas of conflict to seek refuge and succour.

I hope the ministry will look at this in the context of other ministries and also in international venues because nobody is speaking about this. If we start to speak about the subject we get accused of being neo-Malthusian. What a lot of rubbish that is. We have to be blind not to see that with a population expanding geometrically and the ability for our resources which are flattening out and in effect declining this gap which is widening will have a huge impact not only on countries half a world away but on our own. For the sake of us, our children and our grandchildren it is not only important but our responsibility to address these problems.

Our environment is our world. What we do to our world and to our environment we do to ourselves. I hope the ministry will take it upon itself that rather than repeating what should already be done, rather than creating new bureaucracies and creating more opportunities to study and report on a problem, to develop some good solutions to these problems.

Let us work with the people within our country and with our neighbours in other countries. Our environment is shared with all of our neighbours within our country and outside of our borders. What happens outside and within our borders is our business.

I believe we as a country can take a leadership role in addressing some of the large and pressing problems with our environment.

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5:10 p.m.


Pat O'Brien Liberal London—Middlesex, ON

Madam Speaker, in the last federal election the Liberal government said environmental and economic agendas must converge. That means all federal departments must act on this understanding.

In our red book we stated:

Sustainable development-integrating economic with environmental goals-fits in the Liberal tradition of social investment as sound economic policy. Preventive environmental care is the foundation of the Liberal approach to sustainable development.

To make this happen we promised Canadians one of the things we would do is appoint an environmental auditor general who would report directly to Parliament and have powers of investigation similar to those of the auditor general. I firmly believe Bill C-83 delivers on that commitment and more.

The House owes congratulations to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of the Environment for the leadership she has shown on this very important matter.

The environment and sustainable development must automatically be part of all the decisions made by the federal government. They must not be the result of thinking after the fact or be taken into account after the real decisions have been made; on the contrary, they must be an integral part of all government decision making.

We need to do what we can to make sure that the environmental and sustainable development considerations are integral factors in the decision making of all federal government departments. That means decisions on new policies, programs, regulations and laws as well as the existing ones. It also means decisions on how departments manage their buildings, facilities and operations.

Canadians deserve to live in a country that is prosperous and healthy and they demand that their national government take a leadership role in making this happen. Bill C-83 is a response to that demand. It shows Canadians that the government is serious about getting its act together on environmental issues. It shows Canadians that we are willing to change the way government does business and that we are not afraid to be held publicly accountable for what we do and what we do not do.

By getting our house in order the federal government can promote the shift to sustainable development throughout Canadian society. This is what Bill C-83 is all about.

I have been delighted to serve on the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development. One of the first big jobs we tackled was to try and find the best way for the government to meet its environmental auditor general commitment.

Last spring, the committee held wide-ranging hearings and submitted its report to the House in May.

I am very proud of our work and our report. We had real input into how the red book commitment would be delivered and we had real input in the bill currently before the House.

Under the skilled leadership of my colleague, the hon. member for Davenport, we wrote a report that called for enhanced environmental auditing of the government's policies, programs and laws. We wrote a report that says the government must be held accountable to Parliament and to the public for demonstrating progress in meeting objectives.

We wrote a report that advocates going beyond the concept of simply creating an environmental auditor general and instead establishing an independent and influential commissioner of the environment and sustainable development.

It became clear to committee members very early on in our work that much of what would be the audit responsibilities of the commissioner are in fact already carried out by the auditor general. We also recommended in our report that the auditor general continue to evolve this work and that the Auditor General Act be amended to meet new requirements in performing such a role.

Bill C-83 does this. It establishes a commissioner of the environment and sustainable development and it does it right in the Office of the Auditor General. This is not, I repeat, not a retreat from our red book pledge. Instead, it is a better more effective way to carry out our pledge to Canadians.

The Office of the Auditor General has clout. It is independent from government. It is well respected. It has solid expertise that can be put to use at once. For all these reasons the Office of the Auditor General can greatly enhance the auditing of the government's environmental performance as well as the effectiveness of the commissioner.

Bill C-83 also augments the role of the auditor general. It gives him or her the clear legal mandate to include environmental effects along with the conventional considerations for the economy and

efficiency when reporting to the House of Commons. This ensures that issues of environment and sustainable development are integrated directly into government thinking and planning. This kind of integration is what sustainable development is all about.

However this is far from being the government's first initiative to foster sustainable development. Let me name just a few: the proclamation of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act; actions to green government operations; the task force on economic instruments and disincentives to sound environmental practices; and the initial follow-up to the task force in the last federal budget.

Bill C-83 is just the most recent course of action to make the shift to sustainable development. This bill will promote sustainable development across all federal departments by requiring ministers to table in the House sustainable development strategies. The strategies must include their departments' objectives and plans of action to further sustainable development. All departments will be required to update their strategies every three years with ministers tabling the updates in the House.

The commissioner will be keeping a close eye on this. He or she will be completely independent and will report directly to the auditor general on all of his or her environmental and sustainable development related duties. The commissioner will also assist the auditor general in addressing the environmental and sustainable development aspects of his general auditing work.

One of the commissioner's most important duties will be to monitor and report annually to the House on the government's progress toward sustainable development. That means reviewing each department's sustainable development strategy. That means monitoring their action plans and reporting on their success. It also means reporting on anything related to environmental aspects of sustainable development that merits attention.

The amendments are indeed historic and unprecedented and have far reaching implications for the way the federal government does its business. They ensure that no matter who the auditor general happens to be, environment and sustainable development will have a high profile in the work of that office. They force this government and all governments that follow to promote sustainable development practices within all federal departments and across all major economic sectors of our country. They will hold the government fully and completely accountable to the public for its performance in making the shift to sustainable development.

Today I am proud to be a parliamentarian and I am proud to be a member of this government. We have taken a red book commitment and engaged Canadians in fulfilling it and indeed in going beyond it. We have taken a major step forward.

No, as has been pointed out by other colleagues in the House, the committee did not achieve everything it hoped to achieve. That has been very candidly stated earlier by my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, and most recently by my colleague, the chair of the committee. However we have made a major step forward. We have taken a radical departure in the way government does business. We have taken a leadership role.

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5:20 p.m.


Len Taylor NDP The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK

Madam Speaker, I would like the member who just spoke to clarify two things.

The first has to do with accountability. As you know, Madam Speaker, from reading the bill the legislation calls for petitions from the general public, in other words those matters in which the public wants to hold the government accountable. Petitions from the general public that go to the new commissioner are simply handed over by the commissioner to the relevant government department for a response. That response is what holds the government accountable to the citizens of Canada; no investigation, no specific examination of the complaint, simply turning over the complaint to the department.

In other words, on a matter which happened recently a citizen was concerned about the PCBs on the Irving Whale . Instead of that matter going to court and the court telling the government it fell short on this issue, the department simply said it was no problem, the environmental impact assessment was sufficient and the Whale would be raised. The courts came back and said that those nice words were not good enough, that the PCBs were not a part of the environmental assessment study and until they were the Whale could not be raised.

Nice words of the department do not demonstrate accountability to the public. I would like the member to further clarify his statement in light of that comment.

The other statement has to do with the clout of the auditor general. The member indicates that he supports the legislation because the auditor general has clout. I think I quote him correctly.

In appearing before the committee, the auditor general acknowledged that the clout he has is embarrassment. The clout he has is by reporting. The public reads the report and the government is embarrassed. The government is embarrassed enough already on environmental issues. How is it that the clout an environmental commissioner would have would be any different from the embarrassment the government feels today?

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5:25 p.m.


Pat O'Brien Liberal London—Middlesex, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the very good questions from my colleague opposite.

First of all it is very interesting to me that the hon. member raises the issue of PCBs. PCBs have been a major concern in my own municipality for some 10 years now, particularly in my own riding of London-Middlesex. Let me say that when as the new member of Parliament for the riding of London-Middlesex I brought this concern to the attention of the Minister of the Environment and the Deputy Prime Minister she was very quick to respond in putting an end to a long process initiated by the previous Tory government to try to find a site for the destruction of these PCBs.

This thing had dragged on for years. There was never a conclusion to it. They were spending lots of taxpayers' money. They had not come up with a proposed site and were planning really to force a decision on one of two or three communities unhappily in the riding of London-Middlesex. None of those communities was very excited about it.

When I brought that to the attention of the minister, she took very quick action. She indicated there would be no need for such a facility in the city of London, that we had better options to enable us to eliminate PCBs without creating additional expensive facilities. I was very impressed with the response on that.

On the member's comment about petitions from the public about pollution problems be they PCBs or whatever, what the member may have overlooked in my comments is the fact that ministers will have to table in the House plans for how they will deal with environmental issues within their ministry. There will be regular ongoing reviews of these plans. As the member who is more senior in this House than I well knows, that will give members in this Chamber many opportunities to take a shot at any issue they want to address themselves to in speaking for their constituents.

In his first question the member referred to the courts. Fortunately in a democratic system like we have in this country I would submit that the courts will always be the last recourse in many cases. If the courts see fit to overrule government on environmental issues, then so be it. That is an important right we want to cherish.

On the member's second question, he quoted me correctly about saying that the auditor general has clout. I can tell my colleague that the first standing committee I was honoured to serve on in the House was the public accounts committee. The current auditor general, Mr. Desautels, in my view has tremendous clout. When he comes to that committee on any subject-and he is the star witness as we all know-he is listened to very attentively by all members of the House sitting on the committee.

I agree with Mr. Desautels that embarrassment is a major weapon in his arsenal. He told us time and again-and I personally questioned him on it-that it was not his job to indicate new policy directions for any government but it was his job to indicate where governments fell short and where they might have been able to do better.

If governments and ministers do not live up to the plans they have tabled and when reviews of the plans indicate shortcomings, I would hope the auditor general would be at the appropriate committee to embarrass the government of the day. I would welcome it, as would all Canadians.

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5:30 p.m.


Karen Kraft Sloan Liberal York—Simcoe, ON

Madam Speaker, Canada has recently been declared the second wealthiest nation on earth. This is in large part due to our natural heritage.

Canadians from coast to coast are privileged people who live in a great nation. We are a country of richly diverse temperate rain forests, prairie grasslands that expand wide on open horizons, great inland waterways, beaches full of the scent of ocean life, and fragile Arctic flowers that hang tenuously on to life season after season.

Fresh potable water, clean air and arable soil are resources that cannot be fully valued. Once they are gone they cannot be replaced. More and more world conflict will arise from fighting over scarce natural resources. Human health is clearly linked to a healthy natural environment.

In the spring of 1994 I had the honour of accompanying the Minister of the Environment to attend a G-7 ministers of the environment conference in Florence, Italy. At that conference they made it very clear to the Canadian delegation that the world was anxiously watching Canada. Canada, they told us, was one of the last countries of the world to contain large tracts of pristine wilderness.

The delegates very eloquently told us how they learned too late about their mistakes. Vast tracts of forested land had been denuded, arable soil had been turned into desert, fresh waterways polluted and air made unbreathable.

Paul Hawken, in his book "The Ecology of Commerce", paints a very bleak future for this planet. We currently use 40 per cent of the earth's biotic capacity to produce. In 40 years the earth's population will double. If we continue to use the earth's resources at the same rate with no change, in 40 years when the earth's population doubles we will use 80 per cent of the earth's biotic capacity to produce.

Major ecosystem failure occurs at 60 per cent to 70 per cent. We have already experienced a major ecosystem failure on the east coast in the fisheries. The long debate over the ecological implications of our behaviour is over. We can see before our eyes what is happening. We feel the effects on our health. Our communities and

industries know firsthand about the devastation of an ecological crisis.

Canadians, from what polls indicate, are very concerned about their economic well-being and the economic health of the country, but underlying all these concerns the environment is still an issue they have a strong attachment to.

In my one and a half years as vice-chair of the environment committee I have heard Canadians from all parts of the country, from all walks of life, both industry and environmental groups, First Nations people, scientists and lay persons, speak about their concerns regarding environmental degradation. I have heard senior representatives of large corporations talk with pride in their voices about environmental initiatives they are pursuing. We have heard from community groups, from band councils and from government agencies all outlining what they are trying to do to help Canadian society make the shift to sustainability.

However it is not enough. Not everyone in industry, in the private sector and in the public sector is doing all he or she can. Government must show leadership, first by taking the initiative to model environmentally sensitive behaviour and, second, by developing best practices that can be used by others in the shift toward sustainability.

The commissioner of the environment and sustainable development as outlined by Bill C-83 will go a long way in demonstrating leadership. First, it very clearly demonstrates to Canadians that the government is committed to sustainable approaches. Second, it will provide very good working examples of how we can make the move from theory to practice, from problem analysis to problem solving.

One key issue addressed at the G-7 ministers of the environment conference in Florence focused on the practice of sustainability. How is the shift made in practical terms and how do we undertake green or environmental accounting? Through building on the efforts already initiated by the auditor general in the field of green auditing, the government can help to build capacity in Canadian society.

Third, the government can show leadership in the shift toward sustainability by helping to co-ordinate and connect all efforts currently under way. Many undertakings are happening in various government departments that need to be documented and co-ordinated.

Originally the committee had recommended a stand alone office of the commissioner of the environment to assess government policy proactively before it is implemented. I would certainly prefer the forward looking approach of this model as opposed to the rearview approach of the office of the auditor general. However this must be balanced by the added clout of the office of the auditor general that Bill C-83 provides and the ability of the new commissioner to integrate fully ecological considerations with all government auditing functions.

The government has fulfilled its red book commitment even though what is reflected in Bill C-83 is not exactly what the committee recommended because the committee recommendations differed from the red book.

I campaigned on the issue of a commissioner of the environment and sustainable development in the office of the auditor general. I was very excited about the progressive nature of this campaign promise. I am very pleased that Canada will join New Zealand as the second country in the world to have a commissioner of sustainable development.

In addition to amending the Auditor General Act to require the appointment of a commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, Bill C-83 sets out other things to support the shift toward sustainability. These include ensuring that environmental considerations in the context of sustainable development are taken into account in the auditor general's reports to the House of Commons, imposing requirements for responding to petitions received by the auditor general about federal environmental matters, and requiring that departments prepare and table sustainable development strategies in the House of Commons. All these will increase public accountability as the government exhibits leadership in the shift to sustainability.

We have the resources in the country, the human talent and expertise and the rich, diverse natural heritage of our land to meet the challenges that face us as a nation; but as people must be nurtured, supported and protected. So must the land, the air, the water and all that they contain.

I ask members of the House: Who ultimately owns these things? How can a document give full and absolute ownership to a forest or to a tract of land? Perhaps we should consider how the aboriginal peoples of the country view their relationship to the land. They do not individually own it. Rather they must care for the land. Anything that is done to the natural environment must be thought of in the way it will affect the seventh generation.

As individuals our time on earth is fleeting. We are like a mere speck on the beach of time. Yet, in a fluttering second we can destroy that beach and all the life that depends on it for survival.

It is time to challenge our unsustainable behaviours. It is time for the government to show leadership in the shift to a sustainable future in both the spirit and letter of the law.

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5:40 p.m.


Pat O'Brien Liberal London—Middlesex, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague on the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development spoke to the fact that the committee preferred a stand alone office of a commissioner of the environment. She mentioned that however unfortunately it was not done and that the red book commitment had been kept.

Could she elaborate on the keeping of that commitment and perhaps speculate at least and explain to the House why the committee's first option was not in fact brought to fruition?

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5:40 p.m.


Karen Kraft Sloan Liberal York—Simcoe, ON

Madam Speaker, as always people have different visions of where they might like to go. Certainly the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development had decided on a particular vision after interviewing a number of witnesses and through discussions with committee members. We thought perhaps a stand alone commissioner might be the way to go in this regard.

The red book commitment talked about a commissioner of sustainable development within the auditor general's office. The government in its wisdom decided to go with that particular position.

Part of the discussion we had as members of that committee looking at the particular issue was the tradeoff of a stand alone office or the clout within the auditor general's office. Given the kinds of financial constraints the government is operating under, I think we can utilize the expertise that has already been developed in the auditor general's office and move in that direction.

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5:40 p.m.


Robert Bertrand Liberal Pontiac—Gatineau—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, I have a question for my colleague from York-Simcoe.

Could she perhaps elaborate on the aboriginal concept of the seven generations? What exactly does it mean?

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5:40 p.m.


Karen Kraft Sloan Liberal York—Simcoe, ON

Madam Speaker, my understanding-and I guess it is the best way to state it-is that whenever anything is done to the natural environment, when we decide to intervene in the course of a waterway, when we decide to make changes on the land or if we decide to cut a forest, we have to think of the implications of the action on the seventh generation down the road.

It is not just how it is going to affect us next month or in the next year. We have to think of the seven lifetimes of people who will follow us. When we are dealing with environmental issues they are very complex and often we do not properly extend the time horizon.

One of the reasons I am so supportive of the concept of sustainability is that it takes into consideration ecological aspects, economic aspects and social aspects. Something I firmly believe in is intergenerational equity. Our children inherit what we leave for them, their children and so on to the seventh generation.

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5:40 p.m.


John Finlay Liberal Oxford, ON

Madam Speaker, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to join the debate since I was a member of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development and one of our first orders of business about a year ago was to examine the question of a commissioner for sustainable development.

As earlier speakers have said, we listened to a great number of witnesses. I think we were pleased with our report. Now it is time to say that we are pleased with what the Minister of the Environment has presented and with the steps the government is going to take.

An act to amend the Auditor General Act in order to establish a commissioner of sustainable development will put the government firmly on the path to meeting one of our red book commitments-

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5:45 p.m.

An hon. member

It would be the first.

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5:45 p.m.


John Finlay Liberal Oxford, ON

The first of many. I want to deal with this act in three main areas. The first has to do with the definition that appears in the act. This was only one of the definitions that were presented to the committee. We had a lot of discussion about this. I believe we have chosen wisely and I am glad that the definition that arises out of the Brundtland report is the one that is in this act.

Sustainable development means development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. As my honoured colleague, the member for Davenport, has already pointed out, this definition is crucial. This definition goes beyond balancing the economy and the environment. Up to a few years ago, when I asked this kind of question from an environmental point of view to members of the previous government I was told with a wry grin that there are jobs and then there is the environment. Our future is here, and it includes both jobs and the environment, both industry and the environment, all industries and the environment. That is a basic understanding I hope all in the House will acknowledge.

Many people have seen industry and environment as antithetical and opposite. This definition goes well beyond that. Again, it is another case where many of our educational institutions, many of our businesses and industries, and many of our organizations in this country are somewhat ahead of the government. They are now teaching courses in waste management, in integrated resource management. Our ministries of the environment and industry have also stimulated the Canadian environmental industry, which is one of the fastest growing areas of our economy.

Let us return for a moment to this definition. It says "development that meets the needs of the present". This does not say the

wants of the present; it says the needs. That means we have to give it considerable thought. We have to reach some agreements and we have to do considerable research. The basic fact we have to understand is that we live on a finite planet. Our resources, our land, our air, our water, and our energy are all limited. Right now we have all the air, polluted or not, that we are going to have. We have all the water, pure or not, fresh or not, we are going to have. And we have all the land, eroded or not, we are going to have.

Considering that the extent of arable land on the planet is very tiny compared to the expanse of the oceans, the mountains, the deserts, and other parts of this fair earth that we cannot use, this is a basic tenet of all of our actions and it must become ingrained in the decisions we make in the House.

It states "without compromising the ability of future generations". Politicians are good compromisers. We have to be sometimes. However, compromise is not possible when we are dealing with some of the present problems of the environment. In order to achieve sustainable development we cannot compromise on the pressing need to improve our performance in protecting the environment, in establishing sustainable industrial processes, and in managing our waste. The "ability of future generations" requires us to look a little into the future. We need to recognize that some of the problems that appear before us now are not the only problems that future generations may face.

We know, as the hon. member for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca pointed out, that the population of the earth is doubling now in decades, not centuries and not millennia. That is something we have to keep in mind, because future generations are going to have a much bigger problem than we have if we do not move toward helping to solve it. Our needs for energy will expand tremendously. Progressive climate change cannot be allowed to continue on and on, because the eventual result will be catastrophic.

The global transport of toxics through air and water, which already affects much of our Arctic area and the Inuit and others who live there, is going to continue unless we start to reduce it.

The time for compromise is gone. I think we have to get on with the job. Hopefully this bill will set us on the road to doing that as expeditiously as possible.

The last part of the definition states: "We must not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". Since it is impossible for us definitively to know what those needs will be, it would be best if we erred on the side of caution and care, increased our respect for the environment and increased our efforts to become a conserving rather than a wasting and wasteful society.

Again, as my colleague for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca said, we create a lot of garbage. We are the best in the world at creating garbage. We are number one in garbage creation and waste. We would dearly like to become number one in the management of that and in getting rid of it.

I would like to spend a moment on a fact that has been brought up by several other members. We talked about a commissioner of sustainable development. On the committee we wanted a separate office. We wanted a real proactive position. We find that we have in this act a commissioner, yes, within the auditor general's department.

I think perhaps this is a place where our compromise was needed. Perhaps what we have in this act will in a number of ways accentuate the role of that commissioner. One of the things we heard in the committee from witness after witness was that the federal departments of this government were not particularly up to date or forward looking or in advance of those things that needed to be done to preserve the environment. In fact many industries and organizations told us that some of our departments did not obey the rules to nearly the same extent as the mining companies, the industries, and so on. We were shown quite clearly in the committee from the witnesses we saw and the trips we made, which were not many but were very effective, that this was so.

Hence, the bill puts the commissioner in there to see that government puts its own house in order by greening policies and operations across all departments. We talked about co-operation, and that is needed.

The commissioner will hold the government publicly accountable for its own environmental performance. The commissioner will promote sustainable development as an essential factor in making decisions at all levels of society and within all departments of government.

Our departments must lead. After all, the Government of Canada spends more of the people's money than anyone else. It owns more of the land or is at least responsible for more of it. It employs more people. Hence it has to be in the forefront if we are going to meet the definition of sustainable development in this act.

The commissioner will have to monitor and report annually to Parliament. He or she must know what the departments are planning. He must assist them in their planning and he must respond to the public and petitions from the public on environmental matters.

Although under the old CEPA, Canadian Environmental Protection Act, there were only one or two requests from the public for some study or action to do with the environment, we would hope that the commissioner's office will focus the public's attention and provide a place where their concerns can be swiftly dealt with.

A number of members have questioned making the commissioner part of the auditor general's office. My colleague from Simcoe Centre has pointed out that the committee's report asked for a separate office. However, I think the reasons provided by the Minister of the Environment are worth repeating. The auditor general already audits the environmental performance of federal departments, albeit after the fact. That is a function he fulfills.

The commissioner will strengthen the auditor general's environmental effectiveness and make sure that the environment has a higher profile in his audits. The commission will have some added credibility as part of an expert, respected and independent office that now operates at arm's length from the government. That was an important part of the commissioner's mandate.

Given the government's commitment to fiscal restraint and affordable services, it seems preferable to strengthen an existing organization rather than create a new separate office.

Finally, the commissioner will be funded from existing resources.

It has been a pleasure to speak with respect to the environment. I am committed to sustainable development and to the environment. I look forward to the first report from our commissioner, whoever that might be.

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5:55 p.m.


Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Madam Speaker, we are talking about sustainable development, a very important issue. We must not pollute the waters where we swim nor the water we drink. Otherwise, we risk poisoning ourselves. We must not pollute the air we breathe if we want to avoid intoxication.

We should take measures to ensure that not only future generations, but our own will have the opportunity to really appreciate and fully enjoy nature, the world around us.

When we speak about an auditor for the environment, I think the idea is very interesting, but I cannot help having some reservations. I would like to share these with you. I am sure my colleague will then reply and allay my concerns.

You know, Madam Speaker, that we already have an auditor general who, year after year, each and every year, presents a very extensive report on the administrative failings of the federal government. God knows this report is not a small document. The auditor publishes an imposing series of volumes every year.

If we felt, when the report is tabled, that results were not only expected, but were in fact there, that they had been delivered, I would say to myself: auditing works, we have set up mechanisms whereby the government is responsible to the public, and the government changes course as required.

But this is really not the case. I am thinking of the Commissioner of Official Languages. As the Vice-Chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Official Languages, I repeatedly have occasion to regret the fact that, despite his good efforts, the Commissioner of Official Languages still failed to achieve the results he was hoping for and even that, recently, in February, his budget was cut. He is not alone. Many government agencies and departments are in the same situation, but that does not help him do his work.

So, of course, my honourable colleague says that the environmental auditor will be able to call attention to failures, but that is not enough. Knowing that things are going badly is a step in the right direction, but being unable to do anything or being unwilling to do something is a more serious matter.

Will we once again, and this is the heart of my question, be faced with a situation where, well aware of the corrective action to be taken, we must once more regret the fact that such action was not taken? Perhaps my honourable colleague can answer my concern?

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6 p.m.


John Finlay Liberal Oxford, ON

Madam Speaker, I say to my hon. friend that we must walk before we run. Rome was not built in a day. Everybody's budget has been decreased except two.

In last year's budget the only department that was not hit very hard was the environment ministry. For a very good reason this year it was the department of aboriginal affairs and northern development. More aboriginal people need more help.

I share my colleague's concern that we are not doing everything that needs to be done, or that can be done. That is exactly why we need the commissioner. The auditor general's function is to audit what has been done. The commissioner's function is to do something before it is done to see that the plans are going to work.

I have no magic wand. We cannot make everything work at once but we can at least try to get on with it if we all understand what the problem is and what the goal is.

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6 p.m.


Jim Hart Reform Okanagan—Similkameen—Merritt, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's speech. I wonder if he could clarify a couple of areas for me.

He made the statement that Canada was the largest creator of garbage in the world. Maybe he could tell us where he got that information and how he developed the thesis that Canada of all places is the largest developer of garbage in the world. I am sure it is something that all Canadians would like to know more about. Could he tell us the scientific facts and how he arrived at that conclusion.

The second comment I was concerned about was in regard to global warming. I remember growing up in the seventies when environmentalists said that in five years if we were not careful the rivers would boil. I would like the member to share with us where he received this information. In his statement who is speaking for science in his comments?

I feel he has left out an important aspect. If he wants to make a statement about something, he should back it up with some facts.

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6:05 p.m.


John Finlay Liberal Oxford, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to correct one thing I said.

Canada is the greatest per capita user of energy in the modern world. My hon. friend has corrected me. We are second in the per capita production of waste. The U.S. is first in the production of waste, second in the per capita use of energy. These are not figures I made up in my head. They are well recognized all over the globe. They come out of the Brundtland commission study. There is not any great secret about it. It is one of those things we have to keep in mind when we look at other countries and worry about population.

We sometimes say we have our population under control. We are pretty well at a zero base population except we receive a lot of immigrants which is fine. However India and China are not zero base populations.

The fact is that one Canadian uses something between 20 to 100 times as much of this earth's resources as one Indian or one Central American or one African. It depends on which country we are talking about, how developed and how undeveloped.

Concerning global warming, someone said the rivers were going to boil in five years. That is science fiction. The fact that the breast milk of Inuit mothers has 20 times-far more-dioxins in it than the breast milk of mothers in Montreal is not science fiction. It is fact.

Just as we have deplored for some years the attitude of American presidents that acid rain was some figment of the scientist's imagination or that the accumulation of toxins in the St. Lawrence River was some figment of a naturalist's imagination, we find of course that it is not, that the beluga whales are diseased, that acid rain kills the lakes in northern Ontario and northern Quebec, Lapland and so on. We are not dealing with science fiction. We are dealing with facts.

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6:05 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the amendments to the Auditor General Act. This is a very important bill and one of the best things we have done as a government so far.

It will create profound changes in the way government operates in this country. It will integrate the environmental agenda with the economic agenda. As well, one of the two or three most important challenges that we as a society and as a world face in the next 50 years is the environment.

We have been reminded in the last couple of weeks with different stories in the media of how much of a challenge this is. In fact it astonishes me to hear Reform Party members who seem to dismiss the idea of the environment as a major concern.

We have seen reports on global warming. A report last Monday, September 11 in the Globe and Mail indicated that global experts, the international intergovernmental panel which has been studying for years the issue of global warming, after years of saying they were not sure of this and years of denying it was a real problem, have finally come to the point where they are saying, yes, we accept that the level of global warming we are seeing has to be caused in part at least by human actions. It is human activity which is contributing to global warming. We cannot ignore it.

Even if we were not absolutely sure that our actions were contributing to global warming, to pollution and problems world wide, even if there was a 50 per cent chance there are some things we can do to stop it, are we not wise to be on the right side? I think we are.

We have also heard stories about the ozone layer. I heard about a week ago that the hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic this summer is twice as large as the year before. The things that are happening to our world can have a major impact on us.

The idea of global warming to people in Canada sounds great because we live through some pretty cold winters, especially here in Ottawa. I can tell the House it is always milder and more pleasant in Nova Scotia. Winters throughout the country are very cold. Therefore, global warming sounds nice.

In today's Halifax Daily News , a Canadian Press story reported some things that have happened this year as a result of the very hot summer. In 1989 I heard that four out of five of the hottest summers on record occurred in the 1980s. I am sure that has changed because in some respects this summer was one of the worst on record in terms of heat.

There was record destruction by forest fires across North America. There were terrible floods in southern Alberta. Toronto recorded the most humid summer in 30 years. In rural Ontario there was one report of 500,000 chickens dying in one weekend due to heat. We saw hurricanes. We have seen hurricanes before. They are not unusual. In the southern U.S. and on the east coast we saw terrible damage from hurricanes. All of these things added together have to mean that something is happening.

The summer of 1995 was the third hottest on record and maybe the muggiest. In Chicago more than 500 people died in a heat wave. In England it was the driest summer in 200 years. Those who say that we should not worry, that it is not getting hotter or that these are not really problems, should reconsider because these things have a great impact.

I mentioned the ozone layer. We have all become more aware over the last year since weather reports include UV readings of how much of a concern this must be. We know the impact of UV in terms of skin cancer. We should also be aware that if the ozone layer is depleted further and UV rays get through the atmosphere it can have a devastating effect. It is a gradual effect but more and more ozone depletion each year gradually stunts crop growth. If the ozone layer becomes thinner crops cannot grow. That is absolutely scary to the world. It seems to me that the environment must be a priority for the country and across the planet.

It makes sense that we are making it a priority to amend the Auditor General Act. In the red book the Liberals say:

Sustainable development, integrating economic with environmental goals, fits the Liberal tradition of social investment as sound economic policy. Preventive environmental care is the foundation of the Liberal approach to sustainable development;

The government is serious about promoting sustainable development. It is serious about being held accountable for its environmental actions and environmental planning. It really must be. Canadians want and deserve a prosperous, healthy country in which we and our children can work to achieve our aspirations.

This is also reflected in departmental decisions concerning the management of buildings, facilities and operations. The proposed amendments to the Auditor General Act before the House will permit, to a large extent, to achieve the kind of integration we are seeking. They are a key element of the government's response last fall to the first report of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development entitled "The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development".

The committee was of the opinion that, even though it is critical to examine measures taken by the government, it is even more important to make sure that environmental considerations are a basic planning element in every department. The committee asked that the environmental audit of government policies, programs and legislation be stepped up.

The committee believed that the government must report to Parliament and to the public the progress made to meet these objectives.

The committee advocated the government go beyond the idea of just an environmental auditor and instead establish a commissioner of the environment and sustainable development. In these proposed amendments to the Auditor General Act the government will establish a commissioner. We will meet all of the objectives of the committee's report.

The amendments do contain at least one significant departure from the committee's report, which is to create the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development not as a separate position but within the existing framework of the auditor general's office. This is not in any way a retreat from our red book pledge. Instead it is a smarter, more effective way of carrying out the pledge.

The Office of the Auditor General has clout. It is independent of the government. It is well respected and it has expertise. For all these reasons it can greatly enhance the auditing of the government's environmental performance.

There is another advantage to this innovation. Within the work of the auditor general issues of environmental and sustainable development will be integrated directly with economic considerations. This kind of integration is what sustainable development is all about.

What then is the substance of these amendments to the Auditor General Act? These modifications establish the function of the commissioner for the environment and sustainable development inside the Office of the Auditor General.

We all know that every year when the report of the auditor general comes out there is a blaze of publicity. Everyone is aware of that. We can now expect an equal impact for reports of environmental failures or shortcomings of government. The fair publicity we know ministers will feel is going to be a powerful spur to action because it applies to every minister in every department. At times this may make things uncomfortable for those of us in government, especially the ministers. However, the government is prepared to accept that discomfort if the end result is better government for Canadians and a better environment for all of us.

The scope of these changes is more far reaching than a simple institutionalization of the control and reporting procedures on the conduct of the government relating to ecology and sustainable development.

More plainly put, these amendments challenge federal departments to take environmental action. In this sense, they go further than the red book commitment in vigorously promoting sustainable development.

Under the amended act, each department will have two years to develop its own sustainable development strategy which will be

tabled in the House of Commons by the minister in charge. The strategy must be geared to results and must set out the department's objectives and the action plan to meet them.

In effect, every minister will thus become a sustainable development minister. For example, the industry minister will be responsible for that portfolio and also for ensuring the Department of Industry operates in an environmentally sound way. The same is true of the foreign affairs minister, the transport minister and every other minister in cabinet.

This is a big step forward in moving sustainable development from concept to reality. The departmental strategies will assist the auditor general and the commissioner in not only monitoring the government and preparing their reports to Parliament but will also serve as benchmarks by which the commissioner and auditor general can assess each department's performance in making the shift to sustainable development.

This is not a one-shot affair to be undertaken with fanfare and then quickly forgotten. Every three years each department must update its sustainable development strategy and its minister must table that update in Parliament.

Thanks to these changes, Canadians can get a better idea of how government is responding to the environmental challenge we face.

The auditor general will be empowered to receive petitions from the public on environmental questions and then will pass those petitions to the minister responsible for the particular area, who must respond within a certain time.

I can see how that could have an impact in my riding. In my riding of Halifax West in the community of Five Island Lake there is a former salvage operation site where there is a big problem with PCBs and other heavy metals and toxins. The clean up of that is a big problem. Right now it is considered an orphan site because the small business which operated it for so long really does not have the wherewithal to enable us to go after it for the costs. It needs some kind of funding. I do not want to keep pursuing the federal government. This kind of thing would help to create pressure to see that it is made a priority.

That will be the overall impact of the bill. It will help to ensure that environmental issues become a higher priority hopefully across the country, hopefully across our society but certainly within government.

The number and the focus of the petitions received by the ministers and the status of these matters will be monitored, and the commissioner will report to the House of Commons on the results obtained.

The amendments also require the commissioner to report annually to the House of Commons on behalf of the auditor general. These reports can focus on anything related to sustainable development, whatever the commissioner considers important enough to bring to the attention of the House. In particular, the commissioner's annual reports will indicate how far departments have gone in meeting the objectives and expectations they have set for themselves in their strategies.

The annual report of the commissioner will not be the only report to the House of Commons on the government's environmental performance. These amendments will ensure that environmental observations will continue to be included in the auditor general's reports as well. That is important because the auditor general's reports are more general in scope. They will include the considerations of economy, efficiency, effectiveness and the environment as well. Indeed, one of the commissioner's duties will be to assist the auditor general in preparing aspects of these reports referring to the environment and sustainable development.

The auditor general alone will be responsible for appointing the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development. I am sure the auditor general will choose someone with excellent professional qualifications and strong personal commitment. This will guarantee that the commissioner will be sufficiently at arms' length.

A decision on the funding for this position will be made once these amendments have been adopted. But let me assure you that there will be sufficient funding to guarantee these amendments will be implemented effectively.

The government is wasting no time in moving to meet its obligations under the proposed amendments. The government is committed to ensuring the promotion of thinking green as a central component of decision making at all levels of government and I hope eventually at all levels of our society.

The Prime Minister and all ministers have signed a guidebook entitled "A Guide to Green Government". It will help all federal departments make sustainable development their business. That is good news. It will also serve as a curriculum for the commissioner when she or he reports on the success departments are having in

integrating sustainable development practices into their own activities.

Sustainable development is a shared responsibility requiring the co-operation and involvement of Canadians from all walks of life. In preparing sustainable development strategies departments must involve stakeholders. That is one of the requirements of this bill. Thinking green is a central component of decision making at all levels because of the bill.

Departments will be required to report annually on their progress and they must provide information on the number, type and status of environmental assessments they are conducting.

Another example of the government's commitment was the proclamation of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act last January. This legislation will ensure the environment is formally integrated into the project planning process of the federal government.

Through the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency the government is already working hard to make sure environmental assessments of new government policies and programs are done and done well. These are important measures that establish a framework for sustainability at the federal government level.

For years, governments have talked of sustainability and declared their support in this regard. It has always been difficult, however, to ensure these commitments are met.

This is why environmental groups have long demanded an independent control and reporting function focussing on environmental actions. They saw this as a way to force the government to keep its promise. And just as obstinately, our predecessors in government have resisted having to keep their word.

The Liberal government has a different approach. We are not afraid of openness, because that is what Canadians want. It might worry us to be criticized when there are shortcomings on the environment but it can only do us good in the long run. Therefore we are making sustainable development the priority it ought to be.

This is another important step along the path to sustainable development and a healthy future for all Canadians. I recommend quick passage of this bill.