That, in the opinion of this House, the government should develop and report annually on a set of social, environmental and economic indicators of the health and well-being of people, communities and ecosystems in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, surprisingly, I have had indications from a number of members that they wish to speak to the motion, which is good news.
I will briefly go over the main points of the intention of the motion, then take whatever questions members may have and then let other members speak to this important issue. This is not the first time I have introduced this idea, and I have spoken in the House on this issue before.
The motion sets out a framework for the government to develop a set of indicators or measurements, and there is certainly debate around which would be better and more applicable, so that at the end of each year, or some time during a calendar year, we could provide reports to the people of Canada that would provide objective information concerning the economy of the country, the state of the environment and measures that would deal with social well-being.
I realize there have been some concerns expressed, such as health indicators being an encroachment into provincial jurisdiction. However I want to assure members of the House that when I first began this odyssey I naively thought I could sit down with a group of people and develop these indicators. I quickly came to the conclusion, after one particular meeting at which we talked about the spiritual value of a candle flame for an hour, that it was probably better left to people who knew what they were doing.
A couple of people have been of tremendous help. I have to say again that this certainly was not my idea. This idea has been around since Marilyn Waring, a very insightful politician from New Zealand who in the 1970s started talking about the problems associated with how we measure progress.
I want to pay tribute to and thank Mike Nickerson, a gentleman from Merrickville, Ontario, who has written extensively and devoted a great part of his adult life to the issue of sustainability. I also want to thank Ron Colman from Atlantic Canada who developed a genuine progress index that I think goes a long way toward solving what types of things we might go about measuring and how we might go about measuring them.
Canadians can be proud of those people and others in that they have undertaken this issue as almost their life's ambition and have provided us with a tremendous foundation of what we need to do.
As I was looking through the material on this issue, I came across a wonderful document that was produced in the early 1990s called “Energy Efficiency Trends in Canada”. It contains over 100 pages and breaks down indicators for energy use. It is fascinating reading. It gives us very clear insight into the fact that although Canada is a large country and, in absolute terms, has an abundance of resources, even if we take into consideration climate and geography, Canadians are energy hogs. We are using far more energy in this country on a per capita basis than could ever be available if the third world even started approaching anything remotely close to our standard of living.
If we had known that in the early 1990s, had that been in the public domain and had we had a concerned citizenry, I think it would have closed the loop in terms of governments looking at energy policy and coming up with energy policies taking that into consideration. Ignoring the fact that we have waste streams associated with that, sooner or later we will run out of energy. The costs of running out and the problems associated with that would certainly be minimized if we were to start addressing the problem sooner rather than later.
In terms of the history of this initiative, my own personal involvement is directly tied to Peter Bevan-Baker, a candidate who ran for the Green Party in, I think, every provincial and federal election in my riding for a little over a decade. I would attend these debates initially as a policy advisor to my father who was the candidate and the member, and then myself.
I was always struck with the passion of Mr. Bevan-Baker's arguments. I talked to him after one of the debates and told him that I did not disagree with anything that he had to say in terms of where he thought we needed to go as a country. Where I had the problem, I told him, and I guess this is rooted back into my academic background, which is business, is that we had to get from (a) to (b in a way that people would accept it and support it.
One of the paradoxes that confronts governments is that some of the decisions they would have to make transcend an election cycle, which means there has to be an informed public that will support some tough decisions over the course of five to ten years. The public must have confidence that the government has taken the steps that will result in the outcomes that are being predicted.
I think a set of tracking indicators would be the first step and the first step only to putting in place a structure where if governments are serious about addressing energy efficiency or energy usage in this country, if they are serious about attacking problems, such as illiteracy and poverty, then we need a way to demonstrate to Canadians that the policies that are being supported by their tax dollars are actually making the situation better instead of worse.
I would argue that one of the problems we have now is that we do not have such a tracking mechanism. What we have is an extreme bias toward economic indicators. I am not saying that those are necessarily bad. What I am saying is that they do not give the total pictures.
The analogy I like to use is that the government is driving a bus full of Canadians and all the Canadians are staring at is this phenomenon. I think anyone who has driven a vehicle would understand that there are a few other things we should be keeping our eye on, such as looking out the window and taking a look at the state of our society, the sustainability of rural communities and the state of the environment. I think at the end of the day, if we were to sit Canadians down, those would be the things that they would say they value.
Unfortunately, in this society we tend to measure what we value and value what we measure. The bias there is toward economics. Certainly interest rates are a wonderful test of the functioning of an economy, the health of an economy and the confidence that capital markets have in an economy.
Gross domestic product is a measure that is widely used. However we must keep in mind, although I do not want to belabour the point, the GDP makes no distinction between good expenditures and bad expenditures. Investments in education count the very same in a GDP calculation as the costs associated with an automobile accident.
It becomes very clear that although we need economic indicators to influence an input, the decision making that goes into public policy, we certainly do not want to have that be the only thing. I would argue that although they may consider other measures the bias exists. That is what the motion, hopefully, will have the House deal with, that we have to bring some balance.
The flawed assumption in the current state of measurement or how we measure well-being is that we are making an assumption that economic activity and even economic growth directly correlate to improved quality of life and well-being in this country. I would argue to anyone that that assumption is flawed. It is not the case. Growth for the sake of growth, if we are not protecting the environment, energy use patterns, although we may be able to accept economically because of the abundance of resources in this country, over the long term will have a detrimental effect on future generations.
What the motion tries to do is expand the measure of wealth. I am not naive enough to suggest that this is an easy thing to do. I would also argue that Statistics Canada, one of the best data collecting agencies in the world, is around the corner. I think a cursory search of secondary information probably could put together a fairly good set of indicators of information, such as “Energy Efficiency Trends in Canada”, a 110 page document that we are already doing. We just need to correlate it, put it together and present it to Canadians.
We must keep in mind what the end game is here. What I hope will happen is that by reconnecting to Canadians, much like the deficit fight, when we reflect on that in a non-partisan way in terms of how a government cuts $42 billion in spending and then goes up in the polls, I think people were tracking it.
People took an interest in it, understood the importance of it and had a measure to which to hold their government accountable. I do not want to start a debate about the rightness or wrongness of the measures that they took to cut the money, but at the end of the day I think the Canadian population has shown a tremendous capacity to support responsible action in government.
However the key and the first step is to provide objective information and put that in the hands of Canadians. I have faith and trust that Canadians will hold their governments accountable according to the things they value. Although they value the interest rate, they also value minimizing the number of people living in poverty in the country. They value the state of the water and air in our environment, and this measure is a first step to hold governments accountable.
If governments find they have to move on environmental issues, for example, we will be unable to improve the state of the environment unless we take some rather drastic steps. We have to look at tax shift. We have to quit taxing things that we want to have happen and not taxing things that we do not want to have happen. We have to look at our tax system and how we can use it in a classical motivation model to encourage the proper behaviours.
Just to give a quick example of how some of these things might work, Germany has legislation called lifetime product stewardship legislation. Essentially under the plan companies that make consumer products, when those products are no longer useful, the companies have to take them back. They are not stuck at the curb for a truck to pick up and dump in a landfill site.
A number of things happen when this is done. We find that German manufacturing now is much less complicated. To the people at home who are perhaps watching this on television, take a minute and look in the back of the television set. Why in God's green earth do we have 17 or 18 different kinds of screws in a television? What we find under regimes where consumer products are manufactured with lifetime product stewardship legislation in place is they simplify, reuse and recycle. Over 30% of the parts in BMW cars are now recycled parts.
At the end of the day it may seem like a rather intrusive move into markets by government but this initiative is supported not only by the David Suzuki Foundation, it is also supported by the Canadian Chemical Producers' Association because they are looking for a set of rules. Nobody benefits if legislation allows people to pollute. The good companies that want to do the right thing are eventually put under price pressure to make changes which are not in the best interest of society.
At the end of the day, pollution pays. We have to address this a different way and there are things that government can do with the tax system. I am convinced we will turn this ship and start aiming it in the right direction but, again, the key is to have the Canadian public on side. The first step to doing that is to provide them with the most objective information about the things they value economically, socially and environmentally.