Mr. Speaker, I would like to clearly state the Bloc Québécois' position on Bill C-474, not only at the report stage, but now at third reading as well.
I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of this bill, although not without some reservations.
We have talked about this at length. This bill calls for the following: the development and implementation of a national sustainable development strategy; the reporting of progress against a standard set of environmental indicators; and the appointment of an independent commissioner of the environment and sustainable development accountable to Parliament. This bill sets specific goals with respect to sustainable development in Canada and makes consequential amendments to another Act.
Clearly, the purpose of Bill C-474, introduced by the hon. member for Don Valley West, is to develop a sustainable development strategy based on the precautionary principle and to create a position of commissioner of the environment and sustainable development that would be independent of the Office of the Auditor General. In any case, that was the original idea, to create an independent commissioner position. We will see this later. As the hon. member for Don Valley West said earlier, everyone has made some compromises, including the Bloc Québécois. It was not, and is still not, our first choice, far from it, but we agree with the bill on the whole.
The bill also provides for the creation of an advisory council on sustainable development tasked with advising the federal government on the national sustainable development strategy that will be developed.
Although the Bloc Québécois supported Bill C-474 in principle, it still felt that the bill needed a number of improvements. Indeed, in its first incarnation, the bill had some serious flaws in terms of respect for Quebec's exclusive jurisdiction.
In fact, as originally drafted, the bill enabled the federal government to unilaterally set Canada-wide targets in many areas for which the Government of Quebec has responsibility, including the rate of recycling, use of agricultural land and urban development. These provisions were unacceptable to Quebec, and the Bloc Québécois said as much. The Bloc Québécois always defends the interests of Quebec and the Government of Quebec, so we obviously had to oppose these amendments.
That did not prevent us from supporting the principle of a federal sustainable development strategy. However, from the outset, that strategy should have applied only to areas of federal jurisdiction and the actions of federal institutions. Consequently, as usual, the Bloc Québécois worked constructively to correct the deficiencies in Bill C-474.
We proposed an approach based on cooperation between the federal government, Quebec and the provinces, whereby all the governments could adjust their policies so as not to interfere with each other. Most importantly, we proposed that the federal government absolutely respect Quebec's jurisdictions.
Too often, the federal government interferes in Quebec's jurisdictions. It constantly creates federal initiatives that not only duplicate what Quebec is already doing, but sometimes negate the effectiveness of Quebec's own initiatives. The bill reflected this “Ottawa knows best” attitude.
Fortunately, the member for Don Valley West had an open mind and very early on adopted a cooperative attitude that led to improvements to the bill.
Still, it would be wrong to say that the bill is perfect. The Bloc Québécois feels that it could have been improved further, especially as regards the actions of the departments.
Specifically, the Bloc Québécois feels that the strategies developed by the various departments should have included a requirement to conduct an environmental assessment of policy, plan and program proposals. Currently, only the cabinet directive on the environmental assessment of policy, plan and program proposals requires that departments conduct such assessments, and this requirement is too often ignored.
Moreover, this was among the findings in the report the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development tabled in March 2008. I had prepared some lengthy quotes, but suffice it to say that the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development confirmed both that there is a lack of political will and that the directive is unevenly applied.
The Bloc Québécois wished to create a mandatory legal obligation to fix the problem.
As for the other problems with the bill in its original form, the vast majority of them have been corrected. The bill now applies only to the federal government, its departments and institutions. As well, it is more precise and respectful in its terminology, speaking of aboriginal peoples instead of restricting consultations to first nations alone.
Unfortunately, the bill was gutted in committee: the Commissioner of the Environment, who was supposed to be independent and subject to the same conditions as the Auditor General, who is appointed under the Auditor General Act, will not be. He will remain part of the Auditor General's Office.
The Bloc Québécois is disappointed with this outcome. We argued strongly in favour of the independence of the Commissioner of the Environment, both from the government as well as from the Office of the Auditor General, to which he now reports.
Again, this position is much too important not to be granted the same status as the position of Auditor General. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development must be able to carry out audits, conduct reviews and make recommendations objectively, in the same way as the Commissioner of Official Languages, and cannot simply examine the department's financial statements and look at whether it is following procedures. The commissioner must be able to require real action to protect the environment.
The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-474. The federal government must adopt a sustainable development strategy in order to limit its actions and the actions of its departments and agencies. The Bloc Québécois realizes, however, that a lot remains to be done to ensure that the environment is truly respected. This includes making the position of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development truly independent.
The national sustainable development strategy must include some standards. It should also include implementation strategies for meeting all of the targets. These include caps on emissions, by sector and region, that are consistent with the targets; economic instruments; and an emission trading system with a declining cap.
The strategy has a number of goals, including the one in clause 5(2)(d), which says, “Canada should become globally renowned for its leadership in conserving, protecting and restoring the natural beauty of the nation and the health and diversity of its ecosystems, parks and wilderness areas.”
The Forest Stewardship Council is an organization that certifies forest management. If I may, I would like to say a few words about how we need to consider whether, in addition to the measures in clauses 8 through 11 of the bill, this national development strategy should call on the government to set an example by using only FSC-certified paper.
As I just said, the FSC is an organization that certifies forest management. FSC certification recognizes that forest owners are managing the resource responsibly. They do not clearcut; they reforest and they respect biodiversity within the forest. Certification shows that FSC members have conducted a detailed evaluation.
FSC-certified paper is paper made from fibre from a certified forest. That is the kind of paper we in Parliament, in government, should commit to using, thereby providing a concrete example of sustainable development.
In closing, I would like to congratulate the sponsor of the bill, the member for Don Valley West, and wish him a happy retirement. He has earned the right to say “Mission accomplished.”