Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill S-216. I will not spend much time talking about the value of granting this change to the law as it would simply make mandatory a practice that already occurs.
I am advised by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development that, as a matter of course, when he delivers his report to the House of Commons he also delivers it to the Senate. We need to be mindful of the fact that if this bill passes, there will be absolutely no change in the practice of the Office of the Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development.
I wish, instead, to speak to the value of the Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development within the Office of the Auditor General. I have nothing but high praise for the Auditor General of Canada. She does laudatory work. It is regrettable that she only has two years left in her mandate. I have had the privilege, since becoming an elected member of Parliament, to spend time with her and I have nothing but high respect for her work. I encourage her to continue in that vein.
The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development reports under the ambit of the Auditor General. There has been a lot of discussion about whether the Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development should be separated away. Regardless of whether that happens in the future, I have nothing but praise for the delivery of the functions of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.
I would like to give particular personal praise to Scott Vaughan, who is a renowned international economist. I had the privilege of working with him when he was working with the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation. He was working on the economic and trade impacts connected with the environment and I was working in the enforcement realm.
Since being elected and since Mr. Vaughan being appointed as commissioner, I had the opportunity to meet with him when he delivered his reports to Parliament and when he appeared before the parliamentary committee to deliver his reports. He is a credible, reputable, highly skilled commissioner. I hope he will continue in that position for many years because he has done an absolutely phenomenal job.
It is incumbent upon both Houses, the Senate and the House of Commons, to ensure the Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development remains independent and well budgeted to continue in the role that he is doing so well.
I had the opportunity to review, through the parliamentary committee, the reports he has delivered over the past year and I have nothing but high regard. I could bring to the attention of the House the report where the commissioner audited the Government of Canada on how well it was delivering on its promised program to reduce climate change. The report of the commissioner said that it was very difficult to audit because there were no clear triggers or measurables in the program to allow him to audit and say whether it was delivering one way or another.
In the cases where it was clear what the government was doing within those programs, he stated that those measures seemed to be falling down on the job. While it may have been well intentioned, the government does not seem to be delivering the reductions that it stated it was delivering. The government has commented on those and promised, as is the case with the process, to do better, to provide better measures and so forth.
What we need to look at is the whole series of reports by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development since the appointment a couple of decades back. We also need to know why that appointment was made and why that office was created. It was in the spirit and intent of federal governance being done in an open and transparent way.
From that standpoint, I commend the government that created the office and the government for continuing the office. I would encourage the present government to embellish the budget for the commissioner because there are so many critical matters facing us: the growing number of toxins being produced, emitted into the environment and not yet controlled; the challenge of tens of thousands of chemicals not yet regulated; the challenge with water management in Canada and whether the Government of Canada is carrying out its role in that avenue; and whether the Government of Canada is delivering in transboundary ways, which is the function and role of the federal government.
One of the most important roles of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development is to receive petitions from citizens across Canada. When they feel that the government is not delivering on its obligations, citizens can file petitions. Those petitions and the results of those investigations are publicly reported and are a good report card on how well the governments at the time are doing.
Whether we need to make it mandatory on the commissioner to report, I would hope that does not introduce a scenario where the Senate might, in any way, interfere with the timely delivery of the reports or the response by the government. However. I would look forward to both houses of Parliament respecting the reports of the commissioner and responding in a far more timely fashion than thus far.
I have the highest regard for the work by the commissioner but, unfortunately, less regard for the governments of the day in delivering and responding on the very credible reports.
I see no reason to go against this bill. I do not see that it adds anything of necessary value. If the Senate feels that perhaps a future commissioner may not look kindly upon reporting to it, the Senate would have some level of security that it too will be able to talk first-hand with the commissioner.
I can say nothing except that it is good news to hear that the Senate values the work of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and would like to have the opportunity to dialogue with the person who holds that office in the same way that the parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development has that opportunity.
I look forward to the report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, which will be tabled, I believe, this week, and our committee will have an opportunity to meet face to face with the commissioner.