Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill S-210, An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act (involvement of Parliament). I am, of course, in support of this act. Its purpose is to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act so as to ensure the full involvement of both Houses of Parliament on these very important issues.
This bill would require that reports tabled to the House of Commons under the current Federal Sustainable Development Act by the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development must be tabled to both Houses of Parliament. Currently, as written, the act does not require these reports to be tabled in the Senate, nor are they required to be referred to committees of the Senate.
The second part of the bill seeks to amend the Auditor General Act to enable the Auditor General and the Commission of the Environment and Sustainable Development to make more than one report in a year. For example, if a key issue comes up on which they wish to report after their annual report, under this amendment, this act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development and Auditor General Act, the Auditor General would have that power to make more than one report.
How did the requirement for this bill come about? The requirement to report to the Senate and Senate committees was in the original bill, as written. Amendments at committee were made to remove the Senate, one of our key Houses of Parliament. I would contend that the committee members who sought those amendments were making two key mistakes. The first mistake was to underestimate the challenge of sustainability, which is the challenge of our generation and of our century. The second mistake was to underestimate and undermine the importance of the Senate and senators in addressing these critical issues of sustainability and sustainable development.
I am pleased that those mistakes would be rectified by this bill. I hope all members of this chamber will support Bill S-210.
I consider this bill not simply to be a housekeeping or correction bill or a technical amendment. I consider it very significant legislation in that it would restore the Senate to its rightful position as being a very important body, an important group of senators who bring wisdom to the table, people who have addressed some of the very complex issue of our time over many generations. Currently, senators address issues as various and complex as equity for aboriginal people, accountability of government, budgets and fiscal management, Canada's role in the world, veterans, human trafficking, the health of Canada's democratic institutions, defence and security, human rights, immigration, official languages, combating poverty, the environment and health care. All of the important complex issues of our day are thoughtfully addressed by senators and the Senate chamber with a view to improving people's lives and making a contribution to the public good. So, restoring the role of the Senate is a very important aspect of this legislation.
Second, sustainable development, as I have named it, the challenge of our generation, is a hugely critical and complex issue. What do we mean by sustainable development? I will reiterate the most common definition. From the Brundtland report, known as “Our Common Future”, sustainable development is defined thus:
Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Sustainable development, using this definition, requires that we think of the world as a system and our part in it as a system where what we do impacts others and other places and other times.
When we think of the world as a system, we realize that what happens in Alberta with oil sands development can affect the Arctic. We realize that what we do today can affect future generations. It is that realization that drives so many Canadians to be thinking of how we can address this challenge of our times.
The people of my constituency, Vancouver Quadra, are very concerned and engaged in working to meet the challenges of our time with sustainable development. From Southlands to Kitsilano, to Shaughnessy, Kerrisdale and the Musqueam lands, from Marpole through Arbutus, through Dunbar around UBC to Point Grey, the people of Vancouver Quadra are educated and engaged. They care about the health of our democracy, the issues of the day and sustainability.
The challenge of stewarding water for future generations, for example, is complex and it requires both Houses of Parliament, the House of Commons and the Senate, and the Canadian people to thoughtfully address and meet the challenges and sustain water for our future generations.
For example, in Vancouver Quadra I received well over 1,000 letters, emails and postcards calling on me to assist with ensuring that our Pacific north coast inland waters will be protected from oil spills. This is not about stopping economic development. This is about sustainable economic development. It is about the 56,000 jobs in fisheries and tourism on the Pacific coast that depend on the environment being clean.
In response to this campaign, I have worked with a number of parliamentarians and the Liberal leader has committed to a permanent ban on tanker traffic, where, I might add, there has never been tanker traffic in that area and we want to keep it that way. There are other transportation routes for our products from Alberta to go east to Asia. Those transportation routes will be able to handle capacity for many years to come and, therefore, it is not worth the risk to our waters to have super tankers in those dangerous and vulnerable waters.
The challenges of stewarding biodiversity for future generations is complex and requires both Houses of Parliament, the House of Commons and the Senate, and the Canadian people to be thoughtfully engaged and meet the challenges of sustaining biodiversity for future generations.
Many people in Vancouver Quadra are concerned about the fisheries and salmon. Runs have been unpredictable and the trend lines have been down. Many top-notch researchers at UBC are addressing the issues of salmon and any people in Vancouver Quadra have come out to my town hall meetings to hear about their research. People in Vancouver Quadra and Marpole have worked for decades to protect the riparian areas of the Fraser River, which is an important salmon habitat. It is not about stopping development or salmon aquaculture. It is about creating sustainable economic development.
These issues are complex, whether it is water, biodiversity, climate change or the involvement of our first nations so that the gap between the achievement of first nations in education and health and non-first nations is closed and those communities are fully engaged in sustainable economic development. These are complex challenges.
We need both chambers, the House of Commons and the Senate, to give thoughtful reflection and address these complex issues for the benefit of Canadians. This bill is directed to ensuring that the Senate fulfills its important role of engaging Canadians to find solutions to these challenges of our generation.