Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate today at report stage of Bill S-210.
This bill was originally Bill S-216. It came to the House of Commons from the Senate and was sent to committee, where unfortunately discussion was stopped when Parliament was prorogued. It has now been reinstated. When Parliament is prorogued, the Senate can bring the same bill forward as long as it is identical to the original one and as long as it is done within 60 days. It then goes through the same procedure in the House. The bill is now at report stage and is being supported by all parties. That is a positive situation.
This bill would amend two acts, the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act. It would make primarily housekeeping changes to those acts. I will explain their importance again as well as the importance of the whole initiative at large.
The first change proposed by the bill is that reports would be tabled not only in the House of Commons but also in the Senate and for the Senate committees.
The second change involves the progress reports made by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development at the annual reporting time of the Auditor General. The commissioner gets to do one annual report. This change would allow him or her to report more frequently, just as the Auditor General can report several times a year.
In summary, the bill proposes to make two administrative changes to this important regime. The commissioner's reports would go to both houses of Parliament and he or she could report more than once a year.
I want to commend the member for Kitchener Centre for his bipartisan effort in making sure that we have taken a non-partisan approach to this important issue. As I have previously mentioned, all parties agree on this piece of legislation.
I also want to commend Senator Tommy Banks for his work on this bill in the Senate. This is a historic environmental bill in Canada. It is one of the most important environmental initiatives in our history.
I also want to commend the hon. John Godfrey for his tremendous work in getting the whole regime in place. Mr. Godfrey was my mentor in Parliament, and I was very excited for him to see this regime get through Parliament. The previous speaker has already outlined the tremendous environmental benefits that the regime would provide.
I want to talk about the importance of the two changes that the bill would make.
The first proposed change is that the commissioner's reports would go to the Senate and its committees. This was actually in the original regime but for some nefarious reason was eliminated. I am delighted that all parties saw that this was an obvious omission and all worked hard to put this initiative back in the legislation.
Sometimes we in this place and the other place have to remind people that we have a bicameral system in Canada. Like many countries in the world, we have two houses of Parliament. Both houses make sure that legislation, which is the foundation of our social contract and how we run our lives, gets done carefully with all the required checks and balances.
The Senate is of different construction from the House of Commons. One of the advantages of having two different bodies, if we have an understanding of group behaviour and sociology, is that it is good for a separate group that is not under the same influence to have another look at a particular piece of legislation.
The other difference is that the Senate is constructed to represent regions and minorities. Canada is a very huge country. It is the second-largest in the world. Its diverse and exciting regions have to be represented well in this Parliament. That is one of the roles of the Senate.
I represent the Arctic as the official opposition critic. Even the Arctic is not a monolith. The three territories of Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut and the people in those regions, the Inuit, the first nations people, and the Métis, are totally different. We have to ensure that they are represented in our system. In the first past the post system, minorities are not necessarily represented in this House in the same percentages as they are in the population. The Senate has a very important role to represent minorities and to ensure that they are well represented in the affairs of state.
That is a fairly obvious change, and I am sure it will be unanimously supported by every member of both houses.
The second change is that the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development would report more than once a year. The commissioner must have the ability to report more than annually, as is done in the present regime. I think this makes obvious intuitive sense to everyone on something as important as environmental change. As we know, environmental change can occur very quickly and drastically. This is crucial information. The ability to report more than just once a year would make eminent sense in the running of our great nation.
I had hoped that there would be in this debate, perhaps by the researchers of one of our four parties or even the commissioner himself, an outline of some of the reports, the advantages, the progress that has been made, and some of the failures. There was a reference earlier in the debate to a failure a number of years ago by the Department of Finance. Both the successes and the failures can show the advantages of reporting more than once a year, how this great success story could be used by other departments, or how some failure could be stopped in its tracks.
Not having real examples, I can only think of a couple of possibilities that might occur. Let us say a department in its operations was using a cleaning or air conditioning or some other chemical that all of a sudden was determined by Health Canada to be very toxic or cancerous. If some departments removed it quickly but others did not, that report coming sooner than later would certainly help remove some disastrous human health consequences.
As another example, let us say a huge district heating project was started near a federal building and a particular department of that federal building could have accessed that particular project and did not. That would be a fait accompli that could not be reversed if we had to wait a year for the report. However, if it were done quickly, the commissioner could bring up that point and the department could move ahead and make that change.
In conclusion, I would just say I am very happy that we have all-party support for these very important changes to a very important bill. Everyone knows the dramatic effects of climate change on the whole country, but especially on the north. We only have to look at last month's Canadian Geographic on climate futures and all the disastrous consequences. This bill and the reports of the department are certainly working as leaders for the country. If we do not do it as government, then we cannot expect other governments that are trying to do this, and businesses and private citizens, to move forward on making Canada sustainably developed.