Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to Bill S-210. It is a bill, as we were saying earlier, that originated in the Senate, was introduced in the Senate, and is today being studied in this House.
This bill is quite simple. It amends two acts, the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act. It makes two amendments, including one that simply would have the commissioner table reports not only in the House of Commons but also in the Senate. That is the first amendment in the bill we are studying today.
The second amendment would give the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development the possibility of tabling reports more than once a year on the progress made by the government in matters of the environment and sustainable development.
We will support this bill. Why? Because these amendments are quite simple. This is part of what we might call a new environmental governance that leaves more room for independence and assessment. Why? Because Canada has given itself a number of tools and instruments in the past few years.
For example, Canada now has environmental indicators it can use to assess the government's progress in a number of sectors from water to forestry. These tools are available to us.
We have to ensure that there is more accountability and more independent auditing, and that the commissioner can play an increasingly significant role.
I remember when a sustainable development bill was passed a few years ago. It was a Liberal member, John Godfrey, who introduced the initiative. He received the support of all political parties, with a few amendments of course. Why? Because it was high time we responded to all of the big international summits, all of the Earth summits from Johannesburg to Rio, by coming up with a sustainable development strategy.
However, a few months ago, after the government decided to respond to the passing of the bill, we realized that it had introduced its own sustainable development strategy. A close look at that strategy reveals that it contains no quantitative or numerical targets that would make it possible to really assess the government's progress. It does contain targets, but they are not clear and quantitative targets. They are just qualitative targets.
We have to give the auditor more tools to assess sustainable development progress.
This is not the first time we have wanted the Commissioner of the Environment to pay a larger part in various laws. Among others, I am thinking of Bill C-288, which was introduced by the member for Honoré-Mercier. That was a bill to implement the Kyoto accord and to get the Commissioner of the Environment involved. There was also Bill C-311, the climate change bill, which was a response given at the end of the Kyoto accord and an attempt to follow up on it.
Once again, parliamentarians tried to give the commissioner more tools to assess the government's progress.
This is important, because the Commissioner of the Environment has already looked at how the government carries out and applies its sustainable development policy.
I remember a report from the Commissioner of the Environment, when the government was examining the application of the strategic environmental assessment as part of its sustainable development policy. There is a directive from the Prime Minister's Office, dating back to 1994, which requires all departments to carry out impact assessments. Those are what we refer to as strategic environmental assessments.
These ensure that all departments' three Ps—policies, plans and programs—are consistent with sustainable development. Each policy, plan and program must be assessed by the department, looking not only at sustainable development, but also at environmental protection and social development.
What did the Commissioner of the Environment observe a few years ago? I remember the title of one of the chapters from the commissioner's report. It had to do with assessing the application of sustainable development within the Department of Finance. Talking about strategic environmental assessments, the commissioner at the time, Johanne Gélinas, titled the chapter, “Greening the tax system: Finance Canada dragging its feet”. If there is one fundamental department within a government, it is the finance department. And the tabling of the budget is a crucial time for parliamentarians, because the budget makes it possible to guide policies and utilize the tax system to bring about social and environmental governance.
What the commissioner basically indicated was that the Department of Finance was not applying the strategic environmental assessment to its policies, programs and plans. What are the consequences? The Canadian government tells us that it is important to protect the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, at the same time, the finance minister provides tax breaks to the oil industry. On the one hand, the government says we must protect the environment, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change but, on the other, it uses an available tool, taxation, to give breaks such as depreciation deductions to an industry that is a major contributor to increased greenhouse gas emissions.
Had the Department of Finance respected the 1994 directive from the Prime Minister's Office requiring the Department of Finance to conduct an environmental assessment of its policies, governance would probably be quite different.
That is why we have to give the Commissioner of the Environment a bigger role to play. We have to make sure that we really get independent audits, independent being the operative word because that is what will be used to guide all sectors in Canadian and Quebec society. I am talking about independent audits, but also independence for the media and scientists. The point is that we have to make sure policy is not influenced by vested interests.
That is why we have to amend the Sustainable Development Act to give the commissioner more powers, and at the same time, the government has to be aware that when the so-called environmental watchdog sends out clear messages and strongly recommends that the government do something different, the government has to listen. The more reports the Commissioner of the Environment produces, the better governance will be, as long as this government decides to listen to independent advice and respect the people's wishes to build a sustainable society for the future.