Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to discuss Bill C-57, an act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act.
I would like to begin by thanking everyone who has helped shape Bill C-57. The contributions of many hon. members and senators have been invaluable to the process, and the bill reflects the hard work and collaborative efforts of many individuals.
In particular, I appreciate the Hon. Senator Griffin's efforts in sponsoring this bill and her ongoing support as it has moved forward. I would also like to thank members of the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources for their thoughtful review and valuable insights.
Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to recognize the work of members of the House, including members of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, whose unanimous second report, “Federal Sustainability for Future Generations”, served as the foundation for Bill C-57. I look forward to the chamber's discussion of the Senate's amendments to the bill.
Today, I want to start by outlining the importance of the Federal Sustainable Development Act and how Bill C-57 seeks to improve upon the current version of the legislation. Then I will highlight some of the most recent documents we have released under the current act. Finally, I wish to outline our position on the amendments made in the Senate.
First, I will give some of the background. the Federal Sustainable Development Act was the result of a 2008 private member's bill. This was sponsored by the Hon. John Godfrey, former member of Parliament for Don Valley West. The act set out a number of requirements for federal action on sustainable development, including the creation of a federal sustainable development strategy and releasing a report on progress against the strategy every three years. These strategies and reports have been instrumental in guiding, tracking and reporting on Canada's actions on sustainable development in a transparent and accountable manner.
The catalyst for amending the original Federal Sustainable Development Act, as I mentioned previously, was the study conducted by the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development. Bill C-57 responds to the thoughtful recommendations of that committee's report and would update the act to better reflect Canada's current priorities on sustainable development.
The bill proposed to expand the scope of the act and provide a whole-of-government approach to sustainable development. It includes more than 90 departments and agencies and provides the opportunity to add other entities in the future as well. This will help to ensure that the federal sustainable development strategy reflects the Government of Canada's ongoing commitment to sustainable development.
All federal organizations bound by the act will contribute to developing future federal sustainable development strategies and progress reports. The collaborative, whole-of-government approach to sustainable development will provide greater openness and transparency about our actions relating to sustainability.
Further, each federal organization will table its own sustainable development strategies and progress reports in Parliament. This will allow parliamentarians and relevant committees to review the progress of organizations and hold them to account for meeting their targets and goals.
At the heart of Bill C-57 are a number of important principles that would guide progress reports and strategies. For example, the principle of intergenerational equity, that it is important to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, provides an important context for the federal government's contribution toward sustainable development.
Other principles embedded in Bill C-57 include the principle of openness and transparency, the principle of collaboration and the principle of results and delivery. These principles will help guide the development of tangible, relevant and achievable goals and targets. The bill would also require targets in the federal sustainable development strategy be measurable and time-bound.
The bill would contribute to increased demographic representation and indigenous partnership. It would do this in three main ways, the first being through a new principle which would recognize the importance of involving indigenous peoples, because of their traditional knowledge and unique connection to Canada's lands and waters. Second, it would increase the number of indigenous representatives on the Sustainable Development Advisory Council from three to six. Finally, it would require demographic considerations such as age and gender be taken into account when appointing representatives to the council.
Bill C-57 is an important and inclusive step forward in the government's commitment to sustainable development.
Earlier this year, the bill was unanimously passed through the House with the support of all parties. I sincerely hope we can repeat that once more when it comes time for a final vote.
Our work on sustainable development continues. On December 3 of this year, we tabled the 2018 "Progress Report on the 2016 to 2019 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy” and launched public consultations on the draft 2019 to 2022 strategy. These products present results on where the federal government is in achieving its sustainable development targets and outline the environmental sustainability targets and actions it is proposing to take over the next three years.
We all wish to see a healthy, prosperous, safe and sustainable Canada, regardless of party, and considerable progress has been made toward achieving this vision over the past few years. The recently tabled progress report on the 2016 to 2019 federal sustainable development strategy helped show just how far we had come.
For example, the 2018 progress report shows that we may have met one target and are on track to meet the majority of the other targets laid out in the 2016 to 2019 development strategy. For instance, as of December 2017, almost 8% of coastal and marine areas have been conserved, on track to reach our target of 10% by 2020.
The government is also leading by example by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from federal government buildings and fleets. We have achieved a 28% reduction in GHG emissions relative to 2005 levels, more than halfway to the target of 40% by 2030. The progress report highlights that we are well on our way to achieving this ambitious target.
Just as important, we have identified areas where we need to improve. For example, the progress report reveals that we have some work to do on protecting terrestrial areas and inland waters. To this end, the $1 billion Canada nature fund announced in budget 2018 will help set us back on the path to achieving our target of protecting 17% of terrestrial areas and inland waters by 2020.
This is one of the crucial contributions of the goals and targets in the federal sustainable development strategy and its subsequent reports on progress. They set a path forward and then tell us exactly how we have done and where we need to focus our ongoing efforts. Sustainable development is and will remain a priority for our government, and these strategies and progress reports ensure accountability in meeting our targets.
As I mentioned, the draft 2019 to 2022 federal sustainable development strategy has been released for public consultation. The strategy includes the participation of 16 voluntary organizations beyond the 26 mandated by the act. The draft strategy builds on the 2016 to 2019 strategy. It proposes targets, milestones and actions supporting 13 aspirational, long-term goals that reflect the Canada we want.
We expect to hear from a number of partners, stakeholders and Canadians whose input helped shape past strategies and will continue to be instrumental in helping to shape the 2019 to 2022 strategy.
As hon. members know, some of those partners and stakeholders include the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, the House and Senate committees, which are responsible for regularly dealing with the environment, and the Sustainable Development Advisory Council. Our consultations are open until early April 2019 and we expect to hear from these groups and many other Canadians who are passionate about the environment and sustainable development.
This brings me to the amendments made in the Senate recently. The Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources welcomed the bill and there was a fruitful discussion and debate on its various clauses. I thank everyone once again for the thoughtful deliberation. I would like to point out that the dialogue between the two Houses is a fruitful exercise in my opinion. I know the Senate considered the bill in a thoughtful manner and proposed certain amendments, which I am happy to address.
Three amendments were agreed to in the Senate. The first amendment was made to broaden the mandate of the Sustainable Development Advisory Council. This change would allow council members to give advice on sustainable development matters beyond those referred to them by the minister. The Council would, however, continue to focus on the products set out in the Federal Sustainable Development Act. The government is going to accept this amendment.
The second amendment, however, poses certain problems. The amendment to clause 8 seeks to reinsert a section of the Federal Sustainable Development Act that Bill C-57 in its initial form removed. That section deals with performance-based contracts within the Government of Canada. It states that these contracts shall include provisions for meeting the applicable targets referred to in the federal sustainable development strategy and the departmental sustainable development strategies. This section was repealed under Bill C-57 for a number of reasons.
The debate on the issue at the time that the original act was being considered reflects how unclear this section was, and still is. The Hon. John Godfrey, who I mentioned was the initial sponsor of the bill that resulted in the Federal Sustainable Development Act, said that this clause could be interpreted as a contract with an employee or a contract with a construction company. This confusion remains today. Having practised as a litigator in my career before politics, certainty in the meaning of legislation is essential so folks can understand exactly what their obligations are.
Some witnesses who have come before the House and the Senate have interpreted this clause as pertaining to performance agreements with senior officials. Others have interpreted it as pertaining to procurement contract and particularly green procurement. A clause without clarity is not one that should be in a bill.
If Parliament is concerned about procurement, the Treasury Board Secretariat's policy on green procurement already aligns environmental objectives to the departments' procurement activities, meaning this section's inclusion in the bill would be redundant and unnecessary.
Moreover, subclause 10.1, a new addition under Bill C-57, explicitly recognizes the power of the Treasury Board in establishing policies or issuing directives applicable to the sustainable development impacts of designated entities. The proposed amendment not only reinserts an already problematic clause, but it makes it even more problematic, extending it far beyond Bill C-57's intended purpose by entering into the realm of the employer's relationship with public servants. The amendment specifically adds employment contracts to the language on performance-based contracts. It says that these contracts shall include provisions for meeting the applicable goals and targets referred to in the federal sustainable development strategy and any organizational strategy.
It is the government's view that the reference to those contracts are outside the scope of the intent of Bill C-57 and it would be inappropriate to insert such prescriptive wording into the bill. Employment contracts are a matter for Treasury Board as an employer and they should not be subject to a bill whose purpose is to increase transparency of decision-making relating to sustainable development.
Given the expansive nature of performance-based contracts and employment contracts, it would also be difficult to determine what is meant by the use of these different terms, leaving the section option to difficulties in interpretation, which I flagged could pose problems.
Finally, tying targets directly to employment contracts is problematic because, as we know, the responsibility for meeting goals and targets extends broadly across different federal organizations and sometimes across many levels of government. It is not always the case that one department or one individual has complete responsibility for meeting the federal sustainable development strategy's targets. As a result, I do not think it is prudent to use the legislation to tie targets directly to employment contracts.
Accountability is the backbone of Bill C-57. It is what it is all about. While the intent of this amendment is to increase accountability, which I again thank the Senate for giving thoughtful consideration to, it is the government's view that the amendment could create more problems than it would solve.
As discussed earlier, robust accountability mechanisms are already directly embedded in the bill, and we believe they are more than adequate to meet our objectives. These include oversight by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, the House and the Senate, the Sustainable Development Advisory Council and all Canadians. We release reports to the public on an ongoing basis and ask people for their input and insight.
Given the fact that the proposed amendment is imprecise and open to interpretation, the government does not see the benefit of inclusion and suggests removing it from the bill.
The third amendment that came from the other place deals with consequential amendments to the Auditor General Act. These changes would ensure alignment between the two acts and would seek to reconfirm the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development's role in reviewing the sustainable development actions of federal organizations. The government supports this amendment.
I greatly appreciate the time and effort of everyone involved in reviewing the bill. The Federal Sustainable Development Act is a cornerstone of sustainable development action in Canada, and Bill C-57 is an important update. I ask the House to accept the consequential amendments and the amendment to clause 5, but remove the amendment to clause 8 and send a message to that effect back to the Senate.
In the spirit of co-operation that we demonstrated back in June, when the House voted unanimously to support the bill, I am asking that we show the same spirit of unanimity in supporting this revised bill, so we can ensure the future is sustainable not just for this generation, but for generations to come.