Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in this chamber to participate in the debate on Bill C-57, a bill dealing with sustainable development and the government's environmental policy.
This chamber will soon close and we will proceed to having debates for perhaps a decade or even more in another place. Therefore, I am conscious of the fact that this may be one of the last speeches I have an opportunity to give inside this chamber. I mention that because I think it is important to reflect on sustainability at a broader, deeper level than simply one issue, one particular file.
What sustainability is all about is this Burkean idea that the goods of not only our planet but also our civilization, our society and our country are not things that we just think of as existing in a moment of time purely for our own use. In other words, our relationship to our society regarding the environment ought not to be like that of pillagers who come to get what they can because they are here for a good time, not a long time.
No, sustainability asks us to think of the goods of civilization, of society, as something that we received from our ancestors and in a sense are borrowing from future generations. Therefore, we have to proceed with deference to the experience of those who have gone before us and with respect for those who come after us to seek to preserve the goods of the environment, of civilization, of society, of our institutions. We do that, and this is the conservatism in conserve, with a certain caution that recognizes the fragility of our environment and our institutions. We cannot presume that we can radically change the institutional, societal and environmental reality that we are in, that we can radically change it without perhaps considering the possibility of the consequences that might not immediately come to mind.
What is funny is I was thinking about this speech today and remembering the first time I ever visited a legislature. It was the Alberta provincial legislature. I went in as a young student and was listening at the time to I think it was a Liberal member of the Alberta legislature giving a speech on sustainable development. I thought it was one of the most boring speeches I had ever heard. I hope nobody has that feeling listening to what I have to say. It was not the topic. I am sure it was just maybe some aspect of my own experience in that moment. However, since then, I have come to realize really the importance of the concept of sustainability and what it means for all of us as we seek to preserve the goods of society for the future.
We could talk about a wide range of different policy areas with respect to what the government is doing and observe, I think, a real lack of attenuation to the principle of sustainability. One could identify a number of different policy areas where it is not thinking about the future, about preserving the goods of society, the benefits that were received from the previous government. No, it is thinking only about today. It is thinking about how to get that good headline, how to try and demonstrate something in the moment, but it is not thinking about the long-term impacts.
The most obvious way in which we see this worked out is the government's fiscal approach, its spending. Every time a government makes a spending commitment in the context of a big deficit, it knows, or ought to know, that is not sustainable spending, because it cannot run deficits every year forever. At some point the government comes up against a situation where the interest is so high, the debt is so high, that the government is losing out on investments that it could have been making and cuts become necessary. Deficit spending renders subsequent cutbacks totally inevitable. In other words, it is not sustainable to pursue a fiscal policy, an economic policy, or I would argue an environmental policy that is along the lines of what the government has done.
Therefore, when we talk about sustainable development, I think the first step is to delve into the substance of the principle of sustainability and what that means regarding our long-term planning. When we debate bills in this House where government policies are considered, we should always ask if it is a sustainable approach. That does not just mean in an environmental sense, although it includes in an environmental sense. Are the commitments that are being made commitments that we can sustain?
I was reading about the concept of sustainability. One interesting observation in one of the articles I read was that when a judge makes a decision in court in response to an objection and says “sustained”, it means effectively that the past, the history, the traditions are being sustained in the context of the decision that has been made.
There are so many derivatives of this word when we talk about sustainability that tap into this concept of understanding that we have a past and we have a future. We do not just have a present. This is the sensibility that should in a particular way inform the environmental evaluations and decisions governments make. Governments should think about the environment in a way that recognizes that we have a past and we have a future.
All the decisions we make in totality, and in this context the decisions we make about the environment, should have regard for the kind of life, the quality of life, the quality of existence on this planet and the quality of existence that will exist in our own immediate surroundings. This is particularly important to me when I think about my own kids and the life they will have growing up, but I think it is something that resonates with all members, whether or not they have children of their own.
That is why it was important for us, as a previous Conservative government, to put a strong emphasis on effective environmental action, action that reflected an understanding of this principle of sustainability. The idea of being a Conservative includes the idea of conserving. That is our Burkean philosophical heritage. We seek to preserve the goods of the past and protect them for the good of future generations. That is why we had an effective policy of engagement with the environment.
Despite the failures of the Liberal government, despite the ways, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions targets, they have continued policies in some cases and proposed other failing policies in other cases, the government has it dead wrong when it comes to how it characterizes the approach we took when it came to sustainable development.
Let me just emphasize, in that context, that when it comes specifically to the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, in the 10 years of previous governments, including the previous Liberal government, which signed on to the Kyoto protocol, greenhouse gas emissions in Canada went up. Under the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper, we brought in binding sector-by-sector regulatory targets that were intensity based. These are often badly mischaracterized by my friends across the way.
I remember the last time I spoke about the environment my friend from Spadina—Fort York said that these were just suggestions to industry, that these were just requests for it to reduce emissions. Let us be clear. They were not. The regulations that were put in place under the previous government were effective, intensity-based, binding regulations in critical sectors that had a tangible impact.
We saw through that period a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and that is a fact that is, unlike other facts related to this issue, a fact that is not disputed by my colleagues across the way. It is very clear that under the previous government, there was a total reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Surely that has some relationship to the policies pursued by the government. On the other hand, the party opposite really wants to explain away the achievements of our previous government with respect to concrete reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
What are the explanations the Liberals will come up with? Typically, they will use two different explanations. First they will say that emissions only went down because of the global recession. They will also say that emissions only went down because of things that happened at the provincial level. What do we make of those two arguments the party opposite uses to explain away the accomplishments of the previous government with respect to environmental sustainability in the area of greenhouse gas emissions?
In terms of the global financial crisis, it is worth observing, parenthetically, that this is the only case in which the Liberals will acknowledge the existence of the global financial crisis. When they are talking about the economic record of the previous government, how we managed Canada's economy through a time of significant global financial challenge, the Liberals will say that all the economic challenges Canada faced in those years were somehow the result of actions of the previous government, which everyone knows is not true. Everyone knows that the challenges Canada's economy faced during that period were the result of very obvious, very well-known global economic trends that had an impact here in Canada. Because of steps the government took, Canada was relatively less affected by those events. Nonetheless, Canada was affected, and there was a response in terms of a fiscal stimulus that was appropriate in the context of those times.
It was the Liberals in opposition who were actually saying we should spend more. They were constantly calling for bigger deficits and for more spending, not for the prudent, measured and sustainable approach we took in that case. Our approach in responding to the global financial crisis was sustainable in the fiscal sense that we recognized that it was necessary to run deficits but that it was also necessary to return to balanced budgets as quickly as possible. We positioned ourselves in advance by paying off substantial amounts of debt in the years leading up to that global financial crisis. Often the figures we hear from the current government with respect to the total amount of debt during that period are significantly off the mark.
In any event, when it comes to the Liberals' discussion of how we responded to economic challenges, they will completely ignore the global financial crisis, but then when they talk about the real achievements the previous government realized with respect to greenhouse gas emissions, the Liberals will say that actually, there was a global financial crisis, so they are going to use that to explain why greenhouse gas emissions went down under the previous government. The Liberals have a hard time explaining, in light of that contention, how it is that Canada was relatively less affected by the global financial crisis as a result of prudent policies pursued here in Canada yet was reducing global greenhouse gas emissions at a time when greenhouse gas emissions globally were going up. Canada's greenhouse gas emissions went down under Stephen Harper, while they went up in the rest of the world during that period, yet we were less affected by the global financial crisis.
It is hard for the Liberals to explain. If they are suggesting that the impact in terms of a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions was simply a response to the global financial crisis, they have a hard time explaining how Canada achieved more on the environmental side yet was less affected by the economic challenges experienced globally. The Liberals' counter-argument, their effort to strip from recognition the reality of the achievements that were made, fails in particular with respect to this argument.
The second argument the Liberals make in their attempt to detract from the real achievements under the previous government in terms of environmental sustainability is that it was only from action at the provincial level. If we look at some of the policies the Liberals trumpet, they talk about the alleged virtues of the Kathleen Wynne Liberal government in Ontario.
Ontarians were not in favour of the policies of that previous provincial government. Ontarians should be aware of how many senior advisers and senior people in general involved in those policies are now involved in advising the Prime Minister. Continually we see Liberal MPs praising the record with respect to environmental policy from the Kathleen Wynne Liberal government. I do not think that was an admirable record when it comes to issues of sustainability. It was clearly a disaster when it comes to fiscal sustainability, but also there were big problems when it comes to environmental sustainability, and Ontarians had their say about that. The Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne came back into the legislature provincially with a grand total of seven seats, which suggests that maybe Liberal MPs should be careful praising its environmental record.