Madam Speaker, hon. colleagues, I am delighted to be back in the House of Commons. I am especially pleased to have the privilege of speaking in this new chamber.
I rise today to speak to the Senate's amendments to Bill C-57, an act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act. I want to thank the hon. senators for their time and efforts in reviewing this bill.
I would like to take this opportunity to provide a brief overview of how this bill aligns with the government’s commitments around delivering real results, pursuing goals with a renewed sense of collaboration, and setting a higher bar for transparency. I will continue with a discussion of the amendments adopted by the Senate.
This bill is a reflection of the Government of Canada’s commitment to sustainable development and safeguarding the interests of future generations. We all want a sustainable future for Canada, for our children and for our grandchildren. This bill clearly shows that sustainable development and the environment are at the forefront of government decision making.
This bill ensures that federal organizations bound by the act contribute to the development of federal sustainable development strategies and progress reports. In developing sustainable development strategies, federal organizations are to consider a number of principles, including the principle of intergenerational equity.
The bill indicates that targets must be measurable and include a time frame. That and the inclusion of the principle of results and delivery will help MPs, senators and the general public to keep track of the government's progress in meeting the goals and targets set out in each strategy every three years. This would incorporate the government’s strong focus on results into legislation.
The federal sustainable development strategy and its progress reports are a collaborative effort involving many departments and agencies. Bill C-57 would contribute to an integrated, whole-of-government view of activities supporting environmental sustainability. One way in which this would be achieved is by extending the Federal Sustainable Development Act’s coverage to over 90 federal organizations and enable further expansion of coverage over time.
The sustainable development strategies developed by these federal organizations will support the Federal Sustainable Development Act’s commitment to make environmental decision-making more transparent and accountable to Parliament.
Going forward, parliamentarians and relevant standing committees in both houses would have a greater ability to hold the government accountable for these sustainable development goals and targets. This would give committees a comprehensive view of what government organizations are doing with respect to sustainable development and the results achieved.
This bill received strong support from all parties of the House of Commons, where it was unanimously passed, and I hope that it will continue to be fully supported in the message we will send to the Senate.
I would now like to talk about the Senate's amendments.
First, the Senate agreed to some consequential amendments to bring the Auditor General Act in line with the changes made to the Federal Sustainable Development Act in Bill C-57. This reaffirms the commissioner's role under the Federal Sustainable Development Act and is supported by the government.
A second amendment was made to broaden the mandate of the Sustainable Development Advisory Council and not limit its advice on sustainable development matters to issues referred to it by the Minister of the Environment. Prior to this amendment, the bill stated that council members were to advise the minister on any matter related to sustainable development that is referred to the council by the minister. It is standard practice for ministerial advisory councils to provide advice on issues referred to them by the minister in charge. Defining the mandate of the Sustainable Development Advisory Council within the bill was meant to set clear parameters of its work. Although this amendment goes beyond our original intent, the government can accept it.
The third amendment would reinsert a section of the act that was removed. The current wording of the act stipulates that performance-based contracts with the Government of Canada must include provisions for meeting the applicable goals and targets referred to in the federal sustainable development strategy and the departmental sustainable development strategies.
It is the government's view that this section pertains to procurement. The alignment of procurement to environmental objectives is already included in the Treasury Board’s policy on green procurement, and that is why the government decided to repeal that section.
Also, Bill C-57 introduces section 10.1, which states that the Treasury Board may establish policies or issue directives applicable to designated entities governed by the Federal Sustainable Development Act in relation to the sustainable development impact of their operations. This explicitly recognizes the Treasury Board's role with respect to the impact of government operations on sustainable development.
On top of the fact that it is not appropriate to reinsert this section as written, the amendment further specifies that performance-based contracts include employment contracts and that they should include provisions for meeting the applicable goals and targets referred to in the federal sustainable development strategy as well as any applicable strategy developed under section 11.
The government does not support this amendment as this bill is not the appropriate legislation to prescribe what should be in employment contracts. Employment contracts are not easily defined, given their broad and wide-ranging nature. Moreover, this change is beyond the policy intent of a bill whose purpose is to make decision-making related to sustainable development more transparent and subject to accountability to Parliament.
Given all the provisions in the bill that strengthen other accountability measures, including identifying a minister responsible for each target in the federal sustainable development strategy, and explicitly indicating that the Treasury Board Secretariat may establish policies or issue directives applicable to one or more departments in relation to the sustainable development impact of their operations, the government does not see the benefit of this amendment.
The additional transparency and oversight measures included in this bill will provide enhanced accountability measures for the results achieved. That is why I agree with the minister and I support sending a message to the Senate agreeing with two amendments and disagreeing with the change to clause 8.
Madam Speaker, I welcome the debate on this amendment and your decision.