Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and committee members.
It's a somewhat bizarre experience being a witness at one's own committee, particularly as the only Liberal present. So if you see me dashing over there to ask myself questions and then running back to answer to them, I hope you'll understand that it's because we're trying to economize.
I want to thank everybody for the spirit of cooperation and goodwill that has thus far accompanied the presentation of the bill, particularly at second reading, where all but one member--and I'm working on him--voted to bring the bill to committee. I also want to thank all the parties that have been consulted on the bill. We have tried, as you will see, to amend it accordingly.
A particular thanks goes to the work of the David Suzuki Foundation. I really do have to give credit to that organization for its publication entitled Toward a National Sustainable Development Strategy for Canada, published in January 2007. I have to admit that it was the major source of inspiration for the bill you have in front of you, although we have made, as you'll see, some significant amendments.
I also want to say I have consulted extensively over the months with both the current commissioner for the environment and his predecessor, and I want to thank them for their views. However, they are not to be held responsible for what you see in front of you.
I've also attempted to build within the bill some fairly deep and fundamental scientific principles, which are referenced in clause 5 on “Sustainable Development Goals”. These principles are taken from The Natural Step system conditions to which the other guest, Chad Park, from The Natural Step, will now speak.
Thank you very much, Mr. Godfrey, and Chair. It's a pleasure to be here and to have this opportunity to address the committee.
I am here today to speak to you about the sustainability principles that are in clause 5 of and about why they are a critical component of the bill.
In my role with The Natural Step I've worked with dozens of organizations that have found these principles helpful in sustainability planning, from municipalities as diverse as Whistler in B.C.; to the town of Olds in Alberta; to the Halifax Regional Municipality in Nova Scotia; to associations, small businesses, and community service organizations, such as the Santropol Roulant in Montreal; and to large corporations such as Alcan, The Co-operators, and Nike.
In each of these organizations and communities I've witnessed first-hand the power of having a rigorous set of scientific sustainability principles that act as a compass to provide direction and structure for sustainability change initiatives.
So I want to address three things in my remarks this afternoon: first, where do the principles come from?; second, why are they important generally?; and third, why are they important specifically for this bill?
Before I begin, though, I want to emphasize the essence of my presentation; that is, if we're going to be strategic about sustainability, we need to know where we're headed. We need to know what success is in terms of sustainability.
Let me start with where the principles come from. In the late 1980s, frustrated by seemingly endless public debates about matters of health and the environment, a network of leading Swedish scientists from a variety of disciplines, led by a cancer researcher, Dr. Karl-Henrik Robèrt, engaged in a process of trying to articulate a scientific consensus about the requirements for a sustainable society. Rather than debating each of the requirements in detail, they sought a principle-based definition that was broad enough in scope to encompass all the details with a full systems view. They began by focusing on what they could agree on, rather than what they disagreed about.
After more than twenty iterations of the document, the scientists achieved a consensus, and their findings were endorsed by the King of Sweden. They were mailed out to every Swedish household and incorporated into the curriculum of every Swedish school. The not-for-profit organization called The Natural Step, which I'm involved with, emerged as a vehicle to disseminate this material and to work with governments and businesses to incorporate it into their planning and decision-making.
Since then, the scientific work of that first network of scientists has been scrutinized and elaborated upon by a much larger international network of scientists and published in scientific peer-reviewed journals. The sustainability principles have been adopted by thousands of businesses, governments, and not-for-profit organizations as guiding principles for sustainability. And the process of applying them in this wide variety of organizations has helped to further develop the original material into a tangible, concrete planning framework for decision-making for sustainability.
What is it that the scientists agreed on? I'll spare the committee the details of the rigorous science that underlie the principles except to say that it begins with an understanding of the earth as a system and an acknowledgement of fundamental scientific laws.
By recognizing that the sustainability of life on earth is really about the capacity of natural cycles to run forever and that nature was doing just fine with that until relatively recently, the scientists identified three main ways that we as human beings in a modern industrial society disrupt natural cycles to cause the many problems that end up as headlines in our newspapers. So there are three main ways, and I'm just going to go through each of them as they relate to the three principles in clause 5.
First, we dig up substances from the earth's crust--various minerals, oil and gas, and so on--that have taken thousands or millions of years to be deposited. We then use them in our products and processes and then release them into nature. We do this at a faster rate than nature redeposits those substances back into the earth's crust. As a result, they accumulate in natural systems and eventually cause problems if their concentrations get too high. Too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, mercury in our fish, cadmium in our kidneys, and so on are all examples of that.
From this comes the first sustainability principle, which is mentioned in paragraph 5.(1)(a). Note that the first principle does not say that a sustainable society requires that we not use any material at all from the earth's crust. It does not say that there is no mining in a sustainable society. It does say that whatever materials we use from the earth's crust, we must use them in a way that prevents their accumulation in natural systems. This means using them efficiently and using them in products and processes where they can be recaptured and reused rather than released into the atmosphere, water, or soil.
Second, we combine molecules into new, more complex molecules that nature has never seen before, and we use these complex molecules in products and processes that eventually allow them to be released into natural systems. Because nature has never seen them before, it cannot break them down within its regular cycles, so they too begin to accumulate. From this comes the second principle, which is noted in paragraph 5(1)(b) in the bill.
Again, note that the second principle does not say that there are no chemicals in a sustainable society; it says that a sustainable society will require that we be efficient in our use of them, and most importantly that we use them in ways that allow them to be captured and reused rather than dispersed into nature, where they can accumulate.
Third, we physically degrade nature's ability to run natural cycles by encroaching into natural areas, overharvesting renewable resources, and eroding nature's ability to process our waste. That leads to the third principle, paragraph 5(1)(c).
All of the downstream effects we know and hear about regularly in the news, like climate change, acid rain, deforestation, depletion of fish stocks, and toxins in our toys that accumulate in our tissues, can be traced back to one or more of these three ecological mechanisms. They are all downstream symptoms of more fundamental problems in how our societies are designed.
Now that I've covered the basic principles, I want to talk briefly about why I think they're important. First, while the sustainability principles are the minimum requirements for a sustainable society, they provide direction for efforts to become more sustainable by actually defining what that means.
Because they are based in rigorous yet simple science that everyone can agree with, they help groups of people within and between organizations overcome their differences to form a common shared goal. Also, in organizations that are striving to be innovative and leaders in their adoption of more sustainable practices and technologies, the principles provide the boundaries within which the innovation process can be focused.
The principles are non-prescriptive. They simply tell us the minimum conditions for sustainability and leave individual organizations, communities, and governments to work out what this means for them in their unique situation. Organizations begin to scrutinize each and every decision, whether they are capital decisions, research and development priorities, education programs and so on, for their ability to bring the organization a step closer to alignment with the principles.
We do not need to, nor could we, reach sustainability with any single action or investment, but we can use the principles to scrutinize our investments and programs for how well they are moving us and how well we're being innovative. Without rigorous principles to provide a solid understanding of success, too many well-intentioned efforts in sustainable development become exercises in describing the status quo or justifying marginal improvements on the status quo.
The leaders of the sustainable development movement, in both the public and private sector, are those who can tap into the creative capacity of their people to bring about transformative innovations that create positive social, economic, and environmental outcomes. The sustainability principles help us know what is ultimately required to achieve this.
Now that I've described the principles and why they're important, I want to leave you with why I believe they're important and relevant to this bill.
First, this is clearly a place where there are widely differing views. In such a context, there's a strong need for a shared language for something so important to our nation's future as sustainability. My sense is that this is vitally important, especially considering that governments will change, politicians will come and go, priorities will shift, but the forces driving the need for sustainable development will only strengthen over time.
Second, we want Canada to be a leader in the coming sustainability wave, capitalizing on the capacity of Canadians to be innovative in sustainable development. My sense is that establishing the parameters for that innovative effort is one of the goals of this bill.
Third, we have heard numerous times from the current and previous commissioners of the environment and sustainable development that the federal departmental sustainable development strategies lack a clear sense of what they're striving for. It is no surprise, then, that they often end up being exercises in eloquently describing the status quo or marginal improvements to it.
Rigorous sustainability principles that can be used to derive tangible goals and metrics are vitally important to be able to monitor progress and to be accountable citizens. Legislation is where principles are described, it's where we lay out our aspirations for justice and the principles that guide our actions. Today I've laid out three basic principles that together describe the underlying causes of all our environmental challenges.
In conclusion, I would like to underscore that addressing each problem one by one, after it becomes a threat, is a terrible way to go about society's business. A national sustainable development act is therefore an ideal place to enshrine a core set of sustainability principles, because they will be fundamental to our success over the long term.
That's all. Thank you.
I'm going to be quite brief about presenting some of the changes I'm proposing beforehand so that members will understand what they're talking about--not the previous bill.
As Chad has noted, there's been lots of criticism of various departmental sustainable development strategies over the past few years, of which our own parliamentary secretary, Mr. Warawa, has been critical, the green ribbon panel on the future and the current and former commissioners have been critical, and the former environment minister herself was critical.
There was a particular focus on a lack of an overarching national strategy, and as the commissioner will be saying, I hope, in the second hour, reminding us of his own words of last Thursday and Friday, there is a crucial need for some overarching framework for looking at sustainability. Indeed, on Friday a group of 11 NGOs from the environmental world also laid out the need for government to be accountable through measurable objectives, indicators, and progress reporting.
In the original draft of , there were two objectives. One called for the creation of a national sustainable development strategy--and that stays there. The second was for the creation of an independent commissioner for the environment and sustainable development.
Since the bill was first presented, we have heard concerns from Mr. Lukiwski, Mr. Warawa, Mr. Vellacott, Mr. Jean, and the Speaker of the House that the second point, that is to say the establishment of an independent commissioner, would involve the creation of a new office and spending of new money, and it would require royal recommendation and thus was problematic for a private member's bill. Therefore, I have removed that reference, as you will see in the amended draft, which I hope you've all had, en français et en anglais. That is to say, we will continue to simply use the existing office of the commissioner, as established by the Auditor General Act, so that no royal recommendation is necessary.
A second issue was raised by the Speaker, Mr. Warawa, and Mr. Jean in that creates an advisory council but is silent on the question of its remuneration. Again, this calls into question the need for royal recommendation. As a result, in subclause 7(3) of the amended draft, this concern has been met by explicitly stating that the advisory council cannot be compensated.
So the two main concerns of the Speaker and others have been addressed.
Members, and more particularly Mr. Bigras, Mr. Vellacott and Mr. Jean, have brought up another concern, that of the way in which areas of federal and provincial jurisdiction are treated in the bill and in the schedule.
In recognition of this problem, any reference to the provinces has been removed from section 13. Furthermore, new wording is suggested for subsection 5(2) and paragraph 8(2)(a) of the bill, in order to have a portrait of the state of sustainable development at the national level while respecting those areas which fall under provincial jurisdiction as well as the federal government's specific responsibility vis-à-vis its departments and its policies.
It is essential to work with the provinces if we want to achieve sustainable development in Canada. We therefore invite members to propose amendments to sections 5 and 8 with that in mind.
A final major change, based on criticism from Mr. Jean and confirmed by the current and former commissioners, is that there is a need for division between the development and implementation of a sustainable development monitoring system. Recognizing this, responsibility for development of the monitoring system has been moved to the cabinet secretariat, under paragraph 13(a). This returns the burden of responsibility to the secretariat, with the commissioner responsible for commenting on performance through the reporting process.
In addition to the above, several housekeeping amendments have been suggested to the new draft. For example, we have decided that we don't need to put in a new petitions process; the current process will cover what we need to do. We don't need to have the consequential amendments to the Auditor General Act because we're not changing the role of the commissioner. The commissioner will no longer be required to evaluate whether the draft national sustainable development strategy is likely to meet its target, as this would go beyond the commissioner's role. Instead, he or she will review the strategy and comment as to “whether the targets and implementation strategies are capable of being assessed”.
In conclusion, what I'm trying to do is to move Bill C-474, to begin a process to move Canada towards a path of sustainable development. As Mr. Park has indicated, this is not the final word on how to deal with sustainability; this is a means to initiate a new way of government thinking that will inevitably evolve.
Looking at the schedule at the back of the bill, you will see that the aspirational aspects of it are illustrative and evolving. We are nowhere near the goals outlined in the back of the bill. We will undoubtedly have to work hard, in concert with the provinces, to progress in this direction. Canada has an obligation to its children, its environment, its long-term economic vitality, and its international commitments to establish a national sustainable development strategy.
We want to remind ourselves that other countries have done this--Sweden, the U.K., Norway, and Germany--and we've got a great opportunity ahead of us, as well. So our objective is to get going on the right path.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I am not opposed to the principle behind the bill put forward by Mr. Godfrey, but I believe that several elements will have to be changed in order for it to allow good relations between the provinces and the federal government. There is, among other things, the schedule that sets out the goals and sub-goals flowing from the bill. There is also mention of municipal waste and recycling rates. Quebec has adopted a waste matter policy, but the Canada knows best attitude would have us believe that if it comes from above, from the federal government, then it is better.
I wonder how a sustainable development strategy involving mainly federal responsibilities could be put in place. And I also wonder why, Mr. Godfrey, you have not integrated strategic environmental assessment, which has been around for over 25 years in the federal government. Furthermore, this is a directive from the Prime Minister which should apply to all departments, be it Transport Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, or Health Canada. As a matter of fact, the latest report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development states that Health Canada does not apply strategic environmental assessment.
Rather than have the Environment Commissioner audit the policies which in principle come under the provinces, why have you not required, as some countries do, that the federal government and departments be bound by the law to carry out such an assessment every time they table a plan, policy or program? We have today been presented with regulatory measures. Have they been subject to strategic environmental assessment? Must all departments comply? It seems to me that it would have been preferable to include in the bill a coercive, compulsory, legislative and regulatory approach, rather than calling upon the Commissioner of the Environment to verify if the provinces are fulfilling the requirements of the bill.
I am not saying that I will be voting against the bill. It provides the following:
|| (e) Canadian cities should become vibrant, clean, livable, prosperous, safe and sustainable;
I have nothing against that, but as far as I know, towns and cities are creatures of the provinces and not of the federal government. How can we, in a federal bill, tell Canadian cities to become vibrant, clean and prosperous? I am not saying that this should not be accomplished, but is this not already being done in certain provinces where waste matter policies are already in place? It seems to me that there is a jurisdictional problem here.
Thank you, gentlemen, for being with us again today.
I'm going to use, in a sense, the report that was released last week as a basis for seeing the legitimacy or veracity of this bill. Mr. Godfrey will know that none of this is personal in terms of the concerns or criticisms.
It's around the question of the trust and confidence Canadians can have in any new creation, whether it's a piece of legislation or a structure within government. The question I put to you last week, for the benefit of the committee members who weren't here, was about accountability.
You, as auditors, have gone through the government programs and made criticisms of environmental programs in the past. They have responded by saying, yes, they would make those corrections. You then, last week, released a report on their performance on those commitments, and nine of the fourteen chapters were failures. So Canadians can be forgiven for being wary of a promise when there is no direct accountability.
When you look through this bill, what is the consequence, as it is written, to government if it fails to live up to the standards of any plan released under this type of structure, given the myriad other government commitments that have been made and then broken in this administration and previously?
I'd be very pleased to talk about that.
I remember one time in another life, with the Office of the Auditor General, I was charged with the responsibility of leading an audit of one of these agency reports--in that case, it was an assessment, not an audit. I was given a draft of this thing. The agency report was designed to show the performance of the agency in meeting its objectives.
I happened to be up in Whitehorse, and I was flying back from Vancouver to Ottawa. I had about five hours, so I pulled out this draft report--it was 95 pages long. I read it across the country. About the time I got to Calgary, I was getting a little suspicious. When I got to Regina, I was getting really suspicious. When I got to Winnipeg, I was getting kind of angry. Because the 95 pages told a good story of this particular agency and what it did, but I couldn't tell from the words used whether what it did was good or bad, because I had no idea what the expectations for that agency were going into the year.
This is not to be critical of that particular agency. It's been a struggle in performance reporting of departments and agencies for a very long time. I think they're getting better, but it isn't the easiest thing to do.
I remember getting off the plane, and the next day I had lunch with the head of the agency. I said, “You know, this was an interesting read in one sense, because I could understand everything you did last year. But the frustration is I don't know whether it was good or bad. I didn't know whether you had a good year or a bad year, and that depends totally on what you say you were expecting to achieve during the year.” He sort of laughed, and said I was right.
In this particular case, the next year, and particularly the year after that, the agency did put expectations in. And I think the report was a lot more relevant, certainly relevant to committees like this.
That's what I'm talking about in terms of expectations, Mr. Godfrey.
Thank you very much for those two questions.
In terms of the legal and constitutional aspect, I've tended to look at this bill as focusing only on federal government activity. Under this bill, we would be asked to assess the fairness of performance information being reported about what the federal government is doing.
Now, the act also includes, as Mr. Godfrey mentioned, the state of the environment nationally, which certainly gets at all levels of government, and I suspect beyond that too. Our assessment would not cover that. However, there is a clause, on what we would be required to do in this bill, that says we would be able to make any recommendations or observations on any matter we wish.
Clearly, if there was something in the “state of the environment” material--we would read it, certainly, we wouldn't just disregard it--if there was something in there that was just horrendously misleading, you bet we'd say something. But in terms of it being covered by our formal assessment, it would not be. Okay?
We've had our own legal counsel have a look at this, obviously. You know, we don't go anywhere without our lawyers these days, and I've had some discussions with our own people in the office who are lawyers. And at this point, for this draft, we're okay with this.
In terms of whether this is the best way to strengthen the SDS process, it is one way. It is one element we were hoping would be part of the government's review of the SDS process, but there are other elements that will probably be uncovered by this review, not the least of which would be the rewards and sanctions Mr. Cullen spoke of, and best practices in other countries. We could learn something from other countries, I expect, on how they might or might not do something similar.
So certainly the review by the government of the SDS process would be broader than the overarching framework we're looking at here, but the overarching framework would certainly, I hope, be part of that review.