I would like to deal with a couple of items before we get started and welcome our guests and so on.
First of all, regarding Bill , we have received the Liberal, Bloc, and Conservative papers, which will be attached when I table this tomorrow. I understand that the NDP's paper will be completed shortly.
Is it ready now? Okay.
Anyway, if the members wish, we do have copies here. We need your permission to hand them around to everyone. No one has seen the others' copies of this. So what is your wish?
An hon. member: Sure.
The Chair: Mr. Bigras, is it okay if we pass yours around?
Yes, we do have permission from everyone to pass that around. I think you heard that Mr. Cullen is in the final phases of checking the French version. So that is being handed around. It's the property of each party. I could table it without it being handed around, but I have received permission to hand it around. So you're getting that right now.
Are there any other comments?
Okay. I'm tabling it tomorrow then.
Just to let the committee know, we have had a request from China's National People's Congress environment committee to come before our committee on June 3. I feel it would be pretty meaningful to ask them questions about the environment. I can tell you that they have more serious problems than we do.
So we have tentatively booked them for that date. I just wanted to let you know that I did go ahead and do that. I think you'll find it pretty interesting to question them on the environment, particularly with the Olympics coming up and all the things that go with that.
An hon. member: And Tibet.
The Chair: I would suggest that maybe Tibet is not part of their number one issue regarding the environment, but you can ask about environmental perspectives. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know about that.
As far as the other dates, of course, today we're dealing with Bill . On Wednesday we'll be dealing with Bill C-474. So today it's basically the scope, on Wednesday it's the structure, and on Monday it's the jurisdiction. We have confirmed witnesses for those three meetings.
Then I'm requesting that on Wednesday, May 7, we have the new Environment Commissioner come, and we've tentatively found that that would be possible, although that tightens the.... There is going to be a report on May 6 from the Auditor General, so it fits pretty well with our new Environment Commissioner, and then we have a deadline for amendments the following day. So after witnesses on Monday, it gives you three days to complete amendments and get them in to the clerk by the afternoon of Thursday, May 8. Then, of course, we'd begin clause-by-clause on the following Monday.
Yes, Mr. Cullen.
Sure. Why don't we get the calendar out and then we can set up a meeting. We can go through it from there.
Mr. Nathan Cullen: Perfect.
The Chair: Let's get started. Two of our three guests are here. I'm sure the third one will be here very soon.
I want to welcome you both. We've seen you before. Of course, we're looking at the scope of Bill That will be our focus today.
Following our usual procedure, I'd ask you to please try to keep it to ten minutes or less. Then we'll go around and all members will have an opportunity to ask the questions.
Pierre, I think you were here first, so let's start with you.
I want to start by telling you how honoured and how excited I am about being here today to address this important piece of legislation.
This bill is based on a model national sustainability act that the Suzuki Foundation released in December 2006. When Dr. Thomas Gunton of Simon Fraser University and I co-authored this model, we could scarcely have hoped that it would receive such solid support and that we would find it before committee a scant 18 months after we released that report. For that and for enabling this bill to move forward again today, we have each and every one of you to thank.
Dr. Gunton and I drafted the proposed act because we asked ourselves why Canada is seemingly lurching from environmental crisis to environmental crisis of prairie droughts, record numbers of boil water advisories, devastating hurricanes and wind storms, forests ravaged by pine beetles, and ice storms. Why is the fabric of Canada's once pristine environment fraying at the edges? It is because our country does not have a national strategy to address the environment.
Canada made an international commitment to the UN in 1992 and another commitment in 2002 to introduce a national sustainable development strategy. While 20 of the world's top environmentally performing nations have already fulfilled the pledge they made at the UN, Canada is still not very much closer to fulfilling this promise.
I'm going to briefly offer a few specific observations regarding the purpose of a national sustainable development strategy and then briefly address just a couple of the key questions that were asked when the committee last considered this bill in March.
First--and I think this is obvious--the bill legislates only a process for obtaining a national sustainable development strategy. It does not in and of itself legislate even one ounce of reduced emissions or pollution prevention.
Second, a national sustainable development strategy is an evergreen policy. It will evolve. It will improve. It will be refined as governments and legislators gain experience with sustainable development policies. On that very issue, some might point to the Auditor General Act of 1995 and say that this bill represents a refinement of that act and the departmental sustainable development strategies that were brought in by that act.
Moving briefly to a couple of issues that were raised during the last session in March, there were a fair number of questions around how a national SD strategy would mesh with provincial jurisdiction and provincial SD plans. There are, of course, environmental issues that clearly fall within federal jurisdiction. There are other issues that involve overlapping federal-provincial jurisdiction, and there are areas, very clearly, that are exclusively within the jurisdiction and domain of the provinces.
A national SD strategy would apply to all areas that come within federal jurisdiction, but it would be designed in anticipation and hope that more provinces would introduce SDSs of their own and that the national strategy could dovetail with those provincial strategies. Quebec is an example of one of a few provinces that have adopted a provincial SDS, and as Ron Thompson told you when he was here in March, it is both conceivable and desirable that at some point down the road a federal and a Quebec environment commissioner could eventually cooperate in protecting the environment.
In areas of overlapping federal-provincial jurisdiction, I believe it would be desirable for the federal government to try to show leadership in those instances where the environment is being neglected. I would characterize the situation as one in which the national SD strategy would apply where necessary but not necessarily apply.
Ultimately, as is the case with CEPA, I would expect that, given the enormous public interest and the high stakes involved in protecting the environment, the two levels of government would be expected to engage in a team effort and cooperate on sustainable development.
There are, of course, those items that fall squarely within the provincial jurisdiction. Perhaps those items can be addressed nominally in the national SDS, but only with the explicit approval and cooperation of the provinces and the addition of wording such to that effect.
Finally, one component of the bill that is probably, or hopefully, beyond debate is the role that the national SDS would play in reporting to governments and Canadians on the state of our environment. Every three years the SD secretariat would report on the environment nationally and by region to give us a clear picture of the quality of our air and our water and the rest of our precious natural capital.
When I was before the committee last year, I made a substantive opening statement. I won't do that today. I'll just take a couple of minutes to share with the committee two quotes that help me maintain a sense of context and perspective when discussing institutional legal changes like the act before us today.
The first quote is by William Ruckelshaus, a former Republican head of the United States Environmental Protection Agency:
Can we move nations...in the direction of sustainability? Such a move would be a modification of society comparable in scale to only two other changes: the Agricultural Revolution of the late Neolithic, and the Industrial Revolution of the past two centuries. These revolutions were gradual, spontaneous, and largely unconscious. This one will have to be a fully conscious operation, guided by the best foresight science can provide. If we actually do it, the undertaking will be absolutely unique in humanity’s stay on earth.
The World Commission on Environment and Development, in Our Common Future, offered this profound insight:
...in the end, sustainable development is not a fixed state of harmony, but rather a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development, and institutional change are made consistent with future as well as present needs. We do not pretend that the process is easy or straightforward.
Your inquiries on the Canadian institutional change process in this area prove that the change process, indeed, is neither easy nor straightforward. As a committee, you've received the 2006, 2007, and 2008 reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. Ron Thompson has said to you that the fundamental tools of the Canadian experiment--sustainable development strategies, strategic environmental assessment, for example--are essentially broken and incomplete in the absence of an overarching federal sustainable development strategy.
The bill before us is therefore not just another piece of legislation, but is a positive historic step, part of the iterative, transformative institutional change process both Brundtland and Ruckelshaus refer to. Therefore, I submit it is crucial to get it right and make the act meaningful.
Thank you very much, Mr. Toner.
Our other guest isn't here yet, but I forgot to get you to adopt the supplementary report that I'm going to submit.
All in favour?
(Motion agreed to) [See Minutes of Proceedings]
The Chair: Now I can report it officially. Thank you.
Let's go to questions. I might interrupt when Mr. Newman comes. We simply thought we'd take a little bit longer than what we did.
We will begin with Mr. Godfrey.
By the way, I'm not anticipating exactly what Mr. Newman may say, but I suspect it may not be a lot. I would gather that he's here as a resource person.
I want to thank both of the witnesses for coming. You both have been associated with this for a long time. I'm assuming that both witnesses also saw the proposed amendments that I put forward to the bill, which tried to anticipate some of the comments that have been made, I think quite properly, by all members present and understand that those need to be rendered more concrete eventually by amendments that will come forward from individual parties.
I'd like to begin with the two of you and talk a little bit about the fact that there is a process that has been developed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment to develop Canadian environmental sustainability indicators and Canada-wide standards. I have some questions: How has that process gone? How is that process different from this bill we're looking at? Is there any way that we can, in the future, use the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment process to advance this bill?
Those are my three questions, and maybe Pierre would like to start.
I'll take a shot at that one first.
The Canadian environmental sustainability indicators, also known as CESI--and I have a copy of the 2006 highlights here--are a start. It's a set of reports that I think are carried out by Statstics Canada, Environment Canada, and Health Canada. They gather information about the state of the Canadian environment in various contexts, be it different geographic contexts, with different indicators--certain aspects of air quality, water quality, and greenhouse gases--and report that annually.
It is a start, but it's just that. It is not giving Canadians or the government a comprehensive picture of the state of our environment. I believe this bill includes tools to offer Canadians and governments a far broader and deeper snapshot of where the environment is at a given point in time.
The second component of your question, Mr. Godfrey, I believe goes to the Canada-wide standards that are particularly tied to the CCME. Those standards, again, are just that. They're voluntary. They're not mandated. They're not regulations. They're not targets, as that is a term of art. So while they are built on good intentions, they haven't led to follow-through, because there are no consequences for failure to follow through. They maintain a relatively low public profile as well.
This bill is really a pulling together of the literally two dozen or so environmental initiatives out there around reporting, around standards--a thin slice of Canada's environmental problem. It pulls all those things together and compels our leaders--you people--to come up with a comprehensive strategy for Canada.
Perhaps we could circulate those for our next meeting.
To what extent do either of you think that the criticism by the Commissioner for the Environment about the sustainable development reports is...? First of all, to remind ourselves, that criticism was essentially that nobody took the exercise seriously, that there were no consequences, that departments went through pro-forma exercises. I know Mr. Warawa felt the same, and the previous environment minister felt the same.
In terms of federal performance, in what ways do you think this bill gives us some teeth so we can overcome those criticisms? Everybody has made them; Mr. Dion, Ms. Ambrose, Mr. Warawa, and the commissioners have made them.
If you carefully read the commissioner's work over the years, I think you'll find he didn't say that no one took them seriously. Some departments put some real effort into these things. They put in good management practices. They put in timely reviews within the three-year process. They did a lot of good things.
What happened, though, was that there was a disaggregation process. They weren't feeding into anything. They weren't contributing to a federal sustainable development strategy. This is the big difference. With this act, the departmental sustainable development strategies will be contributing to a Canadian sustainable development strategy, and the expectations will be higher. It will be harder for public servants to avoid doing the heavy lifting.
Rather than dumbing down the strategies to the lowest possible denominator, the standards set by the leading departments will have to be addressed. The government, the secretariat, and the cabinet will be looking to each of these strategies to make a strong contribution to the national strategy. You'll get a very different dynamic from the one that existed without the chapeau, without the separate strategies fitting into something. It will become multidimensional rather than unidimensional and departmental only.
There'll be some point to the sustainable development strategies.
Over the years, a perverse incentive occurred. The departments that tried to push forward and do some interesting things were audited and assessed and critiqued. So in those departments, there developed an incentive to lower expectations, to avoid committing to anything they couldn't easily do, so that they wouldn't be audited and criticized. The new bill, presumably, would create quite a different dynamic. Departments would be competing with one another to contribute to the national strategy as part of their departmental work.
I have a brief statement to make. As I understand it, it may have been distributed.
Mr. Chairman, it is a pleasure for me to appear today before your committee and to respond to questions from members of the committee with regard to the constitutionality of Bill , as concerns the division of legislative powers between Parliament and the provincial legislatures.
Before getting into the subject matter, I should express a few words of caution. I am a constitutional lawyer in the Department of Justice of Canada, and as such, I advise the government of Her Majesty in Right of Canada on constitutional issues. I am thus a law officer of the federal Crown and not of the institutions of Parliament.
Moreover, Bill is a private member's bill, not a governmental measure, and you understand that I will abstain from commenting upon the wisdom of such a piece of legislation, or from rendering, on behalf of the committee, a legal opinion on the scope of the provisions it contains.
That said, I have read with interest the Hansard report of the debates on this bill and notably, the federal-provincial concerns expressed by the honourable Member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, Mr. Bigras.
I shall be happy to respond, to the extent possible, to your questions concerning the division of legislative powers and the constitutionality of this bill.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The least we can say is that it was a nice segue.
If the federal and provincial governments sat down with the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, I think they would likely spend more than four meetings discussing a bill the scope of which, to my mind, goes well beyond that of the usual federal initiative.
I have been an MP in Ottawa for 11 years. Although I am accustomed to seeing the Liberal Party table bills with a centralist bent, rarely have I seen a bill... When I look at the schedule which lists areas affected by the implementation of the sustainable development strategy set out in clause 8, I find that it takes in quite a bit, Mr. Chairman. Some of the items listed include recycling rates, as well as water, materials and energy consumption. Mention is also made of agricultural land. It is rather unusual for a federal bill to make mention of this. There is also a reference to urban land consumption—no small issue—and to public transit, not to mention livestock density and fertilizer and pesticide use in general, not just on federally-owned lands.
My question is for you, Mr. Newman. Do you find it unusual for a bill on sustainable development and the environment to include references to these specific items? For example, do you believe that recycling rates and targets should be set by Ottawa? Is it common to find such things in a federal bill?
The key ruling on such matters is the 1975 Jones decision handed down around the time of the passage of Canada's Official Languages Act which specifically applied to federal institutions and the Government of Canada. Mindful of the residual power under the Constitution to enact laws for the peace, order and good government of Canada, Justice Laskin held the following:
No authority need be cited for the exclusive power of the Parliament of Canada to legislate in relation to the operation and administration of the institutions and agencies of the Parliament and Government of Canada. Those institutions and agencies are clearly beyond provincial reach.
This particular clause of the bill ultimately applies to federal departments and agencies. It creates the position of commissioner and other agencies responsible for ensuring the enforcement of the act's provisions, but these agencies come under federal jurisdiction. Admittedly, if there was an attempt made to have the regulations apply more broadly, problems and questions could arise. In my opinion, even the regulatory authority does not provide access to a broad range of measures likely to have a direct impact on the actions of provinces, municipalities or municipal agencies. We are not dealing with regulations arising from criminal law, for example. This act is not based on criminal law.
That was very interesting.
If I were to focus my questions, there would be a question of consequence and a question of focus. Let me start with the latter first.
In reading through this bill, I'm trying to understand the implications of what it would mean on the ground if this law were to exist today...or five years ago. What types of decisions would have been affected, and how? While I support this bill, my fear might be similar to Mr. Bigras' in terms of what we need to tighten up about this legislation to allow it the focus to give it consequence.
Let me be specific. I'll take subparagraph 8(2)(b)(iv) on implementation. This is similar to what Mr. Bigras just spent some time on. Ecosystem-based management--or EBM, as it is known in the industry--one of the foundations of the Great Bear Rainforest agreement in western Canada, is still being debated. It's still being contrived and trying to be understood by environmental groups, government, first nations, and logging interests, but there's no clear legal understanding of what it is, from my perspective.
What does it mean to put it into a piece of legislation if it is still a moving target in terms of regularly making decisions, provinces making decisions, and anybody involved being implicated under this bill? How can we allow for these uncertainties to be written into law?
Mr. Sadik, you can start off.
It's like sustainable development: there may be some definitions that are generally accepted, but the actual on-the-ground application is not. Therefore, if what we are doing is writing law and making the government available to a suit in court if in contravention of the law, I'm always wary of presenting law that is not defined. When we were working through Mr. Layton's bill there was a prescription to greenhouse gas emissions. We defined it to know exactly what it is, so if the government breaks the targets, the law, Canadians have a clear course for direct action.
I'm worried that in the motherhood statements of this bill--the general prescriptions for sustainable development enshrined into law--what dangers do we run in not having it prescriptive and defined? I'm worried that if it's too broad its application will be meaningless, which is certainly not the intention of Mr. Godfrey. In trying to cast such a wide net....
I want to get into a specific. If the tar sands were an undeveloped resource right now--just a known quantity, but we were unsure of its potential and full development--and Bill existed, how would we do it differently, or would we do it differently? Is there anything in here that would direct the hand of government in setting out the regulations for industry with respect to a project like that?
It's interesting, and this might be something my Liberal colleagues may address when it comes to their round of questioning, because this is something that's met with great resistance from the Auditor General's office, in terms of looking into government plans and giving some comment as to where they're going.
I'm going to lose time here, and there is a question of consequence I would like to ask Mr. Toner. When we look back to the nineties, when government gave prescription on the deficit, when it gave direction to government administration to go out and clip such-and-such a percentage off of their total spending, it was effective in terms of achieving the end results. One could debate whether it was an effective government policy overall in certain instances.
How was that effectively done? What was the encouragement through the civil service that the results were proven, as opposed to--as you commented--so many reports from the Commissioner of the Environment suggesting that when we do it environmentally, the effects are found to be wanting?
Year after year, we'd been seeing the same Environment Commissioner reports that Glen talked about earlier. We'd seen the same critiques of the previous government and are seeing some of the same critiques of this government, around the dysfunctionality of the departmental SDS, sustainable development strategy system. So Dr. Tom Gunton and I decided that instead of just critiquing, it might be good to show where the gaps are and offer some solutions to the Canadian government around sustainable development.
In December 2006 we released this report, Toward a National Sustainable Development Strategy for Canada. Dr. Gunton and I drafted a model act that was appended to it. As I say, that was released in late 2006. I went around and spoke to various folks on the Hill about it. Then in the spring of 2000 the NDP member introduced essentially our model act as a private member's bill. Mr. Julian, I believe, was up later on the turn for private members' bills in the House, then Mr. Godfrey. Mr. Godfrey introduced it, I guess, in the late summer or fall of 2007, and of course came to the foundation to ask for some advice on how to structure the bill.
As I like to put it, we are like an open-source software; we provide advice to everyone and anyone. Seeing our proposals and our solutions implemented is the raison d'être of the David Suzuki Foundation, so we were happy to see such interest in this bill.
I can't either. It's an interesting development, though, for them to bring legislation like this. We've agreed with the Commissioner that we need to do better as a government, and we've committed to this goal. We committed to a review, which will be reported in October. In the last report, there were 14 departments—nine were unsatisfactory, five have improved and are now satisfactory. We still have a lot of work to do as a government.
I find this bill very interesting and challenging.
I'd like to switch the focus of my questioning to the end of , where we have the schedule. I'd like to preface my comments with a reference to your paper. On page 7 it says:
Each federal department has a sustainable development strategy. The problem is that the strategies list a series of initiatives without showing how the initiatives will meet overall sustainability targets. This problem is caused by two deficiencies. First, measurable targets do not exist for most sustainability goals. Second, even where there are measurable targets, the strategies do not show quantifiably how the target will be attained.
This is the heart of my question. As we look at this grouping, when you expand on it, it's huge. How has it been prioritized? Has it been costed? What thought has gone into the creation of the schedule? How is it going to be paid for?
In many respects, the schedule will pay for itself, Mr. Warawa. The items in the schedule are items for which the act stipulates short-, medium-, or long-term targets. Short-term is within one to three years, medium-term is within five to ten years, and long-term is 25 years.
Some of those targets would be undeniably positive for Canada. If we were to reduce the constituent components of ground-level ozone, if we were to clean up the water, and if we were to take certain harmful pesticides out of our food chain, the savings in health care alone would be in the billions of dollars.
There is some work being done around that kind of thing. Your Transport Canada department has recently done some work on the environmental burden of disease caused by motor vehicle emissions and quantifies that in terms of what harmful emissions from motor vehicles and other modes of transportation are costing Canadians and Canadian society. Then, of course, there are the priceless benefits, quite apart from the cost to our health care system, such as having your parents live longer, not having premature morbidity, and having healthier children.
--in government and in opposition. We can't forget that every time we tried to move, we had a Prime Minister who denied that climate change existed--sorry, who's now Prime Minister. We had a leader of the opposition who claimed that it didn't exist. Our chair, in fact....
Okay, I'll stop there and go on with my question.
Actually, I'd like to get down to this idea of information gathering. Information is so important in creating effective action, achieving targets, and so on. It's important in setting targets.
You mentioned the state of the environment reports of 2000 and 2003.
Under CEPA I can see that.
What about Mr. Bigras' point about recycling rates? We may not have a specific answer to that yet.
In terms of the Commissioner of the Environment's vetting these plans, it sounds almost as if we're being dragged into the debate we had about a year ago in this committee as to role the Commissioner of the Environment has. We're getting back into this potential conflict between Madame Gélinas and Madame Fraser.
Do you think a Commissioner of the Environment or an Auditor General, under whom the commissioner would be working, might see it as a little too political to be judging the strategies of federal departments?
I only have five minutes. I think most of my questions can be answered by a simple yes, or no. That way, I can get in as many questions as possible.
The bill contains a reference to sustainable development, to energy consumption and to what is possibly the main source of GHG emissions, namely CO2 or CH4. In your opinion, is hydroelectricity a “sustainable” source of energy?
In your opinion, this bill is quite broad and allows the federal government to intervene in areas that fall under municipal and provincial jurisdiction. For example, the possible amendments for consideration include a reference to the following goal: “Canadian cities should become vibrant, clean, livable, prosperous, safe and sustainable”.
How to you propose to accomplish this feat if the federal government does not assume the right to intervene in areas that fall under municipal jurisdiction?
You stated that the federal government would be able to intervene in municipal matters. I remind you that under the Constitution, municipalities fall exclusively under provincial jurisdiction. Under no circumstances can the federal government step in without the consent of the provincial governments concerned.
This bill does not just apply to federal departments and agencies. It opens the door for the federal government to intervene in areas that fall under provincial jurisdiction. Explain that to me, if you can.
You say that agreements will be negotiated. I understand that, but a provincial minister of the environment may see things differently. I am sorry, but this bill contains unacceptable principles and opens the door for the federal government to exercise powers that it does not have.
By virtue of the Constitution, this bill can only apply to items that fall within federal jurisdiction. And a lot of items on which the government makes policies, plans, and proposals fall within federal jurisdiction. As I said at the outset, and as is stated in the proposed legislation itself in the proposed amendment to subclause 8(2), it is with the cooperation and approval of the province that this legislation could potentially apply to areas that come exclusively within provincial jurisdiction. And that's recognized in the proposed amendment to paragraph 8(2)(a), where it says, and this is referring to the targets, “while recognizing the respective roles and responsibilities of the federal government and the provinces and the territories”.
We also have that in the proposed amendment to subclause 5(2): “The Government of Canada therefore, working with the provinces and territories and recognizing their respective roles and responsibilities, adopts the following goals”.
So in each instance, any effort to usurp provincial jurisdiction would run into the barrier of the Constitution and would therefore fail.
Frankly, I don't see any disagreement between Mr. Sadik's position and my own.
When I spoke of federal institutions, organizations, and crown corporations and the like, clearly that applies to the federal institutions. It applies to their activities. That's the whole point. It applies to their policy development. It applies to their orientation. How are they going to go about meeting this? It applies to them first and foremost. It doesn't apply directly to cities or anything else.
When I said that it applies to federal institutions, that is exactly what I meant.
Does it mean you can't spend money? No, I don't think it means that.
That could well be one of the activities targeted, to the extent that the federal government wants to exercise its spending power and encourage municipalities and provincial organizations to work with it.
Thank you to our witnesses for being here.
I want to come back to the issue of an independent Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. Mr. Sadik, your answer was interesting. You felt that because Mr. Thompson was satisfied with the idea of vetting, therefore you're satisfied. I want to come back to this again, because essentially this would entail a pretty big departure from the traditional role of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. We're treading water on whether or not they become advocates and then turn around and audit their own advocacy. Whether or not an interim Commissioner of the Environment wants to change his own role, the question is whether or not it's advisable to change that role. So I'm not satisfied that you're satisfied with his answer.
Is it wise for us to be putting the auditor in the position of advocate as well and auditing his own advocacy for that matter? I think that proposes some real challenges, and I'm not necessarily sure that's the advisable way to go. So would you like to evaluate that again?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'd like to ask more about the federal-provincial relationships that are involved as a result of this bill. It seems to me that when the federal government funds infrastructure, it does so in a collaborative way in partnership with provincial and municipal governments. It seems reasonable, in seeing those federal dollars spent, and being accountable to the taxpayers from whom the federal government receives money, that it ought to try to ensure that money is spent in a sustainable way in relation to the environment. It's also reasonable to say that our objectives with this program are to do things that help green the country more, whether it's in Victoria, Halifax, Quebec City, or wherever.
Is it your sense that this bill imposes something on other levels of government, or is it a question of trying to find common ground? What are you comments on this?
I have a comment on that, Mr. Regan. We are dealt the constitutional hand that we are dealt in this country, and we have to work within the confines of the Constitution on a wide spectrum of issues.
There is a precedent for this type of policy, though, in the U.K. It had to deal with a situation where there was a series of devolved authorities. Yet, as a whole, the island of the U.K. wanted to come up with a sustainable development strategy. It has, in fact, come up with one that you may hear, from some other witnesses talking more about the international context, is held up as a bit of a gold standard of national SDSs. It managed to do that through this type of legislation, with cooperation and teamwork by the various jurisdictions that the U.K. comprises.
Mr. Chair, I'm new here, obviously, but I'd like to make a couple of observations, as I've been listening today to the discussion about this bill.
I found it interesting that there doesn't seem to be any full costing of the bill, and I think we heard that a little bit earlier. There's no prioritization of the schedule yet, and there seems to be almost some disagreement on whom the bill even applies to.
But the thing that really concerned me, when we started talking about the application of the entire bill, is what it would mean in terms of consequences. I understand this means there could be no federal involvement with or support for things that ran contrary to this bill. I think it was Mr. Sadik who said there would be, basically, no hydro dam power across this country if this bill were fully implemented. There would be no nuclear power allowed in this country if the bill were fully implemented, or the federal government certainly could not be involved in it. There would be no biofuels, except for the cellulosic, which is not commercially available or viable right now. And there could be no coal power.
I'm concerned about the consequences. What we've got here is a classic opposition bill that really lays out massive costs and consequences with no need to be accountable, particularly for the opposition. I'd like to make that observation, and I'm willing to listen to anybody's comments on that.
As I said at the outset, Mr. Anderson, this bill does not stipulate or mandate one ounce of emission reduction or pollution prevention, in and of itself. The bill creates a framework, which then hands it to our leaders, you people, to sail the ship of sustainable development in the right direction, to bring forth a poor metaphor.
As I also said, Mr. Anderson, no one is suggesting or contemplating that any nonsustainable sources of energy would be turned off tomorrow. We would be looking at a phasing-out of nonsustainable sources of energy while sustainable sources of energy are being ramped up. Those two things would be done in such a fashion that the lights would come on every evening, the television would come on, and the transport—be it buses, subways, or cars—would go wherever it has to go every day.
This bill would require government to look ahead, to make its choices with its eyes wide open in terms of future consequences, and to the extent that it's possible—and that the political will is there—to take into account those consequences in the course of its day-to-day decision-making.
Mr. Anderson, have you finished?
Mr. David Anderson: Sure.
The Chair: Mr. Cullen, Mr. Warawa, and then Mr. Bigras.
Just to pick up on that point, is there anything that prevents the government from doing this right now? What stops the government from...? As you said to Mr. Anderson's question, there's nothing in here that prescribes any pollution reductions, per se. It's asking the government to look through a sustainable lens when addressing decisions.
It boils down to this. We've had so many iterations of a plan. We've had so many subcommittees, cabinet committees, green plans, and intentions all well and good. If we made half the effort in the actual rollout of the plan and then the actual performance of the thing that we make in the announcing, we wouldn't be in the predicament we're in.
To my first question, is there anything added to the powers of government, the government in this moment? Can the transport minister not look through a sustainable lens when designing legislation? Can the industry minister or the finance minister?
Can I just respond to your question? It's an interesting one.
If we read back through so many of the commissioner's reports over these past ten or eleven years, so often they have said there's no nerve centre; there's no one pulling all this together at the centre. It seems to me that one thing that was helpful about this act was that it would require a secretariat in the Privy Council Office to support a cabinet committee. There would be a nerve centre at the political level, a nerve centre at the bureaucratic level, which would tie all of this stuff together in an integrated way that is not being done now. We get, as a consequence of that, much more sectoral thinking, in terms of the decision-making system, when there are huge horizontal implications of these sorts of decisions for Canadians.
This is what I'm curious about. I've looked at the performance-based contract component of this bill. It's one of the smaller pieces--which disappoints me--and I'll be interested in how we can beef it up. When I've talked at this committee and other places about what the consequences are of bad performance or non-compliance, I'm a little suspicious that there isn't more push-back from government. I'll be honest with you.
For example, when we put through, as the committee will remember, a bill on phthalates, there were implications directly linked into the bill about banning a toxin out of the system. There was quite an extraordinary effort from within the civil service to and fro, saying “Don't do this” and “Don't do this”, because they were seeing implications to their work life. We went back and forth, and it took longer than many of us suspected to get the bill through. I'm not seeing any of that right now.
I want to go back to the schedule at the end of Bill C-474. This will be for Mr. Sadik and Mr. Toner.
Mr. Toner, you said in your presentation that we have to get it right, and there have been a lot of questions and concerns raised today. This committee has a habit of rushing things. On the other end of the spectrum, things take a long time. What we want to achieve is a balance. We want to get it right. This may take more than three minutes, or three meetings.
Mr. Bigras raised some interesting points that I didn't see when I first read this. He brought up urban development. In my municipal background, urban development zoning was covered by municipal government. The schedule refers to municipal waste—that's municipal government. Municipal government is created, at least partly, by the province, so ultimately it is a matter of provincial jurisdiction.
On turbidity in the water, the goal is for cleaner water. You want to reduce turbidity in water. Does this mean the federal government would be overseeing levels of turbidity in the rivers in Quebec below the dams?
We have an incredibly broad range of issues in this bill. Mr. Godfrey is open to amendments, and he has some amendments ready to introduce. But on this list of issues, the possibilities are vast. There are going to be vast financial and logistical implications from this: scientific capacity, training, equipment, human resources, monitoring systems. If we rush through this to get a bill in place before Mr. Godfrey leaves us— and we will all miss him, some more than others—there will be many questions. We have issues like livestock density. Why is this in there? Is it an appropriate thing to have on the list? Automobile dependence....
Mr. Toner, would a smaller list be a better strategy? This larger list raises a lot of questions and provincial jurisdiction issues.
As for how many committee meetings you should have, I have no idea.
As for the size of the list, I had nothing to do with it. It materialized in the legislation. I guess one could go through and say yes, this is less controversial or causes less potential conflict with provinces in this case or that case.
I would really like to think that this has some national coverage from coast to coast to coast. We know that livestock density, feedlots, and other sorts of things can have serious implications for water quality, fisheries, and so on. I don't know. Is that the right one to have in? We'd have to go through this on a one-by-one basis, and I don't think you really want to do that.
I want to be sensitive to provincial concerns. I recognize that urban design issues are not under provincial jurisdiction, but they have huge implications for the sustainability of this country, given that 80% of Canadians live in cities. To the extent that the federal government is highly involved at the regulatory and financing levels for a lot of these sorts of things, including cities, it seems to me that it's not something we should get too concerned about. I think we need to have national coverage on this thing from all levels of government. If all these reporting systems are integrated in a reasonable way, we could get that coverage. How else do we compare ourselves with what the U.S. or the other OECD countries are doing in these areas?
I will make it brief, Mr. Chairman.
Are all of the witnesses familiar with strategic environmental assessments? They probably all have some idea of what these entail. What does the Commissioner of the Environment have to say about this in his recent reports? The problem with Canada's sustainable development strategy is that federal departments are not required to carry out strategic environmental assessments.
In order to respect provincial jurisdictions and embrace a sustainable development strategy for Canada, would it not be preferable to require all federal institutions to comply with this directive that was issued over 25 years ago by the PMO and which is ignored when it comes to federal government policies, plans and programs? This requirement would ensure that federal areas of jurisdiction are respected, that a sustainable development strategy is in place. Furthermore, each time the government tables a plan, policy or program, inevitably, sustainable development concepts would be included...To my way of thinking, strategic environmental assessments are the most powerful tool we have to ensure a sustainable development strategy for Canada.
Does the solution not lie in making it a legislative requirement that federal institutions carry out strategic environmental assessments?