As everybody knows, we are working on clause-by-clause. I think everyone has a copy of the amendments.
I would ask, off the top, to stay clauses 1 and 2, which is a normal procedure, and that we deal with them at the end.
Some hon. members: Agreed.
(On clause 3--Purpose)
Good. So we're all using that as a reference.
I'll just read clause 3:
|| The purpose of this Act is to provide the legal framework for developing and implementing a National Sustainable Development Strategy that will dramatically accelerate the elimination of major environmental problems and make environmental decision-making more transparent and accountable to Parliament.
The amendment I've introduced is to change the word “national” to “federal”. We did hear from a number of witnesses that this is, I believe, a recommended change. When we heard from Mr. Martin on Monday of this week, he spoke to that specifically in his speech to us. He said “national” implies that there is direct provincial involvement.
As we all know, we have not had direct provincial involvement. We haven't had the provinces, other than New Brunswick. This is one of the issues that Mr. Bigras brought to our attention when we were looking at the schedule in the first group of witnesses. I don't know if it was turbidity or density, or what Mr. Bigras brought up, but it was a very important point that he brought to the attention of the committee, the importance of what the implications are of Bill for the provinces.
I just want to read, to remind us what Mr. Martin said, that, first, the bill would require the development of a national as opposed to a federal sustainable development strategy—and in the interests of time, instead of saying “sustainable development strategy”, I'll say “SDS” from now on.
As the committee is aware, responsibility for the environment is not defined in the Constitution Act. Over time, a variety of mechanisms have been developed to facilitate federal-provincial cooperation in improving environmental quality in Canada, including a wide range of work done under the authority of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.
As a practical matter, if we expect the provinces to be full and willing partners in the implementation of a national sustainable development strategy, it would be important to engage them in its development, including the definition of its goals and targets and in a discussion of which level of government would be held accountable for their achievement.
The other person I would like to read a quick quote from here is, in our first group of witnesses, Mr. Pierre Sadik, who said in his presentation:
||By virtue of the Constitution, this bill can only apply to items that fall within federal jurisdiction.
Sustainable development affects all levels of government and needs to affect all levels of Canadian society, and it does in a positive or negative way. I believe the author of the bill, Mr. Godfrey, is hoping to achieve positive results from a positive bill and to have positive effects on a truly sustainable development strategy, or SDS.
I started off my comments suggesting that we have the bill changed so that it lists “federal” instead of “national”. That is what the motion is.
I have a subsequent motion that I'll be making later.
Throughout the bill, the word “national” SDS is used. This is the first clause we're addressing, so that's why this is the first opportunity to deal with this.
In the bill, as we go clause by clause, every time it says “national”, I'll be making that amendment. But starting off with this, I think it's very obvious that we focus on making sure the different federal departments are held to account.
As we remember, when the environment commissioner presented the report, we had this report in October. Then we had the report in March, I believe it was. Actually, this was the report from March, and we heard that of the 14 departments, nine were unsatisfactory and five were satisfactory. For many years--over a decade--there have been problems with our not doing satisfactory work with the different departments. What I'm hoping is that the focus will change and now be on the federal government instead of the national and on holding the federal government and the departments to account.
I look forward to hearing from others, but I think changing the word “national” to “federal” is a step in the right direction.
I'll just wait for Mr. Warawa to make sure I do this correctly.
Mr. Warawa, what we're doing is in line 42 of the bill. We're saying that “Federal Sustainable Development Strategy”, which is line 41, “that will make environmental decision making more”, and then we eliminate lines 1 and 2, “transparent and accountable to Parliament”.
What we have done then is remove line 42 and then, over the page, lines 1 and 2, so it would now read, with the previous amendment:
||Federal Sustainable Development Strategy that will make environmental decision-making more transparent and accountable to Parliament.
I'd like to ask our legal people here too. I know from other bills that sometimes we get these fine-sounding sentiments in here in terms of the language, piling up the adjectives and so on, but my understanding is that this is not something that has legal weight when you make a statement such as “dramatically accelerate” or “elimination of”. How do you measure that? What's dramatic to one person may not be dramatic to another. It's not an objective statement when you put it in and say you've got to do this and that.
We all understand that, and we're not going to have a difference there, but it's the more subjective terms, I think, Denise, that are inferred here. You've been around committees enough to know this, but I need to have that from the clerks as well. Is that the problem with the expression that's there? That's my cross-reference to other committees. When you're not getting precision, it means one thing to one person, and it has no bearing in the courts. That's my point.
We have government amendment G-7, which is on page 15. Just another note on that. If amendment G-7 is adopted, then Liberal amendment 19 on page 38 cannot be put. I'll give everybody a minute to check those out.
Amendment G-7 is the one we're on right now, clause 6. If that one is adopted, then L-19 on page 38 cannot be put because it refers again to the committee and secretariat. So if we pass amendment G-7, we cannot then deal with amendment L-19; just so everybody knows that when you're looking at this. Is everybody clear now?
We are looking at clause 6 and amendment G-7, which is on page 15, and I'll ask Mr. Warawa to explain amendment G-7 to us, please.
I will move amendment G-7.
As this bill only pertains to the federal crown, the title and scope should be drafted accordingly.
Establishing a committee of cabinet in legislation is extremely unusual. There is currently only one cabinet committee that has a legislative basis, and that is the Treasury Board. Given that decisions around the structure of government and cabinet are critical to the Prime Minister's capacity to fulfill his or her mandate as the head of the government and to realize his or her government's agenda, it would be more suitable here to require that “a committee of the Queen's Privy Council”--my understanding is that's the legal name for the cabinet, and I'll seek clarification on that, but that's why we're seeing the word “Cabinet” gone and why “the Queen's Privy Council” is inserted--would be required to include the oversight, and I think “oversight” is a key word, of the development and implementation of a federal strategy as one of its duties, and that Environment Canada establish an office to monitor and report on the strategy's implementation.
Excuse me just one second.
I'm sorry; that's a second amendment.
In G-7, our first amendment on clause 6--let me just take a look at the bill--the word “Cabinet” is scratched, and we end up having “a committee of the Queen's Privy Council”. That's just the correct name of the cabinet.
The original clause 6 said, “The Governor in Council shall appoint a Cabinet Committee on Sustainable Development, chaired by the Minister”. That's changed to “a committee of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, consisting of a chairperson and other members of the Queen's Privy Council”--which is the proper name for the cabinet--“shall have oversight of the development of the”, and it's no longer “National”; it would be “Federal Sustainable Development Strategy.”
We have to permit the Prime Minister to have the prerogative of the machinery of government.
It made me think of another quote that we heard from Mr. Mitchell, and here it is. There are actually a number of interesting quotes. He said:
||I actually don't think it's useful or productive for Parliament to say, here's how we want you to run your kitchen, and we're going to hold you to account for having run the kitchen in this precise way or that. You want to look at what's coming out of the kitchen. What are you getting by way of policy and program commitments, spending, and fundamental changes?
He also said:
||I would actually not have a separate committee for sustainable development, because those issues you are talking about in the bill and that we've been talking about today are so fundamental and so integrated that I'd want to see them considered in something like a priorities and planning committee or an executive committee of cabinet, something like that. The most senior, central, general decision-making body of cabinet is where I would put those issues and those decisions.
What we're proposing in this amendment is changing the word “Cabinet” to “Queen's Privy Council” and, again, a federal SDS, and that the Queen's Privy Council shall have oversight of the development and implementation of that SDS.
I accept the definition. Just to recap what the parliamentary secretary said, the technical use of these words, “the Queen's Privy Council for Canada”, “the chairperson”, and “the members of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada” is what we mean by the current cabinet members. This would not apply to the entire realm of past privy councillors, including ourselves.
I think you put on the record that you mean the cabinet, the current cabinet made up of current cabinet ministers. I'm just wondering if there is any language that makes a distinction between the two. There really are, in effect, two Queen's Privy Councils, the current cabinet, and then also, as the Government of Canada website points out, the Queen's Privy Council for Canada thus includes not only members of the present ministry, but also former ministers and other distinguished persons.
I just don't know if there is any language that makes that distinction clear, but since you have put it on the record that you're referring to the government of the day, the ministry of the day, we're happy with that definition.
So “Governor in Council” is scratched and it becomes “Minister”. “Secretariat Office” is gone. It's “within the Department of the Environment” instead of the “Privy Council Office”. We're scratching “support the activities of the Cabinet committee on sustainable development”, because it's no longer relevant.
So it would read:
||The Minister shall establish a Sustainable Development Office within the Department of the Environment to develop and maintain systems and procedures to monitor progress on implementation of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy.
||The Office shall, at least once every five years after the day on which this Act comes into force, provide the Minister a report on the progress of the federal government in implementing the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy. The Minister shall cause the report to be laid before the House of Commons on any of the first 15 days on which that House is sitting after the Minister receives it.
Environment Canada established an office to monitor the report...and strategies implementation. The Privy Council Office would automatically act as the secretariat to the cabinet committee, so it's unnecessary to specify this in the statute.
Changing the secretariat to an office, which is only meant to better reflect the actual duties of the organization, is a good idea, I believe. A secretariat connotes an organization that is in support of another entity. This would not be reflective of the role given the amendments. The term “Office” would better reflect the oversight and monitoring function proposed for the organization than would “secretariat”.
These changes maintain the overall spirit of the clause while preserving the Prime Minister's ability, and this is critical. The Prime Minister has to maintain the ability to structure his cabinet in a manner that best suits the needs of his or her government. It also makes sense to include the monitoring and reporting role of the secretariat in this clause rather than in a new clause 13, as proposed by Mr. Godfrey--and I'm not sure if that's off the table. He can elaborate on that. So that's why we have the monitoring in there.
Are there any questions?
We're okay with this. I guess there's one small question and one large issue, which I believe we may find some flexibility on. Under (2), it says “The Office shall, at least once every five years”. There have been some discussions with the other side about the notion of substituting three years for five years, simply because that puts us into a more normal kind of reporting framework, one that is well understood by the Commissioner for the Environment.
So my first question is whether the government would consider here and a bit later on substituting the word “three” for “five”.
My second question is relatively small and has to do with the first 15 sitting days as opposed to the first three. I don't feel very strongly about it. I'm just curious why that was increased.
The first point is more substantive, which is to take it down to a three-year reporting cycle, because I think that would give enough time for the plan to get developed but keep people's feet to the fire.
I was going to make a similar comment. I was going to suggest that it would make more sense to have that kind of reporting done within the life of a government.
Given the legislation this government has introduced regarding having legislated elections every four years, it would make more sense to have that kind of report done within the life of each government. If we're talking about accountability, putting it at every five years would be passing it on to the next government, in a sense. So I don't think the five-year requirement makes very much sense, on one hand.
On the other hand, by establishing a sustainable development office within the Department of the Environment, it seems to me we would be removing any kind of arm's-length reporting mechanism that seemed to be there before. So again, it seems to weaken this considerably.
We'll see what remains at the end of this bill, if anything.
The present policy is three years, and we've heard that the problem with that is that when they report, they're reporting existing activities as opposed to the outcome of those activities. Sustainable development is looked at over a period of time. If it's too short, you're not going to be able to see what the results are. So that's the suggestion. The present timeframe is three years, and we're hearing some rumblings that it should be lengthened. So that's why the amendment we're discussing is suggesting five years. If the desire is to have it changed to three years, it could maybe be as a subamendment, and we could deal with it that way.
But I think the 15 days is standard. I've heard that, so I don't think we should be touching that.
No, I don't think we'd see that.
On the other hand, with the five-year time span, going over several.... I think most fair-minded people in the public would concede that this is spanning or bridging a couple of different governments here, so let's get the job done.
I just think the three years may be too short. We've heard complaints about that. You guys have been here to hear that as well. These people are saying that all we're doing is putting down lists of activities as opposed to whether we're actually reaching some of these stated objectives. Anybody can list activities, but maybe we are requiring a little more to be done here.
I would be voting against this. I don't know where the others on this side of the bench are going to sit, but I would say I would weigh in on the side of five, as things stand.
Mr. Warawa, I believe we are dealing with lines 24 to 27. If everybody is looking at lines 24 to 27 in clause 7, this will now read:
||The Minister shall appoint a Sustainable Development Advisory Council, composed of one representative from each province and territory, and three representatives from each of the following:
--and so on.
We would take out line 24 to 27 and replace it with:
||The Minister shall appoint a Sustainable Development Advisory Council, composed of one representative from
--and so on.
We have an amendment, which will have a number, but everybody knows where it fits.
Are there any comments about that amendment?
Could you move it, Mr. Warawa, and explain it?
It's moved, and, again, I appreciate your kindness in allowing it to be tabled.
Requiring the Governor in Council to make appointments is unnecessary. Rather, the authority should go to the appropriate minister, in this case, the Minister of the Environment, who is ultimately responsible for the strategy and who will chair the advisory committee.
We'll move on to clause 8. We have a number of amendments here: G-9, G-10, L-10, L-11, L-12, L-13, and L-14.
We shall begin then with G-9 on page 19. I should add that if G-9 is adopted, G-10 cannot be put. There's a line conflict. I don't think you're going to keep track of all of this. We'll ask the clerks to help us do that.
I'll just read it, and then we can work our way through it. There's a line conflict with L-10, L-11, L-12, L-13, and L-14. If G-9 or G-10 are adopted, L-10, L-11, L-12, L-13, and L-14 cannot be put.
As I say, I think rather than everybody trying to remember all of that, we should begin by working our way through this. Unless you want me to repeat that much more slowly and....
There are some problems with the different amendments.
This refers to the schedule. We heard from a number of witnesses. The costs were going to be horrendous. I don't have the exact quote, but it was huge. Actually, here it is. It was Mr. Mitchell talking to Mr. Watson:
|| I would say that the schedule, as it now stands, covers the waterfront. If you were to expect a strategy to address all of this, you would be looking for a plan that was simply too huge and too complicated to be manageable, implementable, developable, measurable.
Anyway, this clears it up. It focuses on preparing short-, medium- and long-term targets in this area, as identified in the schedule. There are approximately 400 areas, with corresponding implementation strategies, and it would be a lengthy, complex, and costly process. It would have vast jurisdictional logistic implications. Further, there is no scientific rigour to the selection of these areas over others. The strategy would be better focused on the key priorities. And we heard that before too.
I could go on, but I think there's a willingness to accept this, or amend it.
As Mr. Godfrey pointed out, it is the placement in the bill. Where is the appropriate placement, and what are the consequences of having it at this place in this clause?
If I could have maybe a three-minute break to consult and then come back....
When we do go into the definitions of the precautionary principle, I'm going to be asking that it be consistent with CEPA 99, so you have that consistency to the legislation. It's slightly different than CEPA 99. I think it needs to be the same, because we've just done the CEPA review, which was very intense.
As far as the placement in the legislation, I'm assuming it's already in this bill because it has a definition. But if we could have a two- or three-minute break just to consult.... Is that okay?
Because they're consequential, amendments L-10 and L-11 are gone.
Now, this is a discussion. Amendment L-12 has basically been lost in the new version of clause 8. But let me invite a little discussion on this. The whole idea behind submitting the draft of the national sustainable development strategy to the commissioner for review and comment is whether these targets and implementation strategies can be assessed. That's the thrust of it. It wasn't that the commissioner was to approve of them.
But in the way it was set out, are these assessable? When the time comes for the commissioner to look it over, is it something where he has enough information to say this works or he has the right kinds of numbers here. It's really not asking the commissioner to rewrite anything or comment on it, other than how measurable this is. It's another stage of transparency. It's not intended in any way to prevent the government from doing what it wants. It's simply asking whether it is assessable.
As you will recall, we've taken out huge numbers of things. In other words, we're no longer going for the short, medium, and long term. We're not going on caps and emissions, economic instruments, full-cost accounting, etc. We've eliminated all that.
All we're saying is, would the government find it helpful to have the commissioner comment on whatever the government is coming up with from the point of view of whether this is ultimately assessable? It's not about whether the targets can be met; it's whether we can do the counting here.
Do you want to think a bit about that? I don't know whether we've got some--