We have quorum, so we're going to get under way. We are still waiting for our Conservative colleagues to get here. I think they're on a bus somewhere making their way over. We're going to get started with introductions, and hopefully they'll arrive shortly.
I want to welcome some special guests at the back of the room. We have our Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee representatives back there. They're from the generation program; they're high school students from all over Canada.
I'm very pleased to see you here today, so thanks for joining us.
I also thought it would be appropriate, based on what happened today in Brussels, that we take a few minutes to contemplate what has happened there and to give our thoughts to those who have been claimed and those who are struggling with very serious injuries. It's a very sad morning and I just want to take a few minutes to have some silence for that.
[A moment of silence observed]
Thank you very much to all of you for showing support to those in Brussels.
Our Conservative colleagues are just joining us, so thank you very much. No worries; we understand. It's always difficult to know what room we're going to, and this one's a little off the beaten path from the normal, so I understand.
I want to welcome our guests, our witnesses today. We have a great group in front of us.
I want to start with Scott Vaughan from the International Institute for Sustainable Development. He's the president and chief executive officer. Welcome.
We also have the Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development back with us. Julie Gelfand is the commissioner. Andrew Hayes is principal. James McKenzie is also principal. Thank you for joining us.
From Environment and Climate Change Canada we have Dan McDougall, assistant deputy minister, strategic policy branch, and Paula Brand, director general, sustainability directorate, strategic policy branch as well. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.
From Public Services and Procurement Canada we have Duncan Retson. He is the director general, portfolio and government affairs sector, policy, planning and communications branch. Thank you very much for joining us.
We have the Honourable John Godfrey here today as well. Thank you very much for joining us today. We're very much looking forward to what you have to share with us.
We will get started with John Godfrey.
Madam Chair, I'm delighted to return as a witness to this committee where I happily served as a member when I was in Parliament. I would also like to acknowledge the presence on the committee of my friend and former colleague, Nathan Cullen, with whom I had many adventures, some of them at a COP meeting in Nairobi.
Today I want to talk about how the Federal Sustainable Development Act came into being in the first place, because I think there are valuable lessons to be learned by committee members, particularly for those of you who are new to Parliament. Then I would like to suggest to the committee how they might want to use this occasion to review the act and the federal sustainable development strategy as an opportunity to support and strengthen the new government's actions on climate change.
The first lesson to be learned by my experience in sponsoring the private member's bill that eventually became this act is that an individual backbencher through a private member's bill can create a powerful piece of legislation whose effects can be felt long after he or she leaves Parliament. So don't underestimate the role you can play in bringing forward your own well-crafted piece of timely legislation. This may form an important part of your personal legacy as a parliamentarian, something you can look back to with pride, as I do today.
The second lesson is the importance of collaboration, goodwill, civility, and respect in doing our work here. I came to sponsor this bill partly because of my environmental interests, but more importantly, I have to admit, because I drew an early place in the private member's bill lottery.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Hon. John Godfrey: In short, it was more luck than good management or brilliant planning, but then luck is what you make of it. Because I had a private member's bill coming up, in 2007 I was approached by the David Suzuki Foundation and asked if I would sponsor a draft bill they had prepared to create, as it was at the time, a national sustainable development strategy for Canada. I agreed and this long, detailed, and ambitious bill became the template for what eventually emerged as Bill .
My first collaboration was working very closely with the David Suzuki Foundation and its talented representative in Ottawa, Pierre Sadik, to make sure that the extensive amendments and compromises that inevitably emerged in committee were still acceptable to the original sponsors.
The second important collaboration was with the then minister of the environment, John Baird, and his office. This was not an easy time in Parliament, as Nathan Cullen will recall, or in the standing committees of the House of Commons. But by being transparent and co-operative, by appealing to the Conservatives own stated ambition for greater accountability, by avoiding partisanship and political stunts, and by building trust, we eventually arrived at a bill that the government accepted and embraced when it came into force.
The third collaboration was with the other opposition parties on the committee, the NDP and the Bloc Québécois. We listened carefully to suggestions from them and, where possible, incorporated their ideas into the bill. For example, the Bloc objected very strongly to the word “national” in national sustainable development strategy—as you might have guessed—so we changed it to “federal” sustainable development strategy to remove any suggestion that we were dictating to provinces.
The fourth major collaboration was with the office of the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development to make sure that in designing the bill, we were creating an appropriate and functional role for the commissioner. Here I would like to pay tribute to the interim commissioner of the day, the late Ron Thompson, a great civil servant of integrity and strength who played a pivotal role in advancing the bill.
Finally, I must emphasize the importance of close and respectful collaboration with the Senate, the crucial role of which in passing effective legislation is too often misunderstood and neglected by standing committees of the House.
Honourable members, I tell you all this in the hope that the same spirit of respect, consultation, and co-operation may guide your future work. Whether it is in committee of the whole or in the cause of advancing your own private member's bill one day, it is a far more productive way of getting good and useful things done in Parliament.
As for the act itself, it has produced a living document, the federal sustainable development strategy, the third iteration of which, for the period 2016-19, is now before you. When I read the 2015 progress report on the last version of the strategy and then the new proposed strategy, planning for a sustainable future 2016-19, I believe you have the opportunity to strengthen the strategy through your thoughtful consideration and comments, particularly in the area of climate change.
I currently serve as full-time special adviser for climate change to the Government of Ontario. My comments today do not represent the official views of Ontario; rather, they are my own observations based on my recent experience.
The big challenge for governments, national, provincial, and municipal, is that the three major elements of climate change policy, mitigation, adaptation, and economic opportunity, are each whole-of-government or boundary-spanning problems for which current government structures are ill-designed. Merely adding the words “climate change” to an existing line ministry, such as Environment, will not solve any of the three elements of climate change, each of which has its own set of relevant government departments and its own unique challenges.
Instead, I would invite the committee, and indeed the federal government itself, to use the opportunity offered by the review of this new, third version of the federal sustainable development strategy to reflect on how better to deal with the whole-of-government problem. For example, might it ultimately make more sense to house the sustainable development office, currently at Environment and Climate Change, in a central agency, such as the Privy Council Office, the Department of Finance, or the Treasury Board?
Indeed, the committee might wish to reflect on the two-dimensional nature of this challenge. Not only must there be greater horizontal action for climate change across ministries, agencies, and departments at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels, but there also must be greater vertical co-operation and coordination among the three orders of governments themselves.
The challenge of responding to climate change is so great and so urgent that Canada must mobilize all of its governments for the fight, as it did during the Second World War. Using the review of the new federal sustainable development strategy for the committee to focus on this whole-of-government or, more aptly, whole-of-governments challenge would, in my view, be an appropriate and timely response to the crisis.
Madam Chair, honourable members, good morning. My name is Scott Vaughan. I'm the president of the International Institute for Sustainable Development.
Let me begin by saying how honoured I am to be here beside John Godfrey, who's the architect, as you've just heard, of the Federal Sustainable Development Act.
My comments this morning are divided into three parts: first, some observations regarding the 2016 draft of the FSDS, federal sustainable development strategy; second, some examples of quickly emerging practices related to sustainable development; and third, why whole-of-government approaches are critical to address climate change.
First, the federal sustainable development strategy, as currently released in the February 2016 draft report, has a wealth of information that highlights various environmental initiatives across government. It is thus highly useful as a single information portal of government targets, programs, and initiatives related to the environment.
Environmental information is certainly important. At the same time, environment is one of the three pillars that comprise sustainable development. Quebec's sustainable development strategy in this regard clearly states that sustainable development does not equal the environment. Rather, sustainable development intends to bring together into an integrated fashion economic, social, and environmental priorities. The consequence of omitting one of these priorities is all too clear: the loss of public confidence and trust, or the erosion of social licence.
The second broad comment regarding the FSDS is that despite its name, it isn't a strategy. Indeed, its stated objective is to enhance transparency and accountability. It thus acts as a mirror of previously announced targets and programs. When we think of a strategy in simple terms, it's the plan or road map to get us from here to there. For many years, the “there” of sustainable development was contested or unclear, yet today it's never been clearer. The sustainable development goals that Canada and 190 countries adopted in September 2015, as well as the Paris agreement on climate change adopted by Canada and others in December 2015, set out clearly the expectations for the federal government ahead.
Let me thus turn briefly to some concrete examples of actions under way to implement the SDGs and also, in those actions, reflect a whole-of-government approach in doing so.
The first area involves data and indicators to measure and compare progress within and between countries. Earlier this month, the United Nations Statistical Commission released its draft report of the potential range of indicators to measure sustainable development. The current Canadian environmental sustainable indicators, CESI, in the FSDS, while world class in measuring environment-related data, can and should be expanded eventually to reflect the emerging consensus among national statistical agencies regarding the range of indicators.
One example, honourable members, that's useful to share is work that the IISD has done with United Way of Winnipeg in building an online suite of urban-based sustainability indicators, called Peg, which comprise 30 composite indicators that track a range of issues: household income and other economic data; various social indicators, including public health, public housing, aboriginal conditions, educational attainment, public transport, and nutrition; as well as environmental indicators. Together these help measure the pulse of the city of Winnipeg and also provide a strong empirical foundation upon which to adjust policy interventions. A key aspect of that Peg model is its commitment to community input and to public engagement.
Similarly, when looking at the SDGs at the international level, they're inviting different forms of public engagement outside of Canada. For example, the European Commission in late 2015 began public consultations across the commission regarding SDGs. In Africa, among about 12 countries, consultations involving 350,000 people are currently taking place to show how the SDGs will affect their households and their communities. In October 2015, Belarus ran a special train, an express train for the SDGs, that visited regional cities and engaged 150,000 people in what the SDGs will mean for their economy and for their people.
Perhaps the most pressing challenge regarding implementation of sustainable development, as we know, and as Mr. Godfrey has alluded to, is that of public coherence. A priority of many countries has been to build a whole-of-government coordination in SDG implementation. For example, in 2014 the German chancellor's office tasked the independent German Council for Sustainable Development to assess the national implementation dimensions of the SDGs. That report was submitted to the German chancellor in late 2015.
Similarly, in 2015, the new Finnish prime minister expressly moved their sustainable development commission from the environment ministry to the prime minister's office in order to support whole-of-government coordination. Similarly, the Jamaican prime minister established an SDG unit within that office. Colombia has been an early leader in the SDGs and has established a high-level inter-institutional commission comprising seven cabinet ministers for various responsibilities related to the SDGs, as well as a technical secretariat and committee and inter-sectoral working groups.
From these examples of whole-of-government models, let me then conclude with some observations about climate change, which by definition requires policy coordination across government.
According to the evidence of the federal Government of Canada, climate impacts will affect all regions of Canada and almost all sectors, and thus comprehensive actions involving almost all federal ministries and agencies in order to build resilience and adaptation. These range from linking climate impacts to public health and public safety/emergency responses, as well as action to increase climate-resilient infrastructure, to increased applied scientific research into anticipated climate impacts affecting Canada's freshwater lakes, rivers, forests, mines, and agriculture.
In looking at these challenges, new models are emerging to attract private finance towards adaptation efforts by using public finance to help de-risk and leverage private investments. Indeed, that's the model, the anticipated model, upon which the Paris agreement on blended finance is based.
It's exactly the same challenge on policy coordination on climate greenhouse gas mitigation. Actions to accelerate green innovation to bring low-carbon energy to scale are welcome, but to reach scale, whole-of-government approaches are needed to coordinate different federal government innovation clusters, be they the SDTC, NRCan, the NRC, and elsewhere.
Equally important to reach scale is leveraging other public policies, from reforming subsidies to fossil fuels and accelerating green public procurement and green government operations towards low-carbon examples, to championing Canadian clean exports abroad through NAFTA and the World Trade Organization and aligning Export Development Canada financing to attract private financial investment, again by de-risking and leveraging actions.
In addition to these operational examples, there is a clear recognition among many countries, including the United States, that climate change poses a national security risk, thus the need for Canada's foreign policy to have a clear climate lens to understand, for example, the links between climate impacts and fragile states, and the related climate security.
Madam Chair, these and other examples underscore the need for a whole-of-government approach, and no one I know in government favours incoherent policies, yet in practice, coordination can be immensely difficult. Harvard economist Dani Rodrik argues that precisely because of the magnitude of climate change, many jurisdictions are taking a fresh look at industrial policy to provide a clear strategic focus across governments and to have focused priority actions and outcomes.
Therefore, to conclude, the FSDS is one of the few examples of whole-of-government platforms and thus provides an important platform in your review to bring a whole-of-government approach to climate mitigation and climate adaptation.
Madam Chair, it is a pleasure for us to be here today to share our views on the Federal Sustainable Development Act. I am joined today by two principals from the office, James McKenzie and Andrew Hayes.
As Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, I am responsible for monitoring sustainable development strategies of federal departments and agencies. I am also responsible for commenting on the draft federal sustainable development strategy, or federal strategy, and for reviewing the fairness of the government's progress report in relation to its federal strategy.
The Federal Sustainable Development Act is an important piece of legislation. I would like to discuss three topics that the committee may wish to consider as it undertakes its review of the act.
First, I would like to talk about the environmental focus of the act.
The act defines sustainable development as meaning “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Despite this definition, the purpose of the act is directed towards environmental decision-making. As a result, we have noted that previous federal strategies have focused significantly more on the environment and less on the economic and social aspects of sustainable development.
The act could actually be considered to be a federal environmental strategy act. Our experience in reviewing previous federal strategies supports this characterization. In 2013, we recommended—it was probably Scott who did it—that Environment and Climate Change Canada should lead work aimed at integrating the social and economic dimensions of sustainable development into the federal strategy.
Practically speaking, sustainable development means thinking about how decisions can affect the economy, society, the environment, and the well-being of future generations. The committee may wish to consider whether the purpose of the Federal Sustainable Development Act should be expanded to explicitly include all of these components.
As an example, I'd like to draw your attention to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act that was passed by the Welsh government in 2015, most likely the latest sustainable development act at a national level.
The interesting thing about this act is there was a big debate on whether the act should be called the sustainable development act or the well-being of future generations act. They decided to go with the well-being of future generations. The other interesting thing about the act is that they have put in seven specific goals that all the departments have to contribute to, and not just environmental goals. Yes, there are environmental and climate goals, but there are also goals around health, economic prosperity, being globally responsible, equality in the Welsh community, a strong culture, as well as cohesive communities. So by being a little bit more specific about the goals and demanding that departments show how they're contributing, it's making for what I would say is sort of one step further than our current act.
My second point is that we would encourage the committee to look at whether the act can strengthen how the federal government considers the social, economic, and environmental aspects when making policy and program decisions. There is currently a cabinet directive that requires departments and agencies to identify potential important environmental effects when new programs, policies, or plans are proposed.
For the most part, departments and agencies that we have audited have not adequately applied the cabinet directive. For example, in my 2015 report, I found that the cabinet directive was applied in only five out of over 1,700 proposals that the four departments we audited submitted to their ministers for approval. The results were better for proposals submitted to cabinet, where we reported that the cabinet directive had been applied in 110 out of 250 cases. However, that's still not getting a 50% grade.
Despite these poor results, I believe that a relatively simple amendment to the act could produce meaningful results. In particular, the committee may wish to consider the merits of entrenching an enhanced version of the cabinet directive in a law, such as the Federal Sustainable Development Act. By enhanced, I mean that the departments and agencies should be required to incorporate not just environmental but also social and economic considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and programs. Entrenching an enhanced version of the cabinet directive into the act would send a clear message that sustainable development, and particularly the well-being of our future generations, must not be ignored when governments are making decisions today. As part of a law passed by Parliament, the cabinet directive and its requirements are much more likely to be respected by departments and agencies. In addition, my office would have a stronger basis on which to assess the sustainable development activities of the government.
Finally, my third point is I'd like to suggest that the committee consider strengthening the role that all parliamentary committees can play in relation to sustainable development. In my view, an opportunity exists for parliamentary committees to play a stronger role in promoting the consideration of the needs and well-being of future generations by government. Under the current act, the federal strategy is referred to the standing committees of the House of Commons and the Senate that normally consider matters related to the environment. But, as we have heard, sustainable development involves much more than just the environment. In my view, the federal strategy should be considered by almost every parliamentary committee. Each parliamentary committee could then hold the departments that report to them accountable for the contributions they have committed to make toward the goals and targets of the federal strategy.
This would likely result in a more systematic focus across government on how actions today could impact the well-being of future generations. I would expect that transparency and accountability around decision-making would be enhanced. And my office would be pleased to support the other committees that undertake this work.
Madam Chair, your committee can play an important role in raising the profile of sustainable development. I commend the committee for the work that it is conducting.
This concludes my opening remarks. We would be happy to answer the committee's questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today as you embark on your study of the Federal Sustainable Development Act.
I'm the assistant deputy minister of strategic policy at Environment and Climate Change Canada. I have with me Paula Brand, who is the acting director general of our sustainability directorate, and who is responsible overall for the development of the progress report and the federal strategy. I also have with me, Duncan Retson, from Public Services and Procurement Canada, who is the director general of the office of greening government operations, an important part of the federal strategy as well.
I'll focus my opening remarks on two main areas, if I may: first, the administration of the current act; and second, a bit of an introduction to the draft 2016-19 federal sustainable development strategy and the current public consultations we're in.
As Mr. Godfrey mentioned, I think it may be helpful to begin with a brief historical context.
Prior to this act, there was no comprehensive or overarching federal government approach to sustainable development. Federal departments each prepared sustainable development strategies, but each was more or less independent, and there was no overarching strategy that tried to knit it all together into a coherent whole or that guided the work of the individual departments.
After about a decade or so of audits by the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development that were more or less generally critical of this approach, the Honourable John Godfrey introduced his private member's bill, which would ultimately become the Federal Sustainable Development Act.
I think it might be useful for the committee as well just to look a little bit at, as he was touching on, the history of the changes that went through from that process from the beginning to the end, and also perhaps the constraints that were implied by that, by it coming through as a private member's bill versus a piece of government legislation, because there are significant constraints that flow from that. It might be useful for the committee to look at it.
The act ultimately, as Mr. Godfrey mentioned, was passed in June 2008 with all-party support, marking the beginning of a new approach to federal sustainable development planning and reporting.
The act's focus is making environmental decision-making more transparent and accountable to Parliament. The Minister of Environment and Climate Change has a number of very specific obligations under the act. They include tabling a federal sustainable development strategy every three years that sets out goals, targets, and an implementation strategy for each target and a minister responsible for achieving each target; carrying out a 120-day public consultation period for each draft strategy, as part of which, the draft is provided to parliamentarians, Canadians, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, and the Sustainable Development Advisory Council for review; and tabling a progress report at least once every three years.
Since the act was passed, two federal sustainable development strategies have been tabled, in 2010 and in 2013, and three progress reports have also been tabled in both houses of Parliament. The most recent report, tabled February past, presents findings and progress towards the goals and targets of the 2013-16 strategy.
In terms of participation across government, 26 federal departments and agencies are bound by the act, meaning they are required to prepare and update departmental strategies that comply with and contribute to the overall federal sustainable development strategy. They include the agencies named in the schedule to the act and also the departments named in schedule I of the Financial Administration Act.
As you might expect, departments and agencies generally participate in the strategy relative to their own specific mandates. However, all 26 contribute to targets related to reducing the environmental footprint of federal government operations.
Departments and agencies also table and report on their departmental sustainable development strategies through supplementary tables appended to the reports on plans and priorities and departmental performance reports that are tabled in Parliament. It has an effect on operations that goes beyond just the tabling of the specific strategies called for in the act.
Environment and Climate Change Canada also reaches out to departments and agencies not named in the Federal Sustainable Development Act in order to expand participation in the strategy. As a result of these efforts, the number of federal institutions involved in implementing the federal sustainable development strategy has increased with each cycle. Between 2013 and 2016 the number of voluntary departments has increased from seven to 11. Five organizations are participating for the first time in the new 2016-19 strategy: the Canadian Coast Guard, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, and Sustainable Development Technology Canada. Voluntary departments and agencies contribute to the federal strategy in a range of ways depending on the responsibilities and programs. For example, the Canadian Coast Guard will contribute to the proposed target on marine pollution, coastal ecosystems, and environmental emergencies, while Sustainable Development Technology Canada will contribute to targets on sustainable energy, clean technology and green infrastructure, sustainable forest management, and sustainable agriculture.
I'll say a few words about the current draft strategy. On February 26 the government released the consultation draft of the next strategy, which will cover the period 2016 to 2019. The draft articulates a vision of a sustainable economy, a clean environment, and an excellent quality of life. It proposes five long-term aspirational goals: action on climate change, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions from our own federal operations; clean technology, jobs, and innovation; national parks, protected areas, and ecosystems; fresh water and oceans; and human health, well-being, and quality of life. The goals are supported by 36 targets as well as implementation strategies or federal actions to achieve the targets. New targets for 2016 to 2019 address clean technology and green infrastructure, sustainable energy, sustainable mineral resource development, protecting and restoring Canada's coastal ecosystems, and connecting Canadians with nature.
The draft strategy reflects federal government priorities as set out in ministerial mandate letters and in the Speech from the Throne. Examples include working with provinces and territories to establish a pan-Canadian climate change framework; developing and implementing a new 10-year plan to deliver significant new funding to provinces, territories, and municipalities to support infrastructure investment; and increasing the percentage of Canada's marine and coastal area that is conserved to 5% by 2017 and 10% by 2020.
For the first time, the draft strategy also has strong linkages between the federal sustainable development priorities and those of the international community.
In fall 2015, the United Nations replaced the millennium development goals with 17 sustainable development goals and 169 targets.
The sustainable development goals and targets are “integrated and indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental. The Goals and targets will stimulate action over the next fifteen years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet.” The draft federal sustainable development strategy reflects many of the same environmental sustainable issues covered by the sustainable development goals and shows the alignment of the government's plans to these environmental sustainable development goals.
Briefly, in closing, let me speak about the consultations that we're undertaking. The Federal Sustainable Development Act that you're reviewing was very clear that consultation should be a key component, and we are using a variety of new and more modern approaches to engage Canadians. For the first time the current draft strategy is being presented in a searchable and interactive format to support public consultations. This new format allows Canadians to sift and sort through the issues that are important to them, and then have the option to use a comment box to provide input as they go. This feature also helps us understand more about how Canadians are using the e-strategy and which views and topics are most relevant to them.
In addition, the draft strategy is very much a call for Canadians to participate in its development. It's to start a conversation with Canadians about what a sustainable Canada looks like, what environmental sustainability targets the government should aim for, and how to measure and report on them.
Specifically, the draft asks Canadians to weigh in on several questions in the areas of articulating the vision, increasing the transparency and accountability, acknowledging the role of the sustainable development goals, and recognizing the contributions of our partners. While public consultations will continue until late June, we have already received a number of comments that have been very substantive, touching on a variety of sustainable development issues, such as clean technology, urban nature, investment in research, and the global SDGs.
Madam Chair, thank you very much for the opportunity to provide this overview.
But it's not him; it's whether or not the department gave the minister that information so that when he made a decision, he had all three pieces.
My proposal, in the statement we made this morning, was that if you entrenched that requirement, then when you were making a decision, whatever the decision, you would have all three pieces of information: the economic, the social, and the environmental. I will give you one other example, and I will make it really personal.
Let's say you try to make a decision about whether or not to put solar panels up on your house, or to buy a local little windmill. You want to be renewable, or you want to try something new. The first thing you think about is how long you'll be in your house and what your return on investment will be. Will it pay off or not? You look at the economic and financial side. Second, you ask yourself what you'll do when the wind's not blowing and the sun's not shining. How will your kids plug in their devices? How will you operate the dishwasher? You look at the social impact, at the impact on your household. The last thing you should be thinking about when you're making that decision, on an equal basis, is how you're helping to protect the environment. What's the reduction of your greenhouse gases?
Whatever it is, that information should be available to you so that you're looking at all three things before you make a call. That's what the cabinet directive is supposed to be for. That's what we're proposing be entrenched in an act, to make it legally binding.
I guess I would comment on two parts. First, with regard to your reference back to target 4.3 and how it's reflected in the strategy, there is an action plan, the St. Lawrence action plan, that's been in place for a considerable period of time. It's actually something of a model of intergovernmental collaboration between the federal and provincial governments. It covers across federal departments and across provincial agencies. It intersects with both municipalities and communities up and down the St. Lawrence. There's a series of comités ZIP, zones d’intervention prioritaire, right along the St. Lawrence. It's a long-standing means of looking at the St. Lawrence on both the economic side and the environmental side.
With respect to the particular release of sewage by the City of Montreal, I think that was the minister's day one on the job, just before she had to head off for international negotiations on day two. The first action was that she issued an order with respect to the release of sewage, and in that order, it did two things.
First, it established a monitoring program that the City of Montreal was obliged to follow so that we would have good information on what were the consequences of the diversion that had to take place for maintenance work and what were the effects on the ecosystem and the communities. That was one part of the order. The second part of the order was that the City of Montreal was obligated to participate with Environment and Climate Change Canada and the affected first nations in a comprehensive review of the circumstances that led to the cause of the release, with the intention of avoiding those circumstances in the future.
That review is still going on. A series of workshops have been held with the communities, with first nations communities, with the City of Montreal, and with the provincial government. The workshops looked at what happened there. They're looking at the scientific information that was provided by the monitoring program and will be coming up with a report to the minister, hopefully by the end of this month, on actions that can be taken to avoid this in the future.
I want to be clear that I wasn't arguing for a more decentralized model. That's what we have. I'm arguing for a more centralized model in the sense that there needs to be some place at the heart of government...and there are only three central agencies at the federal government. There's the Prime Minister's Office, or PCO, there's Treasury Board, and there's Finance. They're the only ones with the kind of mission to roam and the authority to be able to compel, frankly.
A line department can do its very best. I thought we were quite clever in the way we gave them as much authority as we could under the act, but at the end of the day, you need to have an overview of how all this stuff hangs together. There are also synergies that will take place. If you're going to be interacting with your provincial counterparts, you need to have a kind of united front, if I may put it that way, or a cohesiveness, to use Scott Vaughan's words, which doesn't currently exist.
You need a central clearing house so you can get the big picture, the presiding intelligence over the system. If need be, you also need the authority to ask the tough questions on a yearly basis, i.e., what did you actually mean by that? I think the environment department goes only a certain distance, but it's only a line department.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thanks, folks, for your presentations.
I'm going to continue on along Nathan's line of questioning.
This is a really smart plan. No offence to the folks who wrote this plan, but writing a smart plan is easy. I think everyone around this table would agree that we all want good strong environmental legislation. I think we're talking about a culture here that we need to change. We need a smart plan, but we need the tools to enforce the smart plan, and it seems as though those are missing.
The draft talks about federal leadership. I think there was mention of greening government operations.
Madam Chair, I hate to get down in the weeds here, but when I was a councillor they called me a “curb and gutter” councillor. I saw the small picture sometimes much more clearly than I saw the big picture. Yesterday I walked into the men's room in Centre Block and the window was wide open to provide cool air and yet the radiator was blaring hot. On any given day, just around Parliament Hill, there a hundred cars idling for eight-hour shifts, gas-powered cars. We have our gas-powered parliamentary buses. We have loads of room for charging stations, and I know strategy, I think, 1.4 speaks to that, but I call that low-hanging fruit.
If we're going to send a message and try to change a culture, it has to start here, perhaps right on Parliament Hill, but certainly in all of our government offices all across the country, and we're not doing that. We're not even really recycling. I hate to throw in a plug for light bulbs, but we're still throwing our light bulbs out when they're spent as well.
I guess my question is for the commissioner.
Every time you speak, I either want to high-five you or I want to hug you, but my question for you is very simple and you can get this on the record: Do you have the enforcement tools you need to better implement this act? It's a good act and a good plan with excellent intentions by Mr. Godfrey, but we're not following through on the good things in this plan.
No. One problem with five years is you'd be in different parliamentary cycles, for one thing. I think that if you did it too quickly there wouldn't be time to change or correct. I think three years is about right, but I suspect, and one could confirm in talking to Ms. Brand and to the commissioner, the idea was to keep the pressure on but not to be unreasonable.
Another thing I would say is that this thing was designed to take into account that there would be changes in political administration, and that there would be changes of emphasis. As I say, if you look at the original draft bill from Suzuki, they didn't really talk about climate change; they only talked about CO2 as one of the substances that was listed.
As political priorities and public priorities change, you need the flexibility to be able to put a greater emphasis on things. That's where I think parliamentary committees come in, because they reflect the urgency of the day. Also, we have to be thinking about tomorrow as well.
The act itself, in describing the sustainable development strategy, is an empty vessel. It's what you put in that thing, and it's how you update it, and it's how you build on the basis.... It's an iterative policy that allows you to get better and better at the measuring part.
I would just say right now that I suspect there is a perfect kind of alignment between the concerns of Canadians and the concerns of members on this committee. Therefore, you can be more ambitious with this bill, which did pretty well, actually. I think the fact that there were three iterations speaks well for the previous government as well, frankly.
I love the SDGs everybody is talking about. I'm looking at them, and there are all the best intentions, but what's really happening?
I'm trying to think, how do we take these targets and these goals and all the rest of it and make it real? How do we build in accountability, enforcement, and all the rest of it? I've heard many things as far as legislative changes, as far as data, are concerned. We need data. We need to be able to measure. We need a central body. We need education. There are so many different aspects.
Scott gave a number of examples, as did Julie, of some of the actions that are just starting to happen around the world. We don't have to reinvent the wheel here.
In looking at the best practices that you see, I'm sitting here, thinking, where do we start? It's an evolution, not a revolution. Even though we are a changed government, where do we start to make the changes to build on that to make it more effective, accountable, and enforceable?
I'll start with Scott, and then ask Julie.
What an honour to participate in this discussion. We have committed civil servants. We have the current commissioner and a former commissioner. It's really appreciated. I wish more Canadians were paying attention. I hope we can find a way to draw attention to this discussion.
I appreciate comments that have been made more broadly about the sustainable development goals of this legislation. Clearly we are engaging in a review of this legislation. I think one of the biggest challenges related to the legislation is the fact that it is focused so broadly on sustainable development. Where we start getting closer to being capable of measuring specific achievements by our government.... If we get to climate change, then we actually start getting somewhere specific.
I recognize that the goals of this legislation, as articulated in section 5, enable that focus. In my line of questioning, I would invite our witnesses to focus specifically on the climate change aspect of this. I'm not focused on the broader sustainable development right now. I'd like to focus on the climate aspect.
The purpose of the legislation is to make decision-making more transparent and accountable to Parliament. That means accountability to Canadians. Right now Canadians expect a whole-of-government approach. They don't know how to do it. They want government to achieve it. It's our role here to review the legislation as well as the strategy, based on the strategies that have emerged, to evaluate whether we are engaging in the processes that are going to achieve the kind of accountability and transparency that the legislation demands.
Canadians want to trust us, but I actually believe that right now they don't. I fundamentally believe that Canadians right now don't trust that any level of government, let alone the federal government, is actually engaging in concrete efforts to measure what sustainability and specifically climate outcomes the governments are achieving.
Number one, I'd like to invite any organization in this country but specifically IISD.... I would love if that message could be spread further through social media and other mechanisms. I would love to invite organizations to specifically suggest how the federal government could change its approach to a whole-of-government mentality around measurability of emissions and emissions reductions. We could have the same discussion around adaptation as well. We could have the same discussion around clean technologies and innovation, but specifically, I want to focus on emissions reductions.
My first question would go to Mr. Vaughan, since he has the benefit of having been in this position before. Perhaps the commissioner could follow.
What specifically needs to change within the Federal Sustainable Development Act, or if not the act, then within how government operates, to achieve measurability? I mean beyond sort of putting this in the centre of government. I note that section 15 of the act enables cabinet regulations. Do we lack the powers to compel?
Section 15 of the Federal Sustainable Development Act enables, broadly, regulations for the purpose of achieving any of the goals of the act. Cabinet can do whatever it wants, effectively, to achieve sustainable development as identified in the goals. Is there anything that could be added to the legal architecture and the regulatory architecture that would better enable measurable targets?
After you've had a chance, I want to return to Mrs. Brand, since she's involved specifically in the production of these strategies. Is there something that would better enable interdepartmental collaboration, so that you'd have some measurable goals and targets that could then be reported on?
I'll go first to Mr. Vaughan.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I appreciate the presentations. I really do. One of the things I did look through...and when you mention small things, sometimes small things jump out at you and you want to ask about small things, and I appreciate the large conversation. But I think it comes to monitoring. I see a goal in here for marine ecosystems. We're at 1.3% protected. In 2017 we'll be at 5%, and by 2020 we'll be at 10%. It will be interesting to see what we get when you evaluate those large goals.
I saw the thing on agriculture, the concern about fertilizing. Well, it's a very technical industry these days, and they go by right rate, right time, right source, and right place to fertilize. The agriculture industry is a lot farther ahead than maybe this report thinks they are, and I hope they pay attention to that.
When you talked about the first nations, the water, you talked about how the federal role is only for guidance and monitoring. If we had that in the municipal world with our water system we'd be in large trouble. You have to go farther than guiding and monitoring when you talk about water. We have to have certified people who are trained 24-7.
So I don't think it goes where it needs to go. I think I've mentioned this before. If you're going to have treatable water—we all have to be the same in this country—then you have to have certified people 24-7. The federal role has to be more than just monitoring and guiding. It won't work. That's something I'll look forward to when you do your evaluation.
When you mention building codes—I've brought this up before, and brought it up with you—you're absolutely right. Municipalities are out there trying to figure out the building codes; the builders are trying to figure them out. We need some federal leadership or it's not going to get done. It needs it. They're looking for it. And we need to provide that leadership.