Thank you very much. It's always a pleasure to be before this committee. You guys do really great work and I love the fact that you're able to work together, which is great.
I'm going to start by recognizing that we're on the traditional territory of the Algonquin and Anishinabe peoples.
Thank you for having me here today to discuss Bill .
First, let me say again that this bill would not have been possible without your help. Your recommendations are the foundation for the amendments in this bill, and I look forward to a lot of interesting discussions as we move forward. Your report clearly showed that there is room for improvement in the current system.
The current act has had positive results. For example, it has helped Canadians better understand our progress towards sustainable development by providing a more clear overarching picture. And it has led to robust public consultation, and that has played an important role in shaping each strategy.
For example, our recent 2016-19 federal sustainable development strategy, or FSDS, was created with input from indigenous organizations, leading scientists with the Royal Society of Canada, and videos from youth. We've made progress and now we have the opportunity to take that even further, to make sure future governments continue down that path. Working together, that's what I hope we can accomplish through this bill.
Today, I'd like to say a few words about my vision for this bill and our renewed approach to the FSDS—what I hope we can achieve together.
Then I want to talk in more detail about how this bill responds to the issues you brought up in your report and why I think it's the right approach to strengthening the Federal Sustainable Development Act, or FSDA.
Finally, I'd like to address some of the concerns raised during debate at second reading.
Let me start by talking about what I'd like to achieve. Looking forward, my vision is an ambitious, aspirational federal sustainable development strategy that drives coordinated action across government toward common goals and targets. It's a strategy that promotes accountability through measurable targets, clear and balanced reporting, and strong oversight by parliamentarians. It's an inclusive strategy that reflects the priorities and perspectives of indigenous peoples, stakeholders, and all Canadians and that calls for action across Canadian society.
I think we can build on the improvements that we've made with the current FSDS. This strategy raised the bar with ambitious goals, strong targets and indicators, a clear commitment to sustainable development principles, and broad participation by federal departments and agencies. Bill would make these improvements permanent and help go further in future strategies.
Let me go on now to speak in depth about a few key aspects of the bill.
Your report said very clearly that revisiting the purpose is essential to improving the FSDA. The revised purpose of Bill differs in some ways from your recommendation, but I believe it reflects many of the same basic elements.
First, it shifts the act's emphasis to advancing sustainable development and improving quality of life, not just environmental reporting. Second, it moves from a focus on environmental decision-making to sustainable development decision-making, recognizing that sustainability goes beyond just the environment. Finally, it recognizes that the FSDS needs to respect our domestic and international commitments. That includes the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.
You called for a more comprehensive suite of principles to guide our actions. This bill would add seven new well-accepted principles to the act. I want to note in particular the addition of intergenerational equity. This has been at the core of sustainable development since the very beginning, and it speaks to our commitment to build a greener Canada for future generations.
You called for the amendments to enable a whole-of-government approach, and for the government to review which organizations should be required to prepare sustainability strategies. Based on your recommendation, our bill would expand the requirements of the act to more than 90 departments and agencies, compared with only 26 today. The objective is to put sustainable development at the forefront of decision-making everywhere in government, not only in organizations with a strong environmental mandate.
We heard you when you called for stronger accountability and enforceability under the FSDA. That's clearly a major focus for us, with our strong commitment to results and delivery. The bill responds to that in a few key ways. First, it would require targets to be measurable and to include a time frame, thereby providing the flexibility to address a broad range of issues in the FSDS, including emerging issues, while also ensuring that we clearly define what we want to achieve, that we can measure our progress, and that we can be held accountable for results.
Bill would also introduce a requirement for departments and agencies to report each year on their sustainable development progress. This complements the current requirement for an FSDS progress report every three years and will ensure that any remaining challenges can be identified and addressed early, so that we can meet our targets.
Finally, I'd like to address some of the concerns brought up during second reading debate.
I'll start with the 2030 agenda and how it should be reflected in the FSDA and in our strategy. Our government completely supports the 2030 agenda and its 17 sustainable development goals. The current FSDS reflects those goals.
I want to avoid limiting the act and what will be addressed in the FSDS. We know that sustainable development is an evolving landscape. This bill clarifies, within the act's purpose, that the FSDS must respect and support the commitments we have now. Those include the 2030 agenda, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and others. But it also leaves room to incorporate future commitments and issues as they arise.
I recall the testimony of the Honourable John Godfrey, sponsor of the original private member's bill that led to the FSDA, who highlighted the risk of being too prescriptive with respect to FSDS content. Speaking before this committee during your review of the act, he noted that the original draft bill didn't really talk about climate change. Today, clearly, climate change is a key area of focus throughout our strategy.
I also want to note that implementing the SDGs through legislation is not a common practice around the world. In fact, sustainable development legislation is uncommon. Canada is actually one of only five countries with sustainable development legislation, and no country that I'm aware of actually has a legal requirement for a sustainability strategy based on the 2030 agenda, so we are not an outlier in that respect.
Next I'd like to talk about a whole-of-government approach. For us, a whole-of-government approach means we're all involved. Sustainability is important for all of us. What is important is that we're all working together to take action to contribute to advancing sustainability. This bill includes amendments designed to support a whole-of-government approach, such as including more departments and agencies and specifying that all of them, including central agencies, must be engaged in developing and reporting on the FSDS.
I also want to mention the role of parliamentarians in implementing the FSDA. This is extremely important and something to which we gave a lot of thought. Our intention is for one committee to really take ownership of the act and the FSDS. Clearly, this committee has the experience and knowledge to help guide the implementation.
I have heard concerns about reforms to the Sustainable Development Advisory Council, specifically about allowing remuneration of members and reimbursement of expenses. The current act prohibits this, as it was originally a private member's bill. That means we are limited in the role the council can play. For example, with members located all around the country, it's unlikely I would ever have the opportunity to meet with them in person. Changing that provision would facilitate my ability to engage with the committee in an effective manner.
I also want to note that while this wasn't specifically recommended in your report, I said in my initial response last October that I would propose additional changes to improve the act's effectiveness and to ensure it reflects Canadian values. This is one example. The goal is to ensure that indigenous peoples and stakeholders can play a strong role in our sustainability approach.
I'll close by saying that this is a great opportunity to strengthen an important piece of legislation.
As a government, we are committed to a renewed approach to federal sustainability. We have a strong FSDS in place that supports our international commitments, including the 2030 agenda and the sustainable development objectives. We are continuing the conversation with Canadians about sustainable development and we are already beginning to report on our results.
Bill will solidify improvements we've made through the FSDS and build on our strengths, moving us toward the vision of an ambitious, accountable, inclusive strategy focused on results.
I welcome your views, comments and questions.
As I know you're aware, the committee here is also working on a heritage study. One of the witnesses we had was Christophe Rivet from ICOMOS Canada. I'm going to go through just a couple of things he shared with us, which I think make a nice connection from that study to the Sustainable Development Act and the sustainable development strategies.
He notes that cultural heritage is included in the international agreements related to the environment and sustainable development adopted by Canada. He notes that article 5 of the World Heritage Convention guides our assessment of Canada's compliance with it and offers us an opportunity to update our national tools. He goes on to indicate that that could include legislation to protect tools to guide decision-making and financial incentives to implement proper practices.
He indicates that another consideration is that international commitments made by Canada regarding sustainable development recognize the role of cultural heritage in achieving sustainability, including, under the 17 goals, making cities and human settlements inclusive, resilient, and sustainable.
Last, he goes on to indicate that the federal sustainable development strategy that aims to guide each department on how to achieve sustainability is an important consideration, and that there is no mechanism to report how we achieve sustainable development while considering cultural heritage, but that there is an opportunity there to put that marker down.
My question is simple. Would you consider an amendment in some form, either in principle or in another statement, to bring in cultural heritage to the Sustainable Development Act?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Perhaps I'll just point out and describe each of these components, and then draw the linkage between them. We're all aware of the cabinet directive on environmental assessment of plans, policies, and programs, where every minister is responsible for implementing the directive. The department itself plays a particular role in establishing the environmental framework against which departments would assess their priorities.
The targets that appear in the FSDS itself become the objectives against which the Department of Immigration, the Department of Health, and so on will assess their programs, plans, and priorities. Those assessments find their way into documents like memoranda to cabinet and Treasury Board submissions, where those assessments and works are done by individual ministers and submitted through that process. The report—and the commissioner's report that we're often talking about—has chosen to take a handful of departments each cycle and assess where they are in those processes. It's not a comprehensive view of how that cabinet directive is being implemented, but in every cycle there are a few departments that are reviewed by the commissioner of the Auditor General. PCO has a role to play in terms of the oversight it takes when it's reviewing and providing advice on memoranda to cabinet in general, and they have responsibilities related to that. The bottom line is that all departments and all ministries have a responsibility related to strategic environmental assessment.
Departmental sustainable development strategies are a child of the broad federal strategy, in which each of those 26 departments is required to put together a strategy relating how they will contribute to the goals and targets in the strategy. The is not responsible for every goal and target in the federal sustainable development strategy; her responsibility is to coordinate the efforts of all 26 departments in elaborating that strategy. Be it Environment and Climate Change Canada, Natural Resources Canada, or Health Canada, departments have specific strategies, and their ministers have responsibilities for the specific goals and targets inside those strategies.
Departmental strategies can include a lot of things. They include which goals, targets, and departmental actions departments are going to contribute to. They also include things like performance measurements and performance indicators, which can be used to track whether those targets are being put into place. They include other sustainable development contributions that a department may make outside of the federal sustainable development strategy. Many of you have noted that sustainable development can be considered broader than the goals and targets, and there are some departments that have commitments outside of the federal sustainable development strategy. Their departmental strategy includes those pieces as well, and it includes the public reporting dimensions on strategic environmental assessment.
The connections are in various places, yes, but the individual products and programs have different objectives. The strategic environmental assessment is your front-end decision-making advice to the minister's function. The federal sustainable development strategy and those departmental strategies are the plans, then, that come from those decisions. They include the monitoring means through indicators and performance measures, and then there is the public reporting side of that.
They are linked, yes, but they perform different functions inside of that. When we talk about “doing sustainable development”, it does not always equal “doing your SEAs”. There are a lot of things encompassed inside a departmental strategy that are related to sustainable development.
I thought I would just lay those pieces out for folks to understand where they are and how they fit together.
The notion of the original act is still the basis for many of the pieces you see in the bill, which is transparency. Transparency was a major portion of the first act, and it has been a major portion of our efforts to date.
With respect to accountability and the enforcement types of measures, as was eluded to, we now have managed to embed those throughout the act, starting at the principle level and talking about results, about the accountabilities with respect to targets themselves that must be measurable and time-bound.
Under the old act, departments only had to create a plan. They never had to report against their plan. That provision is new, to require departments to report twice within the three-year cycle on what they've achieved.
As a sustainable development office inside of Environment and Climate Change Canada, we work with Treasury Board Secretariat to provide guidance to departments around what should be in the nature of those plans and those reports so that we have some consistency for you to view them.
Those reports will now be tabled in Parliament. Upon tabling, they will be immediately referred to this committee so you will have access to all that information. That is a major change in the transparency. Those levers along the way afford points in time for review and assessment by you, by the public, by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.
All 26 departments released their plans the first week of October; that was our 100% compliance. Yes, everybody did what they currently have to do under the act and released their plans this past October. We're currently looking at all of them and bringing them together in an electronic form which we will release publicly when we have amalgamated them.
In the strategy, there is a commitment to do resilience and adaptation planning. That commitment in departmental plans was noted by many departments. We will amalgamate them so you will now be able to look at individual commitments and see how many departments are doing those things and the program measures they have in place.
All of that, we believe, improves transparency and accountability.