Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to discuss Bill , an act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act.
I would like to begin by thanking everyone who has helped shape Bill . The contributions of many hon. members and senators have been invaluable to the process, and the bill reflects the hard work and collaborative efforts of many individuals.
In particular, I appreciate the Hon. Senator Griffin's efforts in sponsoring this bill and her ongoing support as it has moved forward. I would also like to thank members of the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources for their thoughtful review and valuable insights.
Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to recognize the work of members of the House, including members of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, whose unanimous second report, “Federal Sustainability for Future Generations”, served as the foundation for Bill . I look forward to the chamber's discussion of the Senate's amendments to the bill.
Today, I want to start by outlining the importance of the Federal Sustainable Development Act and how Bill seeks to improve upon the current version of the legislation. Then I will highlight some of the most recent documents we have released under the current act. Finally, I wish to outline our position on the amendments made in the Senate.
First, I will give some of the background. the Federal Sustainable Development Act was the result of a 2008 private member's bill. This was sponsored by the Hon. John Godfrey, former member of Parliament for Don Valley West. The act set out a number of requirements for federal action on sustainable development, including the creation of a federal sustainable development strategy and releasing a report on progress against the strategy every three years. These strategies and reports have been instrumental in guiding, tracking and reporting on Canada's actions on sustainable development in a transparent and accountable manner.
The catalyst for amending the original Federal Sustainable Development Act, as I mentioned previously, was the study conducted by the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development. Bill responds to the thoughtful recommendations of that committee's report and would update the act to better reflect Canada's current priorities on sustainable development.
The bill proposed to expand the scope of the act and provide a whole-of-government approach to sustainable development. It includes more than 90 departments and agencies and provides the opportunity to add other entities in the future as well. This will help to ensure that the federal sustainable development strategy reflects the Government of Canada's ongoing commitment to sustainable development.
All federal organizations bound by the act will contribute to developing future federal sustainable development strategies and progress reports. The collaborative, whole-of-government approach to sustainable development will provide greater openness and transparency about our actions relating to sustainability.
Further, each federal organization will table its own sustainable development strategies and progress reports in Parliament. This will allow parliamentarians and relevant committees to review the progress of organizations and hold them to account for meeting their targets and goals.
At the heart of Bill are a number of important principles that would guide progress reports and strategies. For example, the principle of intergenerational equity, that it is important to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, provides an important context for the federal government's contribution toward sustainable development.
Other principles embedded in Bill include the principle of openness and transparency, the principle of collaboration and the principle of results and delivery. These principles will help guide the development of tangible, relevant and achievable goals and targets. The bill would also require targets in the federal sustainable development strategy be measurable and time-bound.
The bill would contribute to increased demographic representation and indigenous partnership. It would do this in three main ways, the first being through a new principle which would recognize the importance of involving indigenous peoples, because of their traditional knowledge and unique connection to Canada's lands and waters. Second, it would increase the number of indigenous representatives on the Sustainable Development Advisory Council from three to six. Finally, it would require demographic considerations such as age and gender be taken into account when appointing representatives to the council.
Bill is an important and inclusive step forward in the government's commitment to sustainable development.
Earlier this year, the bill was unanimously passed through the House with the support of all parties. I sincerely hope we can repeat that once more when it comes time for a final vote.
Our work on sustainable development continues. On December 3 of this year, we tabled the 2018 "Progress Report on the 2016 to 2019 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy” and launched public consultations on the draft 2019 to 2022 strategy. These products present results on where the federal government is in achieving its sustainable development targets and outline the environmental sustainability targets and actions it is proposing to take over the next three years.
We all wish to see a healthy, prosperous, safe and sustainable Canada, regardless of party, and considerable progress has been made toward achieving this vision over the past few years. The recently tabled progress report on the 2016 to 2019 federal sustainable development strategy helped show just how far we had come.
For example, the 2018 progress report shows that we may have met one target and are on track to meet the majority of the other targets laid out in the 2016 to 2019 development strategy. For instance, as of December 2017, almost 8% of coastal and marine areas have been conserved, on track to reach our target of 10% by 2020.
The government is also leading by example by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from federal government buildings and fleets. We have achieved a 28% reduction in GHG emissions relative to 2005 levels, more than halfway to the target of 40% by 2030. The progress report highlights that we are well on our way to achieving this ambitious target.
Just as important, we have identified areas where we need to improve. For example, the progress report reveals that we have some work to do on protecting terrestrial areas and inland waters. To this end, the $1 billion Canada nature fund announced in budget 2018 will help set us back on the path to achieving our target of protecting 17% of terrestrial areas and inland waters by 2020.
This is one of the crucial contributions of the goals and targets in the federal sustainable development strategy and its subsequent reports on progress. They set a path forward and then tell us exactly how we have done and where we need to focus our ongoing efforts. Sustainable development is and will remain a priority for our government, and these strategies and progress reports ensure accountability in meeting our targets.
As I mentioned, the draft 2019 to 2022 federal sustainable development strategy has been released for public consultation. The strategy includes the participation of 16 voluntary organizations beyond the 26 mandated by the act. The draft strategy builds on the 2016 to 2019 strategy. It proposes targets, milestones and actions supporting 13 aspirational, long-term goals that reflect the Canada we want.
We expect to hear from a number of partners, stakeholders and Canadians whose input helped shape past strategies and will continue to be instrumental in helping to shape the 2019 to 2022 strategy.
As hon. members know, some of those partners and stakeholders include the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, the House and Senate committees, which are responsible for regularly dealing with the environment, and the Sustainable Development Advisory Council. Our consultations are open until early April 2019 and we expect to hear from these groups and many other Canadians who are passionate about the environment and sustainable development.
This brings me to the amendments made in the Senate recently. The Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources welcomed the bill and there was a fruitful discussion and debate on its various clauses. I thank everyone once again for the thoughtful deliberation. I would like to point out that the dialogue between the two Houses is a fruitful exercise in my opinion. I know the Senate considered the bill in a thoughtful manner and proposed certain amendments, which I am happy to address.
Three amendments were agreed to in the Senate. The first amendment was made to broaden the mandate of the Sustainable Development Advisory Council. This change would allow council members to give advice on sustainable development matters beyond those referred to them by the minister. The Council would, however, continue to focus on the products set out in the Federal Sustainable Development Act. The government is going to accept this amendment.
The second amendment, however, poses certain problems. The amendment to clause 8 seeks to reinsert a section of the Federal Sustainable Development Act that Bill in its initial form removed. That section deals with performance-based contracts within the Government of Canada. It states that these contracts shall include provisions for meeting the applicable targets referred to in the federal sustainable development strategy and the departmental sustainable development strategies. This section was repealed under Bill for a number of reasons.
The debate on the issue at the time that the original act was being considered reflects how unclear this section was, and still is. The Hon. John Godfrey, who I mentioned was the initial sponsor of the bill that resulted in the Federal Sustainable Development Act, said that this clause could be interpreted as a contract with an employee or a contract with a construction company. This confusion remains today. Having practised as a litigator in my career before politics, certainty in the meaning of legislation is essential so folks can understand exactly what their obligations are.
Some witnesses who have come before the House and the Senate have interpreted this clause as pertaining to performance agreements with senior officials. Others have interpreted it as pertaining to procurement contract and particularly green procurement. A clause without clarity is not one that should be in a bill.
If Parliament is concerned about procurement, the Treasury Board Secretariat's policy on green procurement already aligns environmental objectives to the departments' procurement activities, meaning this section's inclusion in the bill would be redundant and unnecessary.
Moreover, subclause 10.1, a new addition under Bill , explicitly recognizes the power of the Treasury Board in establishing policies or issuing directives applicable to the sustainable development impacts of designated entities. The proposed amendment not only reinserts an already problematic clause, but it makes it even more problematic, extending it far beyond Bill C-57's intended purpose by entering into the realm of the employer's relationship with public servants. The amendment specifically adds employment contracts to the language on performance-based contracts. It says that these contracts shall include provisions for meeting the applicable goals and targets referred to in the federal sustainable development strategy and any organizational strategy.
It is the government's view that the reference to those contracts are outside the scope of the intent of Bill and it would be inappropriate to insert such prescriptive wording into the bill. Employment contracts are a matter for Treasury Board as an employer and they should not be subject to a bill whose purpose is to increase transparency of decision-making relating to sustainable development.
Given the expansive nature of performance-based contracts and employment contracts, it would also be difficult to determine what is meant by the use of these different terms, leaving the section option to difficulties in interpretation, which I flagged could pose problems.
Finally, tying targets directly to employment contracts is problematic because, as we know, the responsibility for meeting goals and targets extends broadly across different federal organizations and sometimes across many levels of government. It is not always the case that one department or one individual has complete responsibility for meeting the federal sustainable development strategy's targets. As a result, I do not think it is prudent to use the legislation to tie targets directly to employment contracts.
Accountability is the backbone of Bill . It is what it is all about. While the intent of this amendment is to increase accountability, which I again thank the Senate for giving thoughtful consideration to, it is the government's view that the amendment could create more problems than it would solve.
As discussed earlier, robust accountability mechanisms are already directly embedded in the bill, and we believe they are more than adequate to meet our objectives. These include oversight by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, the House and the Senate, the Sustainable Development Advisory Council and all Canadians. We release reports to the public on an ongoing basis and ask people for their input and insight.
Given the fact that the proposed amendment is imprecise and open to interpretation, the government does not see the benefit of inclusion and suggests removing it from the bill.
The third amendment that came from the other place deals with consequential amendments to the Auditor General Act. These changes would ensure alignment between the two acts and would seek to reconfirm the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development's role in reviewing the sustainable development actions of federal organizations. The government supports this amendment.
I greatly appreciate the time and effort of everyone involved in reviewing the bill. The Federal Sustainable Development Act is a cornerstone of sustainable development action in Canada, and Bill is an important update. I ask the House to accept the consequential amendments and the amendment to clause 5, but remove the amendment to clause 8 and send a message to that effect back to the Senate.
In the spirit of co-operation that we demonstrated back in June, when the House voted unanimously to support the bill, I am asking that we show the same spirit of unanimity in supporting this revised bill, so we can ensure the future is sustainable not just for this generation, but for generations to come.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in this chamber to participate in the debate on Bill , a bill dealing with sustainable development and the government's environmental policy.
This chamber will soon close and we will proceed to having debates for perhaps a decade or even more in another place. Therefore, I am conscious of the fact that this may be one of the last speeches I have an opportunity to give inside this chamber. I mention that because I think it is important to reflect on sustainability at a broader, deeper level than simply one issue, one particular file.
What sustainability is all about is this Burkean idea that the goods of not only our planet but also our civilization, our society and our country are not things that we just think of as existing in a moment of time purely for our own use. In other words, our relationship to our society regarding the environment ought not to be like that of pillagers who come to get what they can because they are here for a good time, not a long time.
No, sustainability asks us to think of the goods of civilization, of society, as something that we received from our ancestors and in a sense are borrowing from future generations. Therefore, we have to proceed with deference to the experience of those who have gone before us and with respect for those who come after us to seek to preserve the goods of the environment, of civilization, of society, of our institutions. We do that, and this is the conservatism in conserve, with a certain caution that recognizes the fragility of our environment and our institutions. We cannot presume that we can radically change the institutional, societal and environmental reality that we are in, that we can radically change it without perhaps considering the possibility of the consequences that might not immediately come to mind.
What is funny is I was thinking about this speech today and remembering the first time I ever visited a legislature. It was the Alberta provincial legislature. I went in as a young student and was listening at the time to I think it was a Liberal member of the Alberta legislature giving a speech on sustainable development. I thought it was one of the most boring speeches I had ever heard. I hope nobody has that feeling listening to what I have to say. It was not the topic. I am sure it was just maybe some aspect of my own experience in that moment. However, since then, I have come to realize really the importance of the concept of sustainability and what it means for all of us as we seek to preserve the goods of society for the future.
We could talk about a wide range of different policy areas with respect to what the government is doing and observe, I think, a real lack of attenuation to the principle of sustainability. One could identify a number of different policy areas where it is not thinking about the future, about preserving the goods of society, the benefits that were received from the previous government. No, it is thinking only about today. It is thinking about how to get that good headline, how to try and demonstrate something in the moment, but it is not thinking about the long-term impacts.
The most obvious way in which we see this worked out is the government's fiscal approach, its spending. Every time a government makes a spending commitment in the context of a big deficit, it knows, or ought to know, that is not sustainable spending, because it cannot run deficits every year forever. At some point the government comes up against a situation where the interest is so high, the debt is so high, that the government is losing out on investments that it could have been making and cuts become necessary. Deficit spending renders subsequent cutbacks totally inevitable. In other words, it is not sustainable to pursue a fiscal policy, an economic policy, or I would argue an environmental policy that is along the lines of what the government has done.
Therefore, when we talk about sustainable development, I think the first step is to delve into the substance of the principle of sustainability and what that means regarding our long-term planning. When we debate bills in this House where government policies are considered, we should always ask if it is a sustainable approach. That does not just mean in an environmental sense, although it includes in an environmental sense. Are the commitments that are being made commitments that we can sustain?
I was reading about the concept of sustainability. One interesting observation in one of the articles I read was that when a judge makes a decision in court in response to an objection and says “sustained”, it means effectively that the past, the history, the traditions are being sustained in the context of the decision that has been made.
There are so many derivatives of this word when we talk about sustainability that tap into this concept of understanding that we have a past and we have a future. We do not just have a present. This is the sensibility that should in a particular way inform the environmental evaluations and decisions governments make. Governments should think about the environment in a way that recognizes that we have a past and we have a future.
All the decisions we make in totality, and in this context the decisions we make about the environment, should have regard for the kind of life, the quality of life, the quality of existence on this planet and the quality of existence that will exist in our own immediate surroundings. This is particularly important to me when I think about my own kids and the life they will have growing up, but I think it is something that resonates with all members, whether or not they have children of their own.
That is why it was important for us, as a previous Conservative government, to put a strong emphasis on effective environmental action, action that reflected an understanding of this principle of sustainability. The idea of being a Conservative includes the idea of conserving. That is our Burkean philosophical heritage. We seek to preserve the goods of the past and protect them for the good of future generations. That is why we had an effective policy of engagement with the environment.
Despite the failures of the Liberal government, despite the ways, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions targets, they have continued policies in some cases and proposed other failing policies in other cases, the government has it dead wrong when it comes to how it characterizes the approach we took when it came to sustainable development.
Let me just emphasize, in that context, that when it comes specifically to the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, in the 10 years of previous governments, including the previous Liberal government, which signed on to the Kyoto protocol, greenhouse gas emissions in Canada went up. Under the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper, we brought in binding sector-by-sector regulatory targets that were intensity based. These are often badly mischaracterized by my friends across the way.
I remember the last time I spoke about the environment my friend from said that these were just suggestions to industry, that these were just requests for it to reduce emissions. Let us be clear. They were not. The regulations that were put in place under the previous government were effective, intensity-based, binding regulations in critical sectors that had a tangible impact.
We saw through that period a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and that is a fact that is, unlike other facts related to this issue, a fact that is not disputed by my colleagues across the way. It is very clear that under the previous government, there was a total reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Surely that has some relationship to the policies pursued by the government. On the other hand, the party opposite really wants to explain away the achievements of our previous government with respect to concrete reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
What are the explanations the Liberals will come up with? Typically, they will use two different explanations. First they will say that emissions only went down because of the global recession. They will also say that emissions only went down because of things that happened at the provincial level. What do we make of those two arguments the party opposite uses to explain away the accomplishments of the previous government with respect to environmental sustainability in the area of greenhouse gas emissions?
In terms of the global financial crisis, it is worth observing, parenthetically, that this is the only case in which the Liberals will acknowledge the existence of the global financial crisis. When they are talking about the economic record of the previous government, how we managed Canada's economy through a time of significant global financial challenge, the Liberals will say that all the economic challenges Canada faced in those years were somehow the result of actions of the previous government, which everyone knows is not true. Everyone knows that the challenges Canada's economy faced during that period were the result of very obvious, very well-known global economic trends that had an impact here in Canada. Because of steps the government took, Canada was relatively less affected by those events. Nonetheless, Canada was affected, and there was a response in terms of a fiscal stimulus that was appropriate in the context of those times.
It was the Liberals in opposition who were actually saying we should spend more. They were constantly calling for bigger deficits and for more spending, not for the prudent, measured and sustainable approach we took in that case. Our approach in responding to the global financial crisis was sustainable in the fiscal sense that we recognized that it was necessary to run deficits but that it was also necessary to return to balanced budgets as quickly as possible. We positioned ourselves in advance by paying off substantial amounts of debt in the years leading up to that global financial crisis. Often the figures we hear from the current government with respect to the total amount of debt during that period are significantly off the mark.
In any event, when it comes to the Liberals' discussion of how we responded to economic challenges, they will completely ignore the global financial crisis, but then when they talk about the real achievements the previous government realized with respect to greenhouse gas emissions, the Liberals will say that actually, there was a global financial crisis, so they are going to use that to explain why greenhouse gas emissions went down under the previous government. The Liberals have a hard time explaining, in light of that contention, how it is that Canada was relatively less affected by the global financial crisis as a result of prudent policies pursued here in Canada yet was reducing global greenhouse gas emissions at a time when greenhouse gas emissions globally were going up. Canada's greenhouse gas emissions went down under Stephen Harper, while they went up in the rest of the world during that period, yet we were less affected by the global financial crisis.
It is hard for the Liberals to explain. If they are suggesting that the impact in terms of a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions was simply a response to the global financial crisis, they have a hard time explaining how Canada achieved more on the environmental side yet was less affected by the economic challenges experienced globally. The Liberals' counter-argument, their effort to strip from recognition the reality of the achievements that were made, fails in particular with respect to this argument.
The second argument the Liberals make in their attempt to detract from the real achievements under the previous government in terms of environmental sustainability is that it was only from action at the provincial level. If we look at some of the policies the Liberals trumpet, they talk about the alleged virtues of the Kathleen Wynne Liberal government in Ontario.
Ontarians were not in favour of the policies of that previous provincial government. Ontarians should be aware of how many senior advisers and senior people in general involved in those policies are now involved in advising the . Continually we see Liberal MPs praising the record with respect to environmental policy from the Kathleen Wynne Liberal government. I do not think that was an admirable record when it comes to issues of sustainability. It was clearly a disaster when it comes to fiscal sustainability, but also there were big problems when it comes to environmental sustainability, and Ontarians had their say about that. The Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne came back into the legislature provincially with a grand total of seven seats, which suggests that maybe Liberal MPs should be careful praising its environmental record.
There is great potential for growth.
Mr. Garnett Genuis: Mr. Speaker, my friend from says that they have great potential for growth from that. I agree, but as the Liberals thought after the 2008 elections, sometimes we do not know where the floor is.
Nonetheless, the issue at hand is that they use the argument that any progress achieved under the previous government was the result of action by the provinces, yet if we look across the country at all the jurisdictions and the differences in policies that were pursued and the differences in political stripe of the governments that were pursuing them, we saw something consistent across those provinces. That was that in every single province across this country during the period of the previous government, emissions went down or they went up by less than they had in the previous 10 years. In other words, if we take every jurisdiction individually and look at its performance in that period, and we look at that same jurisdiction in the previous period, there was clear environmental progress.
If members observe the greenhouse gas emissions data across different jurisdictions and across the years, environmental progress during the period of the previous Conservative government was achieved in every single jurisdiction. Maybe all these different governments were just pursuing great policies, and it had nothing to do with the federal government.
My friend from is nodding, but it seems implausible to say that the federal government had nothing to do with it. If progress could be seen in every single part of this country, in every jurisdiction, then his contention that it had nothing to do with the federal government is about as plausible as his contention that I get virtue ethics from Ayn Rand.
The failures of the current government, on the other hand, are pretty clear, in contrast to its own rhetoric with respect to the environment, and they are also fairly clear in contrast to the accomplishments of our previous government.
The Liberals' approach to the environment is not a sustainable one. It is a very present-oriented, revenue-oriented approach. They see in this discussion of the environment, in rising social awareness of the challenges of climate change, only an opportunity to raise taxes. This is consistent with the approach of the government across a wide spectrum of policy areas. The saying goes that if one has a hammer, every problem is a nail. The hammer they have is a tax, so every problem they see is best responded to with higher taxes.
If it were really a concern about the environment that motivated them, I wonder if they could explore ways of reducing taxes in a way that created incentives for environmental action. In fact, we saw policies like that under the previous government, areas where tax reductions were used as a way of stimulating environmental activity. The current government would never countenance those types of policies, policies like eco-energy retrofits, which gave a tax credit to people for doing environmentally responsible things, or things like the transit tax credit, which gave a tax reduction, in the context of environmental action, for taking public transit. The government would never consider that, because that involves a loss of government revenue.
The Liberals' approach to sustainability is not about sustainability. It is about tax increases. Maybe it is because at some level, although they will not admit it, they recognize that they have a problem with fiscal sustainability. The Liberals' financial plan of running deficits forever is just not a financially sustainable one, so they want to use the discourse around environmental sustainability as a justification for trying to get more revenue.
At the same time, there is an exception to their approach on this, and that is they are taking a different approach when it comes to Canada's largest emitters of greenhouse gases. They say that they are going to provide a special exception for those emitters, because it would be difficult for them to pay the cost of that carbon tax. They say it might have negative economic consequences if we impose taxes on those large emitters.
What about the negative consequences of the carbon tax that the Liberals are imposing on small businesses, on people who do not have connections to successful lobbyists, who do not have the ability to make their particular case for a particular exception with the government, or the people in my riding who will have to pay the carbon tax, who do not have the well-connected lobbyists that the large emitters have? What about them? What about the impact on those people? What is the impact on them?
The government wants to always be imposing new taxes. My colleague across the way is heckling “rebate”. Let us be clear about something. The federal plan for a carbon tax does not rebate all the money it collects. The said, “Most of it.”
This raises more revenue for government. It is, “Give me $100, and I might give you $50 of it back.” I do not think that is going to satisfy most Canadians, or that it is going to fool most Canadians. They will understand exactly what the parliamentary secretary means when he talks about a “rebate”. It is an elegant way of attempting to draw more money from people and then control exactly how it is disbursed.
Canadians are not going to buy into the logic of that economically, and they are not going to be fooled into thinking that this is an environmental plan. Also, they will recognize that when the government says there is a negative economic impact associated with imposing this tax on large emitters, then it follows from the logic of that position that there will be a similar negative impact on everybody else. It is just that everybody else is not as well connected and well resourced to make those arguments through the kinds of contexts that our large emitters have the capacity to do.
Another thing to point out about the failure of the carbon tax, compared to the more positive, constructive approach pursued by the previous government when it came to the issue of sustainability, is that many of the people who would like to reduce their emissions require some kind of a capital investment in order to do so. If I am living on a fixed income, and I would like to make energy-friendly retrofits to my home that reduce my energy use, are good for the environment and save me money, that might be a great idea, but I also might not have the capital sitting around that allows me to do that.
The previous government was engaged with this question of giving people the means, through tax reductions and through building their capacity, to make their own choices that are reflective of the values that exist in our communities and of that sensitivity to the importance of sustainability.
By contrast, the Liberal government takes a punitive approach. It imposes taxes that do not make it easier but in fact make it more difficult for people in the kinds of situations I talked about to actually make the investments that will advance their own situation. The government's approach to environmental policy is punitive, and it is punitive against those who can least afford it. It is imposing new taxes on those who are struggling the most, while providing all kinds of benefits and escape hatches for people in other kinds of situations.
It is really important to underline the deceptive nature of the government's economic rhetoric. The government will often talk about how, allegedly, it is raising taxes on those who are well off, yet it has so many different vehicles for giving that money back, maybe not to everybody in the category of well off, but certainly the well connected and those who are able to go in and ask for those resources.
We have had the issue of cash-for-access fundraisers for the government, and of course I believe they have policy consequences in terms of the way the government responds to things.
We have talked about the exception the government is giving in terms of the carbon tax to our largest emitters, but we could also talk about the huge amounts of money the Liberals are spending in other forms of corporate welfare, such as the money they gave to Bombardier, some of which was then given to CEOs in bonuses. We could talk about the huge amounts of money spent on so-called superclusters. The spending of the government is so often in the form of corporate welfare and breaks to large emitters, while it is imposing new taxes and new burdens in the form of a carbon tax on those who can least afford to pay it.
We also saw absolutely no tax reductions for those making $45,000 or less. This is important, because we have to see how the environmental policy, the so-called sustainability policy of the government, is so often an excuse for achieving other objectives. It is an excuse not only for imposing new and higher taxes on Canadians, but also for imposing taxes on those who can least afford them.
Contrast that with the approach of the previous Conservative government, which tried to bring constructive changes when it came to the environment, and succeeded in doing so in ways that actually gave people the fiscal capacity to make investments that were going to benefit them over the long term.
Also, while the Liberal government imposes new burdens on those who can least afford to pay them, we gave tax reductions to those who needed the support the most. We lowered the GST, from 7% to 6% to 5%. We lowered the lowest marginal rate of tax. We raised the base personal exemption; in other words, we increased the amount of money that a person could earn before they would pay any tax.
We did not bring in any tax reductions for high-income earners. We lowered business tax rates, which helped to stimulate job growth and benefit workers here in Canada, lowered the unemployment rate and stimulated our economy. When it came to personal tax reductions, however, all the tax relief provided by the previous Conservative government was targeted at those who needed that relief the most, and we can see the benefits in terms of that policy.
Providing those tax reductions was so helpful in stimulating economic growth, which benefited all of Canada. It was sustainable as well, because those tax reductions happened in the framework of a road to balanced budgets, and a balanced budget was delivered. The previous government was thinking about sustainability in every aspect of its policy. It made spending commitments in the context of a balanced budget plan. When we make spending commitments in the context of a balanced budget plan, people can have confidence that those spending commitments will endure and be sustainable, because they are in the context where enough money is coming in to pay for them, and not where we are borrowing to achieve them. Also, in the midst of this fiscally sustainable approach, greenhouse gas emissions were reduced overall.
As we think about the environmental achievements of the previous government and contrast them with the failures of the current government when it comes to delivering on the environment, there are many different areas we should look at that go beyond the particulars of greenhouse gas emissions. They can provide a constructive example for the government as it thinks about what sustainability actually would look like in the context of government policy-making.
We are looking at a framework in which government will have to report to a greater extent. Obviously, we are supportive of the government really making explicit and being transparent about the reporting of information around sustainability. However, what we have seen so far in the evaluation of the government's performance with respect to sustainability is that it has consistently been getting very poor marks. People are recognizing those failures, and not all of those people who are criticizing the government on its sustainability record are friends of ours.
It has been pointed out that the Liberal government has the same greenhouse gas emission targets that the previous Conservative government had. It is pretty rich for the Liberals to criticize the Conservatives' record, when in fact we had clear targets, which are the same targets they have. However, our approach was different. It was not to use the environment as an excuse to raise taxes. It was a positive, constructive approach.
As I said, the environmental accomplishments that were clearly achieved under the previous government were not limited to the areas of meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. During the Conservative government, over $17 billion was spent to support improvements with respect to the environment, including a wide range of different technologies, tax reductions and benefits that had real, concrete and substantive impacts. Let me identify some of examples of those achievements.
The previous government invested significantly in clean transportation initiatives to support renewable fuels and a cleaner, more efficient transportation system. My riding includes substantial rural areas, yet sometimes the rhetoric from the government makes it seem as if people could just stop driving. While it might be realistic to walk to the grocery store in some parts of this country, it clearly is not realistic in many parts of the country, especially for families with children in tow.
The previous government recognized that people are going to continue to drive, but made investments in making transportation cleaner, helping to propel technological investment in a way that is going to improve the sustainability of the necessary trips that families take across the country. Again, this was a constructive approach rather than a punitive approach. That was done by the previous government, and it went a very long way.
Another achievement was investing significantly in eco-energy initiatives, targeting renewable energy, energy science, and technology and energy efficiency. This also recognized the benefits of energy efficiency and the fact that people are going to continue to use energy. Energy is a part of our lives. All members, with the exception of those who live very close to Ottawa, have to fly back and forth to our constituencies. People in this climate use energy to heat their homes, travel and purchase goods that they need. One cannot realistically grow all the food one needs to eat on one's own. That is obviously not something everybody can do.
Increasing energy efficiency and supporting renewable energy and energy alternatives do not mean phasing out the existing energy mix, but they do mean having an “all of the above” strategy, recognizing that we need different kinds of energy and that we can work to improve the efficiency of our energy systems as we go.
Another accomplishment of the previous Conservative government with respect to environmental initiatives was investing significantly to support the clean air regulatory agenda, a regulatory framework that has not only reduced greenhouse gas emissions but also improved air quality across the country. The improvements in air quality that result specifically from the regulatory approach of the previous government are well demonstrated. Some of the members across the way, even in other contexts, have recognized those achievements.
I spoke about this before, but another one worth underlining is the significant investment made by the previous Conservative government in the eco-energy home retrofit program to help homeowners make their homes more efficient. There is a clear contrast in approach between the current government and the previous government. All of us want greater sustainability. All of us want to facilitate a situation, hopefully, where people are able to live in a way that uses less energy, where they still use energy for their vital needs and do not need to cut back dramatically in terms of their quality of life but are able to live lives that are more energy efficient. Oftentimes, getting there requires major retrofits.
When there were round tables in my constituency on this issue, people told me about specific investments they had made themselves. People talked about buying solar panels. One person I spoke to recently talked about the family's decision to buy an electric car. However, the costs often make it difficult. Even those who would like to do so, or who can perceive the long-term positive effects on the environment and their own economic situation from doing this, still may not be able to make those investments.
One of the areas, in terms of concrete sustainability, that would encourage collaboration between the government and other actors is to look at how we can help people get over the hump of having the necessary fiscal capacity to make the investments they want to make when it comes to environmental improvements.
The kinds of policies brought in by the previous government, such as the ecoENERGY retrofit homes program, told people that if they made investments in their own homes to make them more energy efficient, the government would make changes to tax deductions and benefits that would improve the benefits to their doing that. People who might have been at the cusp of making that decision, but who might not have been able to do it before, were now able to do the math and see that it would work out for them to make that investment. It was something they could afford because of the benefits realized through that tax program.
This recognizes a basic Conservative insight about society, which is that the government cannot do it alone. The government cannot realize the benefits we want to see in society by acting alone or in a way that creates division or conflict. However, the government can try to facilitate decisions people want to make by providing them with these kinds of tax reductions.
The Liberal ideology, the Liberal assumption, is that higher taxes are always good for the environment, the poor and from the social equality point of view. Actually, what we often see is the opposite. We see how higher taxes and more government are bad for the environment and tend to disadvantage those who can least afford to pay the higher taxes imposed on them.
I am very proud of measures like the ecoENERGY retrofit program, which worked collaboratively with individuals and helped give them the capacity and resources to make these kinds of investments.
The previous government also made significant investments in the green infrastructure fund, which supported green infrastructure projects like renewable energy and clean water infrastructure. I think we all agree that it is part of the role of the government to be engaged in infrastructure. How can the infrastructure investments we make at the national level, the infrastructure partnerships we establish between the national government and other levels of government, the spending projects we pursue in general, be done in a way that is more reflective of Canadians' understanding of our environmental obligations and the importance of environmental sustainability? These were innovative, constructive ideas that came forward under the previous government, and I am certainly very proud of those actions and achievements.
A sixth accomplishment was providing significant support to pulp and paper mills to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and become leaders in the production of renewable energy from biomass. These are the kinds of innovative proposals that provide support for the continuing operation of our mills that are good for the economy and also reduce emissions.
By the way, a talking point that we often hear from the government is that the environment and the economy go hand in hand. Right now, it is walking hand in hand in the wrong direction. With the previous government, we saw significant improvements in the economy, a sustainable approach when it came to economic management and a sustainable approach to environmental management. Yes, it is possible for achievements to made on these fronts together. We can also go in the wrong direction on these fronts at the same time. When we look at the actual constructive achievements of the previous government, yes, we can see results in both of those areas.
The previous government created the clean energy fund to support clean energy research, development and demonstration projects. This was an important fund that was working effectively to bring about results when it came to improving our environmental situation.
The next point deals with an issue we have discussed recently in the House, the health of our oceans and other waterways. The previous government made major investments to preserve and restore Canada's waters, including our oceans and lakes. We were invested in an agenda that put the emphasis on clean land, clean air, and in this particular case, clean water.
I was pleased to see recently the passage of a motion by my colleague in the NDP that dealt specifically with the issue of plastic pollution in our oceans. This was a constructive motion that all parties were able to come together in support of, and I was pleased to speak in favour of it. Canada is a relatively minor contributor to the volume of plastics in our oceans compared with other countries, but nonetheless we recognize our problem and we recognize the need to do all we can to reduce ocean pollution. One stat that jumped out at me in that debate is that every year plastic litter kills more than one million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals, such as turtles, dolphins, whales and seals.
When we look at sustainability, we have to think about the sustainability proposition of the increasing flow of pollution into our oceans, and what steps we can take to address it. That is why Conservative members were pleased to support a motion that would help us take some steps in that direction. This is a process that all members in the House, including in our caucus, will be following closely to think about how we conserve our marine and ocean environment for future generations. However, that work was started by big investments that were made under the previous government, and certainly members of that government and all of us as Canadians can be proud of the work that was undertaken as a result of those investments.
The previous government expanded tax relief for green energy generation to include water-current energy equipment and equipment used to treat gases from waste. Again, this is another accomplishment that involves environmental action not through tax increases, but through tax relief. These are proposals that we would never see considered by the current government. To it, any idea on the environment has to involve a tax increase, greater involvement of government and revenue for government. The Liberals would really struggle to understand the purpose of tax relief for green energy generation. However, that was very much our understanding, that we could create incentives that would encourage economic development and environmental improvements, including via tax reductions and less government.
We can take this case to Canadians and say that they do not have to pay more to have a cleaner environment. In fact, the way we approached these issues was that people would pay less in taxes and have a cleaner environment as well. Therefore, in this particular context, green energy generation using water-current energy equipment, benefiting from the natural resources we have, recognizes that we can have an energy mix that includes a wide spectrum of different tools and opportunities in the process.
Another area of accomplishment that really speaks to our values in terms of sustainability is the actions that we took to protect Canada's national parks. We can protect Canada's national parks and recognize that these are important not only for the environment, but also for human interaction with the environment. When we preserve and strengthen our national parks, it gives Canadians an opportunity to visit, to understand and experience nature in a special way. In my province of Alberta, we have a number of famous national parks that my family and I enjoy visiting whenever we can. I do not take vacations as often as some members of the House do, but, whenever we can, we like to visit national parks.
The previous government protected Canada's national parks by providing significant investment to make improvements to highways, bridges and dams located in our national parks and historic canals. These investments strengthened our national parks, but also ensured that Canadians would have an opportunity to engage with our national parks, to be present there and experience them in a way that helped build a social understanding and experience of nature that will help us ensure the sustainability of those parks and of our natural environment in general over the long term.
The government previously supported conservation by investing additional money in a recreational fisheries conservation partnerships program to support projects that support the conservation of recreational fishery habitat. We saw it with the previous government as well. I think it was a constructive engagement with the conservation community that recognized, for instance, that hunters, fishermen and fisher people are involved in conservation in a constructive way and that the government can work well and effectively with them through some of these conservation partnerships, like the investments we made in recreational fisheries conservation partnerships. These constructive partnerships that recognize the benefits of conservation go a very long way to achieve the results we need to.
The next point I will make is that the previous government invested in 1,569 local conservation projects. These benefited the habitat of more than 430 species at risk under the habitat stewardship program. That again is another constructive investment that involved local partnerships those on the front lines of conservation. It involved the government not seeing its role as going alone, but rather seeking to work in partnership with community organizations to actually achieve results. That supported 1,016 EcoAction projects that engaged Canadians in direct environmental activities and helped them to connect to nature. These are the kinds of things that Canadians are taking on themselves and that the previous government supported. A new tax is no substitute for this kind of positive, constructive environmental action that happened.
We created Canada's first national urban park by investing $140 million in conservation, restoration, education, dangerous species recovery, visitor experience and community driven stewardship initiatives in the Rouge National Urban Park and $7.6 million per year thereafter for its continuing protection and operation.
This is close to my heart. Although I do not live in Ontario, my father grew up in the Scarborough area and it was where his parents first immigrated to when they came to Canada. I know the people of that region significantly benefited from the vision of the previous Conservative government.
I know my colleague from was very aware of and involved in that during his tenure as the environment minister. We had some legislation that took further steps around that initiative in the House. It was legislation that the opposition was proud to support, although we had some constructive suggestions along the way that were designed to improve it and recognize it in the context of an urban park. The ability of people to make connections with the environment, to be present requires a different understanding of the phrase “ecological integrity”.
We have to think about sustainability with respect to the sustainability of our environment, as well as people's interactions with the environment. We should not see that as a negative, but rather people's interaction with the environment as a positive thing that contributes to our broader social understanding and recognition of the importance of sustainability and the capacity we have as a country to move forward together. This investment of over $100 million through the Rouge Urban National Park was greatly appreciated by people in that area.
Another accomplishment was protecting the environment by launching the national conservation plan that included $252 million to conserve and restore lands and waters across the country, while connecting Canadian families to nature in and around their communities. We are talking big dollars in investments in a national conservation plan that worked collaboratively with communities, but did not seek to impose new taxes, that made investments that moved us forward environmentally.
We supported projects, programs and policies in other activities to address climate change in our own context. We talked about the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that it achieved. We provided $1.2 billion in fast-start financing on which Canada successfully delivered and which funded projects focused on climate change adaptation and increased renewable energy.
Again, these are examples of things funded under the previous government.
We improved federal infrastructure such as radar and surface weather and climate monitoring stations, which is the backbone of Canada's severe warning system. We improved and expanded trail access across the country and encouraged donation of ecologically sensitive land by making tax relief for such donations more generous and flexible.
Again, this was an environmental measure that involved a positive tax incentive, which encouraged people to make donations of ecologically sensitive land. People might have though about whether they could afford to make this donation. They would have liked to have done something for the environment, they wanted to be engaged in bringing about progress, but they had to make the calculation with respect to their capacity to do so. Now as a result of policies pursued in the area of tax reduction and environmental improvement, they could look at the improved framework for the donation of ecologically sensitive land and realize that it would be something maybe they now could do. As a result, we achieved concrete, substantive and meaningful improvement in the area of environmental improvement.
We supported family-oriented conservation by providing $3 million to allow the Earth Rangers Foundation to expand its ongoing work, another achievement of which I am very proud. We invested almost $2 billion in our federal contaminated sites action plan and $215 million of cost-sharing funding which helped remediation at more than 1,400 sites.
Funding also supported assessments of about 9,600 sites, creating an estimated 10,400 jobs in terms of person years. Remediation action plans at approximately 700 sites and assessment activities at 6,500 sites were all fully implemented.
When Canadians look for environmental action, they want to see us engaged with the large global issues. They also want to see us engaged here at home in our immediate entities, with making improvements that provide a constructive impact around cleaning up contaminated sites, ensuring that they, their children and their grandchildren will have sustainable access to clean air, clean land and clean water. For that target of contaminated sites, almost $2 billion was spent in this area.
The government might think this is chump change. From our perspective, that is a lot of money, whether that was an investment that achieved concrete results around environmental approval.
In the context of this plan, almost 4,000 square kilometres of ecologically sensitive private lands were secured. Significant progress was made in the context of partnerships, partnerships emphasizing the work of community groups collaborating with the government, partnerships that achieved a real result; that is the securing of ecologically sensitive land.
We added an area nearly twice the size of Vancouver Island to the network of federally protected areas. Let me identify a number of those federally protected areas that were added as a key accomplishment in environmental action under the previous government: the world's first protected area extending from the mountain tops to the sea floor, the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site; the world's largest freshwater protection area, Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area; a sixfold expansion of the Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories, considered to be a significant conservation achievement; three new national wildlife areas in Nunavut, protecting 4,554 square kilometres of marine, coastal and territorial habitat, including the world sanctuary for bowhead whales; and three new marine protected areas under the Oceans Act, Musquash Estuary in New Brunswick, Bowie Seamount off the coast of British Columbia and Tarium Niryutait in the Beaufort Sea.
It is interesting to reflect on the achievements that were made particularly in the context of these environmentally protected areas in Canada's North.
I had the pleasure to join Canada's foreign affairs committee on a recent mission to the Arctic. The focus of that trip was to look at issues with respect to Canada's sovereignty in the north. In the context of that, we had many discussions about the wide range of challenges and opportunities that existed in Canada's north, the particular sensitivity that people in the North had to the impact of climate change.
We heard from people in the north who said they were seeing those impacts. We heard about the importance of preserving the natural environment. We also heard that people wanted to see economic development, particularly energy development, that would create opportunities for them and their kids, that would allow them to provide a good standard of living and that would allow their kids to stay and work in the North.
These conversations were to emphasize both the importance of the environment as well as energy development. Because of that, the Conservatives, in listening to Northerners, sought to achieve both and did achieve both.
We achieved major improvements in the area of economic opportunities for the north. For instance, the road to Tuk was brought up many times as an important initiative with respect to connecting the south with the north to a greater extent.
On the other hand, there was frustration about how the unilaterally, with virtually no consultation, announced with the former president of the Untied States a moratorium around particular kinds of energy development. There was a lot of frustration about that.
We hear the talk around consultation, but we never see actual consultation, especially when the government is trying to stop a project. The Liberals seems to think that if we are to proceed with a project, infinite consultation is required and even if people are not directly affected by a project and do not have any expertise, they still should be able to participate in that consultation somehow. However, on the other hand, when they are stopping development, they see no problem in immediately shutting down progress without any kind of meaningful consultation.
What hit home for me, when I was spending time talking to indigenous people and others who lived in Canada's north, was that a full understanding of sustainability required us to think about the environmental sustainability of the north as well as the sustainability and economic viability of communities. Do they have access to affordable energy that allows for sustainable prosperity in that region?
If we talk about environmental sustainability, but not about the sustainability of an economic situation in those communities, then we only have half the equation and it makes it very hard for people to do well in that context. Therefore, we need to have both, which means allowing economic development to happen, recognizing the benefits of energy, recognizing that we all need and use energy, and that includes people in Canada's north, so we benefit from energy development at the same time as making real achievement in designating protected areas. We achieved that exactly in the protected areas I mentioned. Again, for example, over four and a half thousand square kilometres of marine, coastal and territorial habitats were protected in Nunavut alone.
On other accomplishments achieved in environmental sustainability under the previous government, we expanded our national parks network by creating Canada's 44th national park, the Nááts'ihch'oh National Park. All Canadians can be proud of our excellent network of national parks and the achievement that was made in creating Canada's 44th national park under the previous government.
The chemicals management plan is an under-discussed achievement of the previous government, an achievement of our former interim leader, Rona Ambrose, when she was environment minister. This came in 2006. At that time, our government created the chemicals management plan to assess chemicals used in Canada and to take action in cases where the evidence showed those chemicals were harmful. Of the 4,300 substances already in use and were identified as priorities for assessment, over 2,600 had been assessed and risk management strategies were developed for 62 deemed harmful to the environment or human health. Additionally, 3,000 substances were evaluated before their introduction into the Canadian market.
The last Conservative budget, budget 2015, committed close to half a billion dollars over five years to renew Canada's management plan.
This was a real, concrete achievement that, because of the leadership on the environment file of that environment minister, the chemicals management plan was brought in, which identified harm to the environment or human health for 62 chemicals. We were able to bring in an effective strategy for managing those chemicals.
When we identify chemicals being used that have a harmful impact, when we develop a coherent strategy for managing them and when we fund that strategy effectively over a period of time, then we achieve very tangible and concrete impacts when it comes to human health and ensuring we have clean air to breath, clean land and clean water.
The Conservatives' proposed multi-sectoral air pollutants regulation established, for the first time, national air pollution emission standards for major industrial facilities across the country. The expected reductions from those announcements would result in lower smog levels and better air quality overall for Canadians and their environment. Smog remains an issue and the air pollutant regulations that were proposed under the previous government were part of those achievements.
I mentioned the achievements of the previous government on greenhouse gas emissions, but as I review the accomplishments in the area of the environment, I want to highlight the specific numbers. There was a reduction in greenhouse gases. By 2012, greenhouse gas emissions were over 5% lower than 2005 levels, so in that period of time there was over a 10% growth in the economy and a 5% reduction in emissions. That was through the period of the global financial crisis. These were concrete achievements.
There was coordination between the federal and provincial levels on efforts to restore, protect and conserve the Great Lakes under the Canada-Ontario agreement, which was renewed on December 18, 2014, toward the end of the time of the previous government. It is interesting that even though there were different political stripes, Prime Minister Harper and Kathleen Wynne were able to work together on the renewal of the Great Lakes Canada-Ontario agreement in 2014.
Let us contrast that with the seemingly total inability of the current government to work effectively with premiers. Premier after premier is being elected on a mandate to say that the government's approach to the environment, using the environment as an excuse to raise more tax revenue, is not the approach their provinces would like to see. Provinces across the country that have these concerns are coming forward with alternative environmental plans. They vary in their particulars from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, as one might expect in a country as vast and diverse as ours, but there is a growing consensus at the provincial level with premiers rejecting the carbon tax. I am hopeful that my province will soon join the anti-carbon tax coalition.
It is interesting that the Liberal government was so afraid of the role that the opposition, the United Conservative Party, in Alberta might play as an intervenor that it sought to have that party not be an intervenor in that process. I am sure the provincial government of Alberta has a different feeling on carbon taxes, but I suspect very soon there will be, as more elections occur, even more provinces standing up to reject the approach of the government, which is all about using the environment as an excuse to raise taxes.
When it comes to federal-provincial relations, there is a clear contrast: The previous prime minister was able to work with the provinces, as these achievements suggest, but the current is all about imposing his carbon tax agenda on provinces. He will impose something that we have never had before in this country, which is a jurisdiction-specific tax, which is to say that people in one province have to pay a tax that people in another province are not paying. It is really unprecedented in the federation that this kind of inequality in a tax imposed on citizens is designed to compel a provincial government to do something in its area of jurisdiction that is against its objectives.
In every case across the country where there is a carbon tax, GST will be imposed on that carbon tax. The carbon tax is not revenue-neutral for the federal government and the so-called federal backstop is not revenue-neutral either.
The government is saying that it will rebate some of the money, even most of the money, collected through the federal carbon tax, but we know it will not refund all of the money, and will collect GST on top of it. This will impose a big burden on Canadians.
I have outlined in a clear way the significant accomplishments of the previous government when it came to sustainability, but I will also add this, and it is not something we will hear from the government. It is important to underline that building pipelines is an environmental improvement. The new pipelines are good for the environment because they displace alternative transportation that is less environmentally friendly. If we can move more of our energy resources by pipeline, if we can access Canada's highly regulated, effective, environmentally sensitive and responsive energy sector with new markets, displacing other competitors by building energy infrastructure which is in itself clean, that is an environmental achievement.
The government needs to start recognizing that if it truly believes that the environment and the economy go hand in hand, then it needs to support the construction of new pipelines. New pipelines are sustainable because if we do not have new pipelines then we deepen the fiscal challenges that we face, the unsustainability of our fiscal policy. Also, we ensure that we can do better for the environment and for climate change by transporting our energy in a more efficient way.
Building pipelines is good for the environment and good for the economy. That is why pipelines were built under the previous government. In fact, four pipelines were approved and built under the previous government.
The first was the Enbridge Alberta Clipper project, which transports 450,000 barrels a day a distance of 1,590 kilometres. The application was filed in May of 2007. It was approved in February of 2008. Federal cabinet gave approval and the new pipeline was constructed and placed in service in April of 2010. The new pipeline carries our energy resources from Hardisty, Alberta to Gretna, Manitoba, where it crosses the U.S. border and carries on to Superior, Wisconsin. It is designed to be expanded to 800,000 barrels per day. It was filed in 2007, approved in 2008. Federal cabinet gave its approval and it was constructed and in service by 2010. That is how to build a pipeline, and we did it. It was good for economy and it was good for the environment. It was good for sustainability. That is an accomplishment that all Canadians can be proud of.
Second is the TransCanada Keystone. It carries 435,000 barrels a day a distance of 4,324 kilometres. The application was filed in December of 2006. It was approved in September of 2007. Federal cabinet gave it approval in November. It was constructed and placed in service in June of 2010. This new pipeline carries our energy resources from Hardisty, Alberta to Haskett, Manitoba, where it extends into the U.S. to Cushing, Oklahoma. That was a pipeline that was proposed, approved and constructed under the previous government. That was another achievement that was delivered.
The Kinder Morgan Anchor Loop carries 40,000 barrels a day a distance of 158 kilometres. On October 31, 2006 the NEB approved the expansion. It was constructed and put into service in 2008. It increased the capacity of the existing line significantly by those 40,000 barrels.
Finally, the Enbridge Line 9 reversal carries 300,000 barrels a day a distance of 639 kilometres. The application was filed in 2012 to reverse the flow of Line 9. It was approved in 2014. NEB granted conditional leave to open in 2015, and the reversal allowed the flow of 300,000 barrels a day of western crude into Quebec, displacing foreign crude oil.
These were all pipelines that helped us engage with the fundamental problem that Alberta faces today, which is the gap between what we are receiving for our oil and the global price. Pipelines were built that helped us displace foreign oil and ensure that Canadians could benefit from the opportunity to do ongoing commerce with each other. These were all significant accomplishments that were achieved under the previous government with respect to getting to real action on pipelines and the ensuing benefits for environmental sustainability.
There is this paradoxical rhetoric from our friends across the way. On the one hand, they want to tout the shutting down of pipelines and, on the other hand, they want to say that they are actually trying to build pipelines. It is the most farcical set of contradictions one could imagine, in terms of the way in which they try to be on both sides of the fence. As I learned when I was a child, it is dangerous to try to be on both sides of the fence at once—
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to continue with this important discussion of policies around environmental sustainability. My colleagues in the other parties are saying it is their pleasure. I hope so, because there may be things that they do not hear in the talking points that are sent from the PMO about the accomplishments of the previous government in respect of the environment. It is an opportunity for them to take these things on board and benefit from them as they consider the policies that they are going to pursue. It is a good time for them to consider the contradictions in their discussion of pipelines as it relates to the issue of sustainability.
What did the Liberals do when it came to pipelines? One of their first acts, and their first act with respect to pipelines, was to shut down the northern gateway pipeline project. This is a project that had been approved under the previous government. It would have allowed energy from my province, from very near my riding, to get to the port of Kitimat in northern B.C., access a deep-water port there, and give Canada access to international markets.
This is so important as countries in Asia and other parts of the world think about how to increase their energy security. It is a Canadian economic question, a sustainability question, and it is also a geostrategic question. There are countries in East Asia, for example, Japan, that import most of their energy resources. They get them from the Middle East and they have to travel through the South China Sea.
The opportunities for energy security, for Japan and other countries in East Asia, to benefit from Canadian energy exports are significant. The opportunities for us economically, and the opportunities for them in terms of economic benefit as well as security of that supply are very significant.
The northern gateway project would have allowed us to have access to international markets. For these pipeline projects, from initial filing to being built, we are talking about a time period of three years. Had the Liberal government actually listened to Albertans, listened to Canadians when it came to the benefit of the northern gateway project, we might already be up and running. We might not have to have these challenges that Alberta faces, in terms of the big gap that exists between the oil price in the global market and the price that we are achieving here in North America.
The government has this talking point that is worth responding to in this context, where it will say that most of Canada's oil was being sold to the United States when the previous government took power, and when it left power, most of the oil was still being sold to the United States. The Liberals conveniently forget that the critical steps to reduce our dependency on the United States were in place and that the Liberal government cut those critical steps out at the knees. That was maybe an unhelpful mixing of metaphors, the steps were cut out at the knees.
In any event, the Liberal government cut off that progress that was being made that would have brought us to a point today where we would not have to be dealing with this massive spread in price that is killing jobs in Alberta. The decision to kill the northern gateway pipeline was a policy choice of the Liberal government that weakened our sustainability on so many fronts, and it was one that it must be accountable for.
To add insult to injury, the Liberals decided to pass Bill which formalized in law a tanker traffic exclusion zone that prohibits the export of our energy resources from anywhere in that zone on the Pacific coast between the northern tip of Vancouver Island and the Alaskan border. There are tankers in that area as a result of activity coming off Alaska, but from the Liberal government's perspective, we cannot have it; the Canadians are benefiting from that economic activity, so we have to shut off even the possibility of a future project by bringing in Bill .
Again, the government cannot deny that these were policy choices. It was not good enough just to kill the project, it had to add on another bill designed to make sure no new project could be put forward in place of the northern gateway project. That was the Liberals' intended direct action in the case of the northern gateway pipeline.
What did the government do with the energy east pipeline? In geostrategic terms, this is an idea we should view favourably, to create pipeline linkages to a greater extent between western and eastern Canada to reduce the need for foreign oil to be imported. I would ask environmental activists who are against the construction of pipelines what they are doing about the terrible record of countries like Saudi Arabia when it comes to things like human rights. What are they doing to try to allow Canadian sustainable, well-managed energy resources to displace foreign oil?
As we delve deeper into the need for the government to be articulating plans around sustainability, I hope that with the requirements in Bill for the government to provide information and government departments to be more engaged on sustainability, we think about the contrast between Canadian sustainability practices of our energy sector and what is happening in other countries, as well as the value of the global impact vis-à-vis sustainability associated with displacing the unsustainable and anti-human rights practices we see in some other countries.
Energy east was an economic project. It was about this country prospering. It was also about saying that we can have nation-building infrastructure which allows the country to prosper together and reduce our dependence on actors which do not share our values and interests.
In the 19th century, it was a Conservative prime minister, John A. Macdonald, who had the vision of a railroad that would make our union sustainable, that would unite our country from coast to coast and allow us to do commerce with each other. Today, pipelines are the nation-building infrastructure of our generation. As we think about the legacy of those who came before us who understood the importance of nation-building infrastructure for our political and economic unity and our prosperity, we need to consider whether or not we are up for the challenge. Can we do the same kinds of things they did? Do we have the vision and the willingness to make nation-building infrastructure happen?
In particular, I know many members of the government caucus elected from the Maritimes are hearing from voters in their ridings about the benefits of nation-building infrastructure that connects western Canada with eastern Canada. Even though the government clearly has an anti-development, anti-pipeline agenda, that is why the government did not want to do as directly with an east-west pipeline what it did with the northern gateway pipeline. Therefore, the government simply piled on conditions in a way that made the project harder and harder to sustain from an economic perspective.
See, it was not that the project itself could not have succeeded economically. Rather, it was that the government sought the opportunity to impose new conditions that would make it impossible to proceed. One can never know with certainty the intentions of the government in this respect, but sometimes past statements are revealing enough.
A tweet I referred to before, which was put out by the before she was elected, talked about land-locking the tar sands. This is obviously deeply offensive language to many Albertans and many across the country. When we see government policy with respect to different pipeline projects that has as its effect the land-locking of our energy resources, the significant expansion of the spread between the world price and the local price and economic devastation for our province being the results of government policy, it is worth comparing that to past statements of a cabinet minister who said that this was something she thought was desirable.
There is an agenda among some to squeeze the Alberta economy and the energy sector in a way that forces a significant reduction in investments in our energy sector and that accepts the job losses. We in the opposition stand against that. We will stand up for our energy sector, which benefits not just one region of the country but benefits the whole country.
The government directly killed the northern gateway pipeline project and it added Bill , to add insult to injury. The Liberals found a way of indirectly killing the northern gateway project, and now they have been pushing forward Bill . Bill C-69 quite clearly is the “no new pipelines” bill. The Liberals are trying to establish the conditions which will make it impossible for us to build the nation-building infrastructure of the 21st century. They have an anti-development agenda which is out of step with the vision of our founders and is out of step with the vision that Canadians want, which is a country that can benefit from commerce done together, where people in eastern Canada can buy energy resources coming from western Canada and they can benefit from the value-added opportunities that are associated with that. In Bill C-69, we see specific policies that will make it harder for Canada to make pipelines. It will make it virtually impossible to see pipelines go forward in the future. That is the record with respect to the pipelines.
I have to add a few comments on the Trans Mountain project. As part of the Liberals' discussion on sustainability, they thought they would try this bait and switch strategy because they know Canadians want to see development of pipelines. On the one hand, the Liberals are killing many projects, but on the other hand, without doing anything to establish conditions for the success of the Trans Mountain pipeline, they decided to buy it. They pretended that buying the existing pipeline would somehow increase its chances of success.
Whether the federal government or the private sector is the owner of the project does not change the fundamental issues, which are the government's refusal to assert federal jurisdiction, the lack of a plan to get it built and the failure of the government to appeal a court decision. There would have been nothing wrong with appealing a court decision that blocked construction from beginning on this project, yet we see, despite spending $4.5 billion of taxpayer money and despite sending money to an oil company that will now use that money to invest in energy infrastructure outside of Canada, the Liberals still have absolutely no plan. They refuse to appeal a court decision with respect to this decision and they are piling on policies that make it difficult for this to happen in the future.
There is this deeply dishonest set of policies, in the sense that the Liberals are selling a particular policy approach as achieving a result that they do not want to achieve and that they are in fact choosing not to do the things that would much more obviously and directly help us move toward the goal.
When it comes to the government's anti-pipeline agenda, I want to read a few different quotations that underline the problems with Bill , the government's “no more pipelines” bill.
Let us start with someone who is known to many members of Parliament, Martha Hall Findlay, president and CEO of the Canada West Foundation. My notes say she is a former Liberal, but she may well still be a Liberal. She was a Liberal leadership contestant twice. What she had to say about Bill was:
If passed in its current, even amended form, it could set Canada back for many years in terms of attracting investment and overall prosperity – at exactly the time when our competitiveness, particularly vis-a-vis our huge neighbour to the south, is in peril.
We might be in a much better position if she had won that leadership race, because I think Martha Hall Findlay hits the point on the head here. Again, she said with regard to Bill C-69 the following:
If passed in its current, even amended form, it could set Canada back for many years in terms of attracting investment and overall prosperity—at exactly the time when our competitiveness, particularly vis-a-vis our huge neighbour to the south, is in peril.
I worry that the policies of the government are actually designed precisely to achieve that objective. They are designed to make our energy sector less competitive overall. Therefore, the government is achieving its objective, but it is an objective it is not willing to acknowledge. Again, the Liberals persist in wanting to speak on both sides of these questions, but we see concretely in their policy agenda, recognized in that quotation by the Liberal leadership candidate Martha Hall Findlay, that what they would do through Bill is to undermine Canada's competitiveness. They have already done many different things that undermine our competitiveness, but this is yet another example of that happening.
I will also read what Gordon Christie, University of British Columbia law professor specializing in indigenous law, said about Bill :
But the courts have said for 15 years that you need to have meaningful dialogue [with first nations and] there is nothing in this legislation that seems to do that.
Moreover, with regard to Canada's activity in the north, the government feels that, somehow, without consultation, it can impose its anti-development agenda on Canadians and in particular on indigenous people there.
I will read what Stephen Buffalo, president and CEO of the Indian Resource Council and a member of the Samson Cree Nation said on Bill :
Indigenous communities are on the verge of a major economic breakthrough, one that finally allows Indigenous people to share in Canada’s economic prosperity...Bill C-69 will stop this progress in its tracks.
That is a powerful quote from an indigenous leader that, while indigenous communities are on the verge of a major economic breakthrough, that would be stopped in its tracks by the no-more-pipelines Bill . That is not a plan that reflects an understanding of sustainability in terms of our national economy. It is not a plan that reflects the need of indigenous communities to be economically sustainable. I think indigenous Canadians want us to support their opportunities for economic development and ensure that they are engaged in the process, as well as ensure that we are working with all communities, including indigenous communities, in respecting environmental stewardship and the importance of environmental sustainability. However, that is not happening under the government. It is persisting with a unilateral and anti-development mentality that holds back our prosperity and that hurts the prosperity of communities all across this country, especially communities in Canada's north that especially benefit from natural resource development.
Mr. Buffalo continued:
Left as it is, Bill C-69 will harm Indigenous economic development, create barriers to decision-making, and make Canada unattractive for resource investment. This legislation must be stopped immediately.
Mr. Buffalo also said:
We find it ironic and upsetting that the prime minister who has repeatedly said that the federal relationship with Indigenous peoples will be the defining characteristic of his government will be the one snatching opportunity and prosperity from our grasp.
He went to call on the government to “pull Bill C-69 from its legislative calendar”.
We see this recognition of the negative impacts associated with Bill from even the NDP premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley, someone I do not quote often. She said that “Bill C-69 in its current form stands to hurt that competitive position”.
Wow, it must be an election year or maybe there is a sincere conversion going on.
Moreover, the Quebec Mining Association says, “The time limits introduced by the bill will be enough to discourage mining companies and weaken Quebec and Canada in relation to other more attractive jurisdictions.”
We are hearing so much opposition to this bill, not just from energy companies, energy workers and Conservative politicians, but also from Liberals, New Democrats, indigenous leaders and people in every region of this country. The approach in Bill C-69 is not one that recognizes the appropriate balance required for sustainable environmental and economic policy. It is not one that recognizes the benefits that can be achieved by facilitating economic growth in a way that advances our environmental situation as well.
What is the justification for the government's ill-considered environmental policy? It speaks often about the importance of responding to climate change, and I think all of us in the House agree on that. I have spoken today about the real concrete achievements that were advanced under the previous government with respect to environmental change and greenhouse gas emission reductions. When it comes to assessing our sustainability obligations, we need to look at real results and outcomes, not just at the rhetoric.
Part of why the Conservative opposition supported Bill was that it would provide an opportunity for greater reporting across a greater number of departments and more mechanisms for holding the government accountable for what are demonstrable failures in the area of sustainability. With the kind of reporting mechanism called for in a committee report and that is now moving forward in Bill C-57, people will see more clearly the failures of the Liberal government in achieving our objectives.
When we think about the government's rhetoric around greenhouse gas emissions and sustainability, there is actually a real dissonance between the realities of what it talks about in terms of our international targets and the mechanisms it is putting forward. In that context, I want to make a few comments on the Paris accord.
The Paris Accord establishes a framework that comes out of the Copenhagen, which of course was one that the previous Conservative government was a part of and played a very constructive role in supporting. That process was to recognize the need for all countries to be involved, and the value of having nationally determined targets and clear and transparent reporting around those nationally determined targets. The second section of the Paris Accord speaks specifically of the issue of intended nationally determined targets and creates a mechanism whereby nations would provide reporting internationally on that.
It has been good to have an opportunity to have discussions with constituents on the Paris accord. From time to time, I meet people who are very skeptical about the Paris Accord, but my party recognizes the value of the framework and the differences between the framework we saw in the Paris Accord, for example, and the framework in the Kyoto Accord.
The Kyoto Accord, which was signed by a previous Liberal government that then failed to take any meaningful action toward realizing the goals set under that process, would have involved Canada sending money overseas to buy credits, effectively not reducing our emissions but simply buying credits overseas. That was the policy of the previous Liberal government, which was to do nothing on the environment, but to give money to other countries to buy credits, as if that somehow were a solution.
I do not think that is a sustainable solution by any metric. It is one that is very clearly in the framework of the transparent reporting that is moving forward in Bill . I think that people would be very disappointed about seeing that.
The framework that was put in place was nationally-determined targets, which contrast favourably with what was put in place under the Kyoto protocol. The Copenhagen process, of which the previous government was a part, and the targets we set were targets that involved us taking real action at home, not simply musing about buying credits from other countries overseas.
It is very interesting to see the government come into power, championing the Paris accord, yet going into the Paris accord process with the same kinds of targets that were in place under the previous government. I know it has been criticized in some quarters for that by people who said there was there supposed to be real change. We have seen in so many areas a failure of real change in different ways.
Frankly, when it comes to the environment, it would have been better if we had seen more learning from the constructive action and experience of the previous government. So much was achieved at that time in the way of real, meaningful progress when it came to the issue of sustainability. I have read off some of those accomplishments.
I wanted to jump back for a moment to my discussion of Bill . I want to read a letter that was sent to senators dealing with Bill C-69. In particular, it comes from those supporting the Eagle Spirit energy corridor. This is a proposal that would help to strengthen our indigenous communities economically, create linkages that would benefit them in energy development and export, and provide economic benefits in terms of energy across the whole country.
This is a letter that was signed by Helen Johnson, chair, ESE Chief's Council; Chief Isaac Laboucan-Avirom, Woodland Cree First Nation; and Chief Gary Alexcee, co-chair of the Chief's Council of B.C. They write the following:
“Dear Senators, we represent the 35 indigenous communities supporting the Eagle Spirit energy corridor from Fort McMurray, Alberta to Grassy Point on British Columbia's north coast. We have been working on this nation-building multi-pipeline project for the past six years and it is vital to the health of our communities and the future of our collective development. In this time, we have created the greenest project on the planet and developed a new model for indigenous engagement, real ownership and oversight that will lead to self-reliance and prosperity.”
“We are acutely aware that the Senate is currently debating Bill C-69, legislation that will change resource and other major project review in Canada. The objectives of this bill are vital to our communities and we believe the country as a whole. We trust that it should create a project review process involving substantial engagement with indigenous peoples and one in which all Canadians can have confidence.”
“While the bill includes many elements that are constructive, including early planning and engagement and a shift to broader impact benefit analysis, we have some serious concerns. In its current form, Bill C-69 has fundamental problems that increase the complexity and uncertainty of the project review and environmental assessment review process and must be addressed before it can be adopted.
“Our chiefs have emphasized that the environment is at the top of their list of concerns and we have developed an energy corridor that will be the greenest on the planet and will set a precedent for all nations on how to engage with the impacted indigenous population. We do, however, have to holistically balance environmental concerns against other priorities such as building a strong local economy.
I will pause to re-read that, because I think it is critical, and it is great wisdom coming from our indigenous leaders:
“We do, however, have to holistically balance environmental concerns against other priorities, such as building a strong local economy. There are simply no other opportunities than natural resource development in the remote locations where our communities are located, where 90% unemployment rates are common.
“ For some, the economic opportunities from oil and gas projects have allowed investment in local priorities and the future. It is critical that we develop our own resource revenues rather than continue in debt slavery to the federal government. The best social program is the jobs and business opportunities that come from our own efforts. If reconciliation and UNDRIP mean anything, it should be that indigenous communities have the ability to help themselves rather than continuing the past colonial litany of failed government-led initiatives.
“We agree that the current project review system should require strong engagement with indigenous communities affected by the project as well as responsible and timely development of natural resources. It should avoid litigation of projects in the courts. Investor confidence needs to be restored, and a clear and predictable process has to be set out for indigenous and proponents to follow.
“We are particularly concerned that Bill C-69 allows any stakeholder, indigenous or non-indigenous, to have equal standing in the review process. It is an absurd situation that the only people who have fought long and hard for constitutionally protected rights would have no stronger role in the process than a special interest group that is in no way directly affected by the project. This is a serious and fundamental flaw in Bill C-69 that could undermine the rights of all indigenous people in Canada, and it needs to be addressed.
“We are particularly concerned about the interference in our traditional territories of environmental NGOs financed by American foundations seeking to dictate development and government policy and law in ways that limit our ability to help our own people. What interests could such eco-colonialists have when parachuting in from big cities? They have no experience with our culture, people, history or knowledge of our traditional land. Input from such elitists in this process, who are secure in their economic futures and intent on making parks in our backyard, is not welcome while our people suffer the worst social and economic conditions in the country.
“We have been stewards of our traditional territories from time immemorial, and we believe that such parties should have absolutely no say in projects on our traditional territories.
“At the recent meeting of all communities of the chiefs council we unanimously voted in favour of the attached resolution to take whatever legal and political action is necessary to enforce our rights in relation to Bill C-69. In this spirit, we urge you to protect our rights and support badly required amendments to Bill C-69.”
I want to read as well the resolution signed by many indigenous leaders. It reflects unanimous support of the chiefs council that was referenced:
“Therefore, be it resolved that we oppose an act to enact the impact assessment act and the Canadian energy regulator act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, legally and politically, as it will have an enormous and devastating impact on the ability of first nations to cultivate or develop economic development opportunities in their traditional territory, since it is being imposed without any consultation whatsoever and against the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the purported reconciliation agenda of the federal government.
“Furthermore, we agree that we will collectively file a civil writ seeking to quash an act to enact the impact assessment act and the Canadian energy regulator act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendment to other acts, should it become law.”
These are powerful words from indigenous leaders in Canada. This is the first time I have heard the word eco-colonialists.
That is an interesting term to use. These indigenous leaders speak about people who do not have the same history or connection to their land and who enjoy much greater prosperity than indigenous people in these cases might, yet they are coming in and claiming to speak on behalf of indigenous people while taking action that really has the effect of limiting their opportunity to pursue development.
They are thinking about sustainability. I talked at the beginning about what the principle of sustainability means. Sustainability is the idea that we receive the goods of society, of the Earth, from previous generations. We hold them in trust for the benefit of future generations. This idea is particularly well understood by our indigenous leaders. They have the longest history, by far, in this country. Their understanding of their history, of the need to proceed in this fashion, is particularly acute and is referenced in this case.
They are speaking in this letter very much about the importance of preserving our environment but also about striking a balance that builds opportunity for indigenous people, opportunity economically that would allow them to enjoy a similar standard of living as those who live in other parts of this country. It is rooted in an understanding of equity. That is what they are speaking about in this letter.
For once, the government should actually listen to what they are saying and pursue a change in course that supports the development of pipelines that are good for the environment. It should take steps that are actually going to move us forward, economically and environmentally. That means building pipelines, having a strong sustainability framework and having meaningful consultation when proceeding with a project but also when trying to kill a project. That is what we are talking about when we talk about the principle of sustainability.
At this point in my remarks, I want to dig a little deeper into the philosophy behind the principle of sustainability. When we talk about sustainability, it should not just be with reference to environmental issues. We can think across the board about our economic policies and our social policies. Are the decisions we are making decisions we could sustain and continue in future generations? Are they decisions that could only be operationalized in the short term, or are they things we could maintain in the long term?
When we look across the board at the government, the clearest example of its lack of sensitivity to the importance of sustainability is its approach to fiscal policy. This has implications for our environmental stability as well, because if we do not have a sustainable fiscal or economic policy, then cuts will have to be made, especially in critical areas, at times when we may not want those cuts.
That is why Conservative governments have pursued a responsible middle course. My friend from thinks this is a reference to Tony Blair, but it is actually a reference to Aristotle, who said that virtue is the mean between extremes. We have pursued a middle course between the extreme of needing to make dramatic cuts when there is a fiscal situation that forces it on us, such as the situation of the previous Liberal government in the 1990s, and avoiding the other extreme of spending out of control and having no conception of the fact that what goes up must come down.
The history of Liberal governments we have seen in this country is a succession of extremes. We have the case with the government, and with the previous Trudeau government, of dramatic out-of-control deficit spending, unprecedented in peacetime in Canada. We had a reality in 1990 when, eventually, the Liberals' out-of-control spending caught up with them. Fortunately, we had opposition parties, as well, that were calling for some measure of restraint. Really, at the time, their way of responding was to make cuts in transfers to the provinces, which passed on the application of that to other levels of government.
Compare that with the approach of the previous Conservative government, which brought us back to balanced budgets, while continually increasing the level of transfers to the provinces.
My friend from Spadina—Fort York is shaking his head, but he needs to review the reality, because transfers were significantly increased to the provinces in every successive year of the previous government, and they were cut by the Liberals in 1990. I look forward to his intervention.
Mr. Adam Vaughan: I've endured enough boredom.
Mr. Garnett Genuis: Maybe, rather than heckling, he could use his time to pursue the reading list that I have recommended to him on a number of occasions.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to reference in this context an article about Edmund Burke and the environment, an article that I think is an interesting reflection on the relationship between Burkean principles and sustainability. Edmund Burke is seen as a foremost thinker within the conservative tradition. Edmund Burke articulates this idea of sustainability that we should not be seeking radical revolutions that ignore the wisdom of the past but seeking progress in an incremental and positive way. I think the relationship between Burkean conservatism and environmentalism, properly understood, is quite clear. It is that just as we seek to preserve the goods of civilization, we seek to preserve the goods of the environment.
My favourite thinkers in Canadian and English conservatism are Edmund Burke and Thomas More. It is interesting to think about these two thinkers, generally presented as conservatives, in relation to each other. Thomas More wrote a book called Utopia. His reflections on political philosophy are presented in this book, where he imagined a place far away. He wrote as if it existed. However, “utopia” in Latin means “no place”, so it is very clearly a kind of playful use of words to imply that utopia, indeed, does not exist. Thomas More's utopia is actually a place where sustainability is highly prized and much attention is paid to the need to preserve the environment and to have a sustainable society.
What is interesting about More is that he imagined, in a fictionalized sort of way, a far-away place with a totally different structure of society compared with the society in which he lived. In fact, in his own political career, he did not, in some critical areas, pursue policies at home that he described as being pursued in utopias. Therefore, people wonder if Thomas More's utopia is playful fun or a description of policies he would like to have seen pursued if he could have advocated them, but he felt that he could not given the constraints and the politics of the society he lived in. I think Thomas More's utopia is really neither of these things. Rather, he is more inviting us to expand the scope of political possibilities by imagining a different kind of society, and not thinking that we could get there or even would want to get there right away, but rather realizing that other things are possible.
It is interesting to reflect on the English Conservative Canada and the way in which Burke and More both exist as part of it. I think both of these things are part of how we should think about sustainability. We should think about sustainability in this Burkean way of trying to preserve our heritage, our history, and pass it on in complete and, ideally, better form to the next generation. At the same time as we think about those kind of measured incremental improvements we can make to the sustainability of our environment, we should also pause to imagine completely different kinds of societies and the possibility of things working in a very different way. However, we are not capricious enough to think that we can get there overnight by flipping a switch without unintended consequences, because we are societies with histories, with existing economies, with existing cultures, and in the process of imagining that possible future, we need to recognize at the same time the need to move in an incremental way that bears the wisdom of our history.
Doing those things together is what Conservatives have sought to do. It reflects the best insights of the opportunities we have when it comes to sustainability.
I found a brief column called “Edmund Burke's Earth Day Speech”, written by someone named Byron Kenner, who writes: “How environmentalists became Burkians and Burkians became environmentalists”. He says:
Here’s my favorite quote from Edmund Burke’s Earth Day speech, “Never, no, never did Nature say one thing and Wisdom another.” Isn’t that terrific? And so apt for the occasion! I couldn’t have said it better myself.
What’s that you say? Edmund Burke didn’t make an Earth Day speech! He couldn’t have! Earth Day was in 1970, almost 200 years after Burke died. That’s true, of course, but, nevertheless, there he was--big as life--seated next to me on the speakers’ platform. Funny, but what struck me as strange was Burke’s speaking at all. Why was Edmund Burke--of all people--addressing an Earth Day rally? Talk about a fish out of water!
Edmund Burke is regarded as the founder of modern conservatism, and Earth Day 1970 was a high-water mark of the then prevalent left-wing counter culture.
More strangeness was to follow. When Burke began speaking, I--along with the huge crowd listening--was soon mesmerized by his magnificent eloquence. Speaking of nature’s bounty, Burke urged Americans “not to commit waste on the inheritance...hazarding to leave to those who come after them, a ruin instead of a habitation.”
As he went on, I realized Burke was describing a coherent, overall approach to environmental protection, one that was simple, powerful, and persuasive.
This is Burkian environmentalism. Here is what it boiled down to:
It’s highly imprudent, Burke warned, for humans to radically intervene in the functioning of natural systems whose boundless complexity and infinite interdependence exceed our understanding. Such interventions are especially unwise and dangerous when these systems--such as climate--underpin our very existence. Plaintively, Burke asked what in past human experience suggests that such large-scale meddling is harmless? On the contrary, it’s prudent to assume that great risks are involved.
(In his remarks, Burke acclaimed prudence as “the chief among virtues.” So I wanted to be absolutely sure of the word’s exact meaning. I checked the dictionary: prudence is the exercise of careful good judgment based on actual past experience and the application of such judgment to show care for the future.)
I think the application of the virtue of prudence to our environmental decision-making is critical and often absent from the calculation of the government. Prudence is the virtue that invites us to see the practical world the way it really is, to learn from our experience and to be measured and wise in our response to it. Unfortunately, when it comes to the environment, we often see that the government is not prudent. Instead, we see the pursuit of contradictory policies in the name of sustainability, policies that do not actually move us toward sustainable objectives. There are policies designed to look like a statement is being made, but not actually make anything resembling substantive progress.
Our reflection on this particular tradition in the words of Burke and the principles around prudence could well inform the actions of the government.
The article continues:
When it comes to politics and government, Burke argued that prudence--simple, ordinary prudence--in itself provides a sound base for public policy on the environment. And because this is self-evidently true, environmental activists can stand and fight on this base with strength and confidence.
The second point about Burkian environmentalism that is made in the article is the desirability of organic change:
Burke made clear that his call for prudence is not a call to halt progress. He believes that change is desirable, necessary, and in any case nature compels it. “We must all obey the great law of change,” he declared. “It is the most powerful law of nature, and the means perhaps of its conservation.”
This is perhaps a challenge to some of the caricaturist versions of Burke that are presented by his critics. Some people suggest he was against any kind of change, but that is not the case. He speaks of change as a law of nature and the value of organic change as a way to ensure we sustain our civilization, we sustain our ability, but also recognize the change should happen in a way that is organic. The challenge he said is how to best manage change.
Continuing with the article, it states:
Burke believes the answer to this challenge may be found in the functioning of natural systems. Change must be sought organically. Organic change occurs on a small scale, incrementally, from the bottom up. It evolves without being forced or contrived.
Organic change should characterize environmental politics too. Burke said change in nature was “a condition of unchangeable constancy, (that) moves on through the varied tenor of perpetual decay, fall, renovation and progression. Thus, by preserving the method of nature in the conduct of the state, in what we improve, we are never wholly new; in what we retain, we are never wholly obsolete.”
This is some beautiful language coming from Edmund Burke, making a connection between the sustainability of the environment and then the policies we pursue to make the environment sustainable, making that connection also to the kinds of policies we pursue in other areas, to the way we treat our institutions, that we recognize the need for our institutions to be sustainable to preserve what is good about them and where we make changes, to do them in a way that is organic.
This is a point I do not think is well understood by the government. Although it may talk the talk of sustainability, I think it misunderstands its richer application, at least in the way I do, following what is being said by Burke.
The government talks about making immediate and radical changes on which often it cannot deliver. It made promises, for instance, to dramatically change the electoral system and it failed to deliver on that promise. The context of the consultations that happened through the discussion was that people made the point that there were benefits of our existing system that needed to be preserved. Therefore, when we talk about possible changes to the way our democratic institutions work, we have to make changes in a way that is sustainable, not just in the sense that we allow those institutions to continue to exist, but that we sustain the benefits, the wisdom and the effectiveness of those previous institutions.
This is the essence of Burkean philosophy applied to politics. However, it draws an important connection between what we observe in the natural world, change, yes, but the preservation of that change in an organic context and how we ought to think about our institutions. They are not the sorts of things we should cut down and redesign on a whim.
I think about our own parliamentary institutions, how they have evolved organically and how we continue to look for opportunities to change and improve them, how we discuss ways possibly that we can strengthen our institutions, but at the same time do so in ways that reflect observed problems and a desire to preserve the wisdom of the past. That is what we should be doing when we have discussions about ways to preserve the sustainability of strengthening our institutions.
Bill invites us to use the tools of sustainability more, to include in our reporting and accountability to the government a greater emphasis on sustainability. The government probably thinks about that language of sustainability primarily in the economic context. However, I hope this will engender a deeper appreciation of the value of sensitivity, of how all policy-making, the way we act in the context of our institutions, the way we preserve social institutions and the way we interact with community groups about our fiscal and economic policy. Are we doing things in ways that preserve the sustainability of those institutions?
I wonder if, in the context of goals being set on sustainability, as mandated by Bill , we will see a greater use of that tool in the reports they give. I hope we will see that, because certainly, that is something that is worthwhile and quite important.
I am going to continue now to read from this article about Edmund Burke's approach to environmentalism. The article states:
In this connection, Burke heaped praise on the thousands of new small green businesses and entrepreneurial endeavours now flourishing throughout the country. These businesses are not only transforming the economy, he said, they are also forming a vibrant and vocal political constituency. (Hearing this, I thought—wow!—a constituency like this is exactly what Burkean environmentalism needs if its promise is to be realized.)
We hear him speak about the issue of, in Burke's time, small green businesses, entrepreneurial endeavours coming from within civil society that were responding in a concrete way to the environmental challenges that were faced. Those, he understood, were the benefits associated with that policy.