Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to address my colleagues in the House and to reaffirm our government’s commitment to sustainable development and future generations of Canadians.
Through Bill C-57, an act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act, the government is working to ensure that decision-making related to sustainable development is more transparent, is subject to accountability, and promotes coordination across the Government of Canada.
Let me begin by thanking all members of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development for their excellent work.
The committee’s hard work has led us to a stronger and more transparent bill, which builds on the government’s commitment to promote consultation and public engagement.
It is this last point that I would like to speak to today.
Worldwide we are seeing a resurgence of interest and desire to promote sustainable development and take action on climate change. By adopting the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, Canada will contribute to a global framework of action that strives for global sustainable development and aims to eradicate poverty and to leave no one behind.
Through its participation in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the historic Paris Agreement, Canada is also signalling a renewed global commitment to address climate change.
It is in this global context that we find ourselves, resolutely committed to ensuring that Canada is a sustainable development leader.
That is why we are proposing amendments to the Federal Sustainable Development Act that would propel us along a path to a sustainable future and ensure that we have the interests of future generations in mind.
The current federal sustainable development strategy is the strongest to date. It was developed using an inclusive participatory approach aimed at engaging and involving all Canadians. We released the draft strategy in February 2016 and asked Canadians to share with us their vision for a sustainable Canada and to suggest how we could strengthen transparency and accountability. The response was unprecedented. Canadians provided more than 540 written comments, 12 times the response received to the previous strategy. On social media they contributed about 900 posts and replies on the draft strategy. Overall, the draft strategy had a reach of more than 400,000 people over the course of the public consultation period.
We heard from individual Canadians who are fully committed and indicated that they are interested, engaged, and passionate about sustainable development.
We also heard from provincial governments, indigenous organizations, industry and professional associations, academics, and environmental non-governmental organizations. The strategy also benefited from the standing committee's review of the act and its recommendations. Evidence from the review included insightful testimony from witnesses such as the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and the Hon. John Godfrey, the originator of the bill that became the act. We also spoke with the Sustainable Development Advisory Council, with representatives from each province and territory, as well as with members drawn from indigenous peoples, organizations representing business, organizations representing labour, and environmental non-governmental organizations.
In the public consultations, Canadians showed their support for the strategy, as well as for the 2030 agenda and other key sustainable development initiatives. They also appreciated the accessibility and transparency of the strategy, and the government's openness to receiving comments and input. However, Canadians also stressed that they are looking to the government for further progress and improvements, including greater inclusiveness to further guarantee the development of a strategy that engages all Canadians.
As a response, we felt we could go beyond improving the strategy, to improve the act itself. That is why, spurred by the standing committee's unanimous recommendations, our government introduced Bill C-57, an act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act.
The Federal Sustainable Development Act already requires the government to engage Canadians through public consultations on the federal sustainable development strategy, including through the Sustainable Development Advisory Council. However, we wanted to further increase the effectiveness of our engagement activities, starting with improvements to the council itself.
Bill C-57 would position the council to be better able to advise the Minister of Environment and Climate Change on matters related to sustainable development referred to it by the minister. Expertise and advice from the council would be sought on the development of the draft federal sustainable development strategy before it goes to public consultation. The council could also be asked to review the draft FSDS progress report during its development and to provide suggestions on its form, content, and direction. Similar to the current practice of including a summary of the council's comments on the federal sustainable development strategy, a summary of advice could also be made public by including it either in the federal sustainable development strategy or in the progress report.
Our bill also proposes to double the number of indigenous representatives from three to six. The Minister of Environment would further reflect the diversity of Canadian society by taking into account demographic considerations such as age and gender when appointing representatives to the Sustainable Development Advisory Council.
In addition, we have removed previous restrictions that denied council members reimbursement for reasonable costs incurred by them in connection with the business of the council. The proposed amendment would remove the prohibition on reimbursement of Sustainable Development Advisory Council members, in order to enhance effective engagement and inclusiveness. This was framed and was a recommendation by the member for Abbotsford.
The current act does not allow council members to be remunerated or reimbursed for their expenses, because it was part of a private member's bill. What that has meant in practice is that the council has been convened only virtually and by teleconference to review draft federal sustainable development strategies, and that the Minister of Environment and Climate Change has never met face to face with the council. Members are located in every province and territory from coast to coast to coast. Changing this would further help to minimize financial constraints on participants, particularly youth and members located in rural Canada. It would be unfortunate if individuals with a great deal to offer do not consider putting their name forward to be part of the council because they could not afford to participate.
Enabling the government to compensate or reimburse SDAC members would provide the ability for the council to play a more effective role in shaping the government's sustainable development approach. It would also enable the minister to engage with the council through in-person meetings or by bringing clusters of members together when appropriate.
We believe these changes would increase the ability of the council to guide and support our sustainable development agenda.
These proposed changes also reinforce the addition of numerous sustainable development principles. In addition to the basic principle and the precautionary principle, which are already included in the Federal Sustainable Development Act, the bill adds principles of intergenerational equity, openness and transparency, the importance of involving aboriginal peoples, collaboration, and results and delivery.
Let me say a few words about these principles, which will guide the government's plans and actions on sustainable development. The principles emphasize that sustainable development is a continually evolving concept and allow the government to address new and emerging issues within future strategies. They also highlight approaches that the government should consider when developing sustainable development strategies.
In particular, the principle of intergenerational equity is the essence of sustainable development. It is the recognition that the decisions we make are not just about today but about tomorrow and far off into the future.
The polluter pays principle and the internalization of costs are also integral to sustainable development: that we must go beyond thinking of economic growth in conventional terms and stop seeing environmental damages as externalities.
The principle of openness and transparency supports the Federal Sustainable Development Act's stated purpose to make decision-making related to sustainable development more transparent and subject to accountability to Parliament.
The Government of Canada is committed to advancing reconciliation with indigenous peoples through a renewed nation-to-nation, Inuit-crown, and government-to-government relationship based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership. Our principle of involving indigenous peoples reflects this commitment, as well as their unique understanding of and connection to Canada's lands and waters, and the important role of traditional knowledge in supporting sustainable development.
Sustainable development requires contributions and actions from all parts of society: the public and private sectors and civil society. The principle of collaboration is about that joint pursuit of our common objectives.
The government has made it clear from its first day in office that we are committed to results and delivery.
Our principle on results and delivery emphasizes the importance of developing sound sustainable development objectives, associated strategies, indicators for measuring progress, and accountabilities. The Federal Sustainable Development Act must promote real change.
The proposed amendments to the principles are to be considered in the development of sustainable development strategies. Building more flexibility into the advisory council's role builds on these principles, particularly the principles of involving indigenous peoples, collaboration, and transparency and accountability, by providing an external perspective on sustainable development and ensuring that our federal sustainable development strategy reflects the diversity of Canada.
I hope that highlighting some of the major features of our bill would give members a better sense of how we can collectively move toward a more sustainable future for our children and grandchildren. I am sure this is something all members of the House fully support.