moved that Bill C-474, An Act to require the development and implementation of a National Sustainable Development Strategy, the reporting of progress against a standard set of environmental indicators and the appointment of an independent Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development accountable to Parliament, and to adopt specific goals with respect to sustainable development in Canada, and to make consequential amendments to another Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is with pride and pleasure that I rise to introduce and support Bill C-474, An Act to require the development and implementation of a National Sustainable Development Strategy.
Last October, the federal environment commissioner tabled a report that criticized the government for having no overall sustainable development strategy, no targets, no standard set of indicators and no rigorous reporting schedule, in short, no accountability on the environment.
The government responded by committing to a year long study by the same department, Environment Canada, that failed in the first place. In this timeframe, we could imagine this going beyond a future election. The department that failed to get other departments to fulfill their obligations on sustainable development is now being asked to figure out why.
The government's response is insufficient given the growing concern among Canadians for the environment. We have to do better and we must do it faster. That is the purpose of the bill I am introducing today at second reading, Bill C-474.
Back in 1995, the previous Liberal government responded to the demand for a stronger environment policy by introducing major changes to the Auditor General Act that required all federal departments to produce sustainable development strategies every three years.
By the time the third set of strategies was tabled in 2004, however, it had become clear that they were becoming little more than bureaucratic exercises that were not integrated and that accomplished precious little.
As a result, the then environment minister, now the Leader of the Opposition, was tasked with bringing the strategies together under one coherent umbrella and producing a single national sustainable development strategy by mid-2006, as the commissioner has documented in his latest report.
The hope was that a single overarching strategy would ensure that a clear set of goals and targets, reported regularly, would make government more accountable to Canadians and deliver better results. Unfortunately, the current government allowed the fourth set of departmental strategies to be tabled last year, almost a year after it was elected, with many of the same flaws that existed before.
Even the previous environment minister of the government expressed her concern, noting:
When you look at the sustainability reports that we just released, they clearly do not have rigorous reporting. You'll see, when you read them. The language is vague. We just do not have the level of accountability around any commitment to actual results or benchmarking or targets.
That is what the previous commissioner of the environment is reported as saying in the The Ottawa Citizen of December 15, 2006.
The current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment seconded that, agreeing in The Hill Times, as reported on November 5, 2007, that “it's crucial to have a strategy” and that it is “crucial that the Conservative government now come up with a sustainable development strategy” to ensure departments are held “accountable”.
Therefore, we have agreement on both sides of the House about the unsatisfactory nature of the current sustainable development requirements and their reporting.
Planning for the next set of departmental strategies will begin in approximately one year, but we cannot afford to allow another disjointed bundle of departmental reports to appear in two years. We need to fix the framework now.
There is a better way.
Canada should take its cue from countries such as the United Kingdom and Sweden, which by law require the production of a national sustainable development strategy, with clear goals and objective reporting. The results speak for themselves. Both the United Kingdom and Sweden perform much better environmentally than Canada in international comparisons.
Canada could be an international leader by adopting a similar legal framework. That is why I am introducing a national sustainable development act in the House of Commons that would usher in a new era of environmental accountability in Canada.
The act would legally require the government to develop and implement a robust national sustainable development strategy for Canada. This strategy would be monitored using a standard set of accepted environmental indicators by a fully independent commissioner of the environment and sustainable development reporting directly to Canadians. There would be no smoke, no mirrors, just the straight goods.
Before examining the bill in greater detail, I would like to acknowledge as a source of the bill the work of the David Suzuki Foundation. In January 2007 the foundation published a report: “Toward a National Sustainable Development Strategy for Canada: Putting Canada on the Path to Sustainability within a Generation”. We have worked closely with the foundation in drafting the bill. I thank its members for their help.
I would also like to recognize the work of The Natural Step, an organization formed in Sweden, with a significant presence here in Canada, in shaping the sustainable development goals outlined in the bill.
Three of the key principles of The Natural Step underlie our sustainable development goals and we state them in the bill under subclause 5(1):
The Government of Canada accepts the basic principle that, in a sustainable society, nature must not be subject to the systematic increase of:
(a) concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth’s crust;
(b) concentrations of substances produced by society; and
(c) its degradation by physical means.
Those are the principles that we have incorporated in the bill which we recognize as coming from The Natural Step.
The goals themselves on which these principles are based are listed in subclause 5(2) in paragraphs (a) to (f).
The Government of Canada therefore adopts the following goals for Canada with respect to sustainable development:
(a) Canada should become a world leader in
(i) living in a sustainable manner and protecting the environment,
(ii) making efficient and effective use of energy and resources,
(iii) modifying production and consumption patterns to mimic nature’s closed-loop cycles, thus dramatically reducing waste and pollution,
(iv) reducing air pollution and achieving air quality standards necessary to eliminate human health impacts, and
(v) exercising good water stewardship, by protecting and restoring the quantity and quality of fresh water in Canadian ecosystems;
Among the goals, the bill goes on to say, are that:
(b) Canada should move to the forefront of the global clean-energy revolution;
(c) Canadian agriculture should provide nutritious and healthy foods, while safeguarding the land, water and biodiversity;
(d) Canada should become globally renowned for its leadership in conserving, protecting and restoring the natural beauty of the nation and the health and diversity of its ecosystems, parks and wilderness areas;
(e) Canadian cities should become vibrant, clean, livable, prosperous, safe and sustainable; and
(f) Canada should promote sustainability in the developing world.
How do we do this? Clause 6 proposes changes to the machinery of government in subclauses 6(1) and 6(2).
Subclause 6(1) states:
The Governor in Council shall appoint a Cabinet Committee on Sustainable Development, chaired by the Minister, to oversee the development and implementation of the National Sustainable Development Strategy.
The minister referred to is the Minister of the Environment.
Subclause 6(2) states:
The Governor in Council shall establish a Sustainable Development Secretariat within the Privy Council Office to support the activities of the Cabinet Committee on Sustainable Development.
In other words, within the heart of the government at the cabinet level there needs to be a cabinet committee whose constant, unwavering focus is on a sustainable development strategy, and that cabinet committee needs the support of a sustainable development secretariat within the Privy Council Office.
Our previous sustainable development strategy has failed because of a combination of a lack of political will and a lack of bureaucratic support.
Clause 7 of the bill envisages the creation of a sustainable development advisory council and suggests a proposed membership representing a variety of Canadians.
Clause 8 outlines the process for actually creating a national development strategy:
8(1) Within two years after this Act comes into force and within every three-year period thereafter, the Minister shall develop, in accordance with this section, a National Sustainable Development Strategy based on the precautionary principle.
(2) The National Sustainable Development Strategy shall set out
(a) targets for the short term (1 to 3 years), medium term (5 to 10 years) and long term (25 years) to dramatically accelerate the elimination of all environmental problems, including targets with respect to each item listed in column 2 of the schedule;
(b) the implementation strategy for meeting each target, which may include, but is not limited to,
(i) caps on emissions, by sector and region that are consistent with the targets,
(ii) economic instruments, such as emission trading systems with a declining cap,
(iii) penalties for non-compliance,
(iv) ecosystem-based management, and
(v) full cost accounting;
(c) the timeline for meeting each target; and
(d) the person who is responsible for implementing the strategy.
In other words, we are trying to capture all parts of the system.
Finally, subclause 8(3) states:
The Minister shall submit a draft of the National Sustainable Development Strategy to the Sustainable Development Advisory Council, the Commissioner,--
That is the commissioner of the environment.
--the relevant Parliamentary committees,--
It is very important that there be feedback.
--the relevant stakeholders and the public for review and comment, for which the Minister shall allow a period of not less than 120 days.
After a process further outlined in the bill involving the cabinet committee on sustainable development, the national sustainable development strategy will be tabled in the House and the Minister of the Environment will make regulations prescribing caps and targets referred to in the strategy. Subsequently, all government departments will develop plans consistent with the strategy.
Clause 13 stipulates that the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development shall monitor the effectiveness of the strategy and issue every year “a sustainability monitoring report”.
These are the broad elements of Bill C-474. I should also mention an important schedule, which is attached to the bill, describing in column one the goal and in column two the items relating to that goal. These goals and items are driven by and derive to some extent from the successful model of Sweden's environmental quality objectives.
Here are some examples of goals outlined in the schedule.
For example, the whole notion of “generating genuine wealth” is the goal. In order to do that, we need a new kind of index, one which will allow us to measure genuine wealth as opposed to that which is based on driving the environment down.
The second goal is “improving environmental efficiency”. How do we do that? Column two suggests that we might focus on energy consumption, materials consumption and water consumption.
Goal three is “shifting to clean energy”, which, by logic, makes us think that we must focus more on non-renewable energy as the item proposed.
Goal four tells us how we must focus on reducing waste and pollution and covers a wide variety of things, including greenhouse gases.
With this outline, the question is whether the Prime Minister and the government, who have criticized our inability to report on sustainability, will stand in the way of Bill C-474 or allow speedy passage of this bill.
Canadians are clearly demanding action on the environment. We have lost almost two years now under the Conservative government. It is now Canada's turn to show the same leadership that the United Kingdom and Sweden have in adopting their own versions of the sustainable development act I have introduced.
Having a new environmental accountability framework in place early in the new year would ensure that government departments would have enough time to adjust to the new regime before planning gets under way again next fall. We owe Canadians nothing less.