Speech on Bill C-57 An Act to Amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act

October 11, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to address my honourable colleagues here today  and support this new legislation. First I would like to speak about the principles of sustainable development and Bill C-57, and how these will help to advance the government’s commitment to a clean environment and a strong economy. Guelph has strong history of enacting sustainable policies. Personally, I worked for 5 years on the Mayors Task Force for Sustainability, and have since focused my goals around the triple bottom line approach balancing economic, environmental, and social development.

Mr. Speaker, Guelph is a living monument to our governments mantra that you cannot separate the success of the environment and the economy. They are in fact one in the same. Guelph is known for its economic success, including low unemployment rates and the rapid growth of our economy. One of the fastest growing communities in Canada. But it is also one of the most environmentally conscious. We have the highest waste diversion from landfills, at 68%, and the lowest water consumption per capita with the goal of reaching Norway’s level. 

Mr. Speaker another key objective of C-57 is poverty reduction. Guelph is actively working to eliminate poverty, with a focus on homelessness and mental health. Currently, the Guelph-Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination is a shining example of our communities deication to elimate poverty in our community. Their three year strategic plan from 2013 to 2017 addresses issues like food and income insecurity, housing and dental health.  These social objectives are essential to sustainable development. This was acknowledged by the U.N in early 1980’s.

Let me start with some history Mr. Speaker. In 1983, the United Nations General Assembly established the World Commission on Environment and Development. It was chaired by the Norwegian Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland. In 1987, the Commission published its report, ‘Our Common Future’, known as the Brundlandt report. That report put sustainable development on the global agenda. In its own words: “Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable, to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” That is often referred to as the standard definition of sustainable development—indeed, that is how sustainable development is defined in our current Federal Sustainable Development Act. The Brundtland Report paved the way for the unprecedented 1992 United Nations conference in Rio de Janeiro, better known as the Earth Summit.

Mr. Speaker, I want to make a special point of noting that it was a very great, distinguished Canadian who helped to organize that event: the late Maurice Strong. The Earth Summit brought together more countries and heads of state than any previous event. It also established enduring and lasting mechanisms for international co-operation, following through Gro Harlem Brundtland’s vision for a sustainable future. Among these important agreements were UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the development of the Commission on Sustainable Development.

And Canada was there. We supported the 1992 Rio Declaration. We have championed sustainable development since that time. Following Rio, in 1995, Canada became one of the first countries in the world to create a commissioner for sustainable development. Since 1997, government departments have been required to produce sustainable development strategies, in compliance with the 1995 amendments to the Auditor General Act.   

In 2008, under the leadership of the Hon. John Godfrey, his Private Member’s Bill C-474 passed and became law, as the Federal Sustainable Development Act. The Act provides the legal framework for developing and implementing the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy, every three years. It also requires 26 departments and agencies to prepare their own sustainable development strategies that comply with and contribute to the Federal Strategy.

2015 was a watershed year for sustainable development globally. In September, Canada was among 193 countries to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 2030 Agenda sets out a global framework of action; for people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership over the next decade and a half, to eradicate poverty and to leave no one behind. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 associated targets build on the previous Millennium Development Goals. They are universally applicable and fully integrate social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

In December 2015, Canada was among the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which adopted the historic Paris Agreement. Mr. Speaker, the Federal Sustainable Development Act is part of the legacy that began with the Brundlandt report and Earth Summit and is still relevant today as we advance the government’s commitment to a clean environment and strong economy. It provides the framework to develop and implement the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy—the complete guide to the Government of Canada’s environmental sustainability priorities.

The most recent Strategy, for the period 2016-2019, was tabled in this House on October 6 of last year. It sets out 13 thirteen long-term, aspirational goals. In response to a recommendation of the Standing Committee, the strategy’s goals are a Canadian reflection of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, with a focus on their environmental dimensions. 

Mr. Speaker, today, I’d like to take a few minutes to tell my colleagues about the principles we’re proposing in Bill C-57.  Principles that our government believes will strengthen the Federal Sustainable Development Act. I also want to acknowledge the important work of our colleagues on the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development who in their June 2016 report on the Federal Sustainable Development Act highlighted the importance of modernizing our sustainable development principles.   

Bill C-57 proposes to include the following principles:

  • intergenerational equity;
  • ‘polluter pays’;
  • internalization of costs;
  • openness and transparency;
  • involving Aboriginal peoples collaboration; and,
  • results and delivery.

The principle of inter-generational equity is the essence of sustainable development. It is the recognition that the decisions we make are not just about today and about us, but about the future and those who will be here after us. The Brundtland report set out the following principle on inter-generational equity: “States shall conserve and use the environment and natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations.” It was also recommended in the Standing Committee’s June 2016 report.

The principles of “polluter pays” and the internalization of costs are a reminder that we need to move beyond conventional ways of thinking—that to be ‘sustainable’, economic growth must take into account the damages that are imposed on the environment. Polluter pays means that those who generate pollution should bear their share of the cost. Internalization of costs means that goods and services should reflect all the costs they generate for society, from their design to their consumption and their final disposal.

The principles of openness and transparency are intertwined with the purpose of the Federal Sustainable Development Act. Ensuring that decision making related to sustainable development is more transparent and subject to accountability to Parliament.

Mr. Speaker, from the very first day we took office, our government committed to a renewed relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership. We are working to correct the injustices that have persisted because of colonial structures and contributed to an unacceptable socio-economic gap.

That’s why Bill C-57 proposes a principle on involving Indigenous peoples, which reflects their unique understanding of, and connection to, Canada's lands and waters and the important role of traditional knowledge in supporting sustainable development.  I also note that the government’s commitment is supported by provisions in the Act to ensure, and expand, Aboriginal representation on the Sustainable Development Advisory Council.

Mr. Speaker, the principles we set out in Bill C-57 re-affirm that we are up to the challenge. Canada, like Guelph, is ready to seize the opportunities before us and to be bold. Sustainable development means growing a diversified, low-carbon economy, while reducing emissions and generating good jobs for Canadians.

Thank you Mr. Speaker.