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2nd Reading of Bill S-216 – October 26, 2009

Mr. Woodworth moved that Bill S-216, An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act (involvement of Parliament), be read a second time and referred to a committee. He said:

Mr. Speaker, I am please to rise in the House of Commons on the second reading of Senate public Bill S-216, An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act (involvement of Parliament).

The Federal Sustainable Development Act requires the government to produce and table a number of reports before the House of Commons. Bill S-216 proposes that the government also table the same reports before the Senate. The bill also proposes to give the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development greater flexibility regarding the timing of the tabling of some of the reports under the Federal Sustainable Development Act.

I am informed that the government agrees with tabling these reports before the Senate and agrees with giving the commissioner that added flexibility. This bill responds to an oversight that occurred during the development of the Federal Sustainable Development Act. Mr. Speaker, as you may be aware, the Federal Sustainable Development Act underwent considerable amendment at the committee stage of its development.

The wording for these amendments regarding the tabling of reports was largely borrowed from the existing provisions of the Auditor General Act. Those provisions required the tabling of sustainable development strategies and the reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development before only the House of Commons. This bill will correct that oversight.

The government is pleased to support this bill and believes in the importance of the role of both houses of Parliament. The Federal Sustainable Development Act allows the government to spell out its environmental sustainability priorities more clearly. It requires the development of an overarching federal sustainable development strategy for the first time since sustainable development strategies were introduced in 1995.

This federal strategy will allow departments to align their respective strategies with federal priorities. The Federal Sustainable Development Act requires a draft federal strategy to be put before the Canadian public, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and a standing committee of the House of Commons for review and comment.

The act also establishes a sustainable development advisory council. It is made up of representatives of the provinces and territories and representatives from labour, business, environmental organizations and aboriginal peoples. They will also each comment on the draft federal strategy. Giving the draft strategy to Canadians in this way increases transparency and accountability. It improves federal sustainable development planning and reporting.

The government supports Bill S-216, which proposes to have senators review the draft of the federal sustainable development strategy and all of the other reports required by the Federal Sustainable Development Act. These other reports include the supporting departmental sustainable development strategies. They include triennial progress reports on the federal strategy prepared by the sustainable development office of Environment Canada.

Senate comment on all of these documents will improve the transparency and accountability about which I spoke a moment ago. Further, as a result of amendments made by the Federal Sustainable Development Act to the Auditor General Act, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development will be required to prepare a number of reports. For example, the commissioner must offer a report as to whether the targets and implementation strategies are capable of being assessed.

The commissioner will also assess the fairness of the information contained in the progress report on the government’s implementation of the federal strategy. Finally, the commissioner will also continue to audit the departmental sustainable development strategies and report on the extent to which departments and agencies have contributed to meeting the targets set out in the federal sustainable development strategy.

At present, the commissioner can table the results of such enquiries only at certain times. Should Bill S-216 pass, the commissioner would be able to offer more timely reports as Bill S-216 allows greater discretion in this respect.

I am pleased to sponsor Bill S-216 in the House. The government joins me in welcoming Senate review of all the reports I just mentioned and additional flexibility in the commissioner’s reporting.

I thank Senator Banks for originating this legislation in the Senate. I have appreciated his assistance and support to me.

I hope that my sponsorship of the bill and the government’s support of it will serve as an example of bipartisan cooperation and of the spirit of consensus that represents the best and most noble of parliamentary ideals. I call on all parliamentarians to search out such opportunities for cooperation and consensus wherever possible.