Copyright © 2019 Senator Dennis Patterson.

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Bill to Amend—Third Reading

1st Session, 42nd Parliament
Volume 150, Issue 254
Thursday, November 29, 2018
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker

Federal Sustainable Development Act
Bill to Amend—Third Reading


Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-57. From the outset, I was pleased to work with Senator Griffin as sponsor of the bill and I thank her for that.

I believe the bill serves as an excellent example of the good work I believe Senate committees do and shows the importance of sober second thought.

This act was introduced as a private member’s bill in 2008 by the Liberal member of Parliament, the Honourable John Godfrey, and supported by the Conservative government of the day. Bill C-57, similarly, as Senator Griffin said, was passed with unanimous support in the other place. In my speech at second reading I described the good work done in that place, which resulted in the bill we are debating today. I won’t go over that again.

The Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, of which I have been happy to be a member since my appointment in 2009, heard from witnesses, some of whom did not previously appear in the other place. Throughout the course of our hearings on the bill, two amendments suggested themselves to me. As critic for the bill, I brought these two amendments forward and, after some debate, I was pleased the committee unanimously accepted both amendments.

The first amendment expands the mandate of the Sustainable Development Advisory Council. The council was established by the act to advise on various topics pertaining to sustainable development. The original version of this bill only empowered the council to study topics specifically referred to it by the chair of the council, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada. However, after hearing from Mr. Robert Page, an expert witness suggested by the sponsor of this bill, Senator Griffin, it became apparent that the efficacy of the council relied on the ability of council members to choose, in part, the topics they would study.

It should be said this is an amendment raised in the other place. There it was argued other advisory bodies that are appointed under various acts, such as the Species at Risk Act and the Agricultural and Rural Development Act, have more latitude on deciding their agenda as opposed to having it wholly dictated to them by the minister.

This failed in the other place. They also did not have the benefit of Mr. Page’s submission, which clearly and frankly recommends, “the Council must have some authority to choose its own topics not just matters referred to it by the Minister. Otherwise no one of substance would want to join a PR exercise for the Minister.”

Colleagues, I think we should give heed to Mr. Page’s warning that some autonomy is required here. We cannot discount the notion these qualified individuals may have some insight into related topics that the minister, who might not share the same specialized expertise, or her department might not have considered. All topics would, as clearly stated in the bill, need to still relate to the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy and any applicable strategies under this act.

It was also argued in the other place the minimally expanded mandate would incur more costs. To be clear, I am not advocating for additional meetings, only that the agenda of the meetings that would already otherwise take place is set, at least in part, by council members.

The second amendment relates to accountability. The testimony of Andrew Hayes, Senior General Counsel with the Office of the Auditor General, alerted the committee that the proposed removal by Bill C-57 of section 12 of the current Federal Sustainable Development Act reduces accountability. That section read:

Performance-based contracts with the Government of Canada 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 interpreted by government to only refer to procurement contracts, but Julie Gelfand, Commissioner of the Environmental and Sustainable Development, also from the Office of the Auditor General, told the committee that in order to ensure sustainable development goals are met, the committee put section 12 back into the act in order to “make sure the government does not read it as related to only procurement activities but that performance pay be linked to the achieving of sustainable development goals.”

My amendment reinserted section 12 as a new section 10.2 in this bill. On the advice of Senator Massicotte, the wording was further changed to ensure there was latitude given for some discretion by the government. The final amendment, as was unanimously agreed to by the committee, reads:

10.2 Performance-based contracts with the Government of Canada, including employment contracts, shall, where applicable, include provisions for meeting the applicable goals and targets referred to in the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy and any applicable strategy developed under section 11.

I would also, finally, draw the attention of honourable senators to the fact that there was a third so-called friendly amendment, where the government realized, after Commissioner Gelfand’s testimony, that an entire suite of coordinating amendments to the Auditor General’s Act had been missed. Four coordinating amendments were inserted into the bill during clause by clause.

Honourable senators, I believe this bill is a prime example of what this chamber exists to do. As legislators, we provide the second set of eyes required to ensure that nothing is missed and another opportunity to correct oversights. We listen to those who may not have had a chance to appear before the other place. Sometimes that leads us to identifying ways to strengthen and improve bills before they become law.

I would urge all senators to vote for this bill, as amended. I will emphasize, “as unanimously agreed to by your committee.” Thank you.