2nd Reading of Bill S-210
June 16, 2010
It is truly an honour to rise today in the House to speak to this bill. I know we all say that time and again, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart.
It is an honour for me to represent the citizens of Kitchener Centre in the House. I consider this place to be a rather sacred place. I sometime wonder If we could only see around us the ghosts of great parliamentarians from our history, if our conduct in this place would somehow be improved and would benefit from their influence.
We have in this chamber over years seen many great orators, the likes of which may never be seen again. I think of John Diefenbaker and Tommy Douglas. We have had many great orators who sought to improve the spirits of Canadians and to improve the sanctity of the House. It is why some months ago I reacted so strongly when we had protestors in the gallery who interrupted the proceedings of the House.
The business of democracy is the most important business we do and I think of this House as somewhat of a cathedral of democracy. If only we could remind ourselves of that, we might speak in the same hushed tones and with the same respect and good spirit that we would if in fact we were in a cathedral. If we could only remember that the lives of millions upon millions of Canadians depend upon what we say here, we might perhaps put aside some of the play acting that we occasionally find ourselves in and proceed in a more solemn manner.
Therefore, I welcome the opportunity speak to Bill S-210, An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act (involvement of Parliament).
As the member of Parliament for Kitchener Centre, I am very proud of the people of my riding and I work hard to serve them with excellence. My riding has grown from when I was a boy. There were approximately 71,000 people in the city of Kitchener. Now there are 210,000 people in the city of Kitchener and over 500,000 in the Waterloo region. It is an urban riding and yet, in the midst of that urban hustle and bustle of housing, vehicles and transportation and a diverse industry, we have areas of secluded nature. The Grand River runs through our region. I have canoed it on occasion and have had the pleasure to watch beaver paddling down the lake. The other morning I went for a run not more than five minutes from my house, along the river and came across a deer. Many deer still populate our region and we live side-by-side with them.
I am a member of the environment committee since being elected. In that capacity, I have worked hard to serve my constituents by informing myself about the great issues of the day as they relate to the environment in Canada.
Before addressing the impact of the proposed amendments in Bill S-210, which the government fully endorses, I would like to put this legislation into a larger context, and that is the need to support sustainable development.
Our country is blessed with a natural legacy that is recognized the world over. Within our borders, we are stewards for 20% of the world's natural areas, 10% of the entire globe's forests and 7% of its renewable freshwater. Not only do we harness these resources to generate economic prosperity, but we also depend upon them to maintain the health of our ecosystem as well as the well-being of Canadians.
I have had personal opportunity to explore the wilds of Canada. Since I have been a teenager, I have been an avid canoeist. I have spent many a happy hour out in the woods. I can recommend it to anyone. There is nothing that will take away our cares. Floating out onto a pristine lake in the middle of nowhere, all of our worries melt and are absorbed into the water. It is said that is the defining trait of Canadians, a love of the outdoors.
It is said that is the defining trait of Canadians, a love of the outdoors. On the wall of my MP office and previously my legal office, hangs a print from the Sierra Club of Canada with the words endorsed upon it, "Tread softly, for the ground you walk upon may be paradise". Indeed, in Canada we do walk upon paradise if it can be found anywhere on the face of this earth. We ignore or misuse these resources at our peril. For just as our natural resources create jobs and generate economic growth, a degraded environment throws dirty oil into our economic engine. Yet the converse is also true. If our engine gets no oil at all, our economy and quality of life will suffer.
Naturally we have debates over how to proceed and it is a good thing to hear a diversity of points of view. However, we should all remember that we are all here for the same purpose and we are all dedicated to improving our environment.
For this reason, like other responsible countries, Canada is committed to sustainable development, an approach that seeks to integrate social, economic and environmental priorities. By adhering to this principle, our drive for economic growth will not come at the expense of the environment. By the same token, our desire to protect and sustain our natural environment will not undermine our economy or the well-being of Canadians.
Since coming to office, our government has taken concrete actions to enhance sustainability. Indeed, Canada's economic action plan includes funds to support a cleaner and more sustainable environment and to help us achieve Canada's climate change objectives. Moreover, recognizing that Canada's environment and economy are inextricably linked with those of the United States, we have moved forward on both national and bilateral fronts.
Here at home we are taking a holistic approach to protecting our fresh water resources. Enforcing regulations and laws goes hand in hand with strengthening the capacity of our scientists to monitor and to address both man-made and biological pollution. Through stewardship and partnership programs, we are engaging Canadians in the process of cleaning up problem areas and keeping them clean.
To be successful, sustainable development requires the active participation of all sectors of our society. We have to get everyone pulling in the same direction and we cannot ignore what important sectors of our society have to say. That is why the government encourages Canadians from all walks of life to reduce their environmental footprint.
On the bilateral front, in February 2009 President Obama and the Prime Minister created a Canada-U.S. clean energy dialogue, a plan for our countries to move forward toward a low carbon economy. Since that time, we have pursued that dialogue through meetings and round tables with business leaders, academics and other experts from both sides of the border. Our two countries have already aligned targets in several key areas.
With respect to climate change, Canada has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by the year 2020 and we support the G8 goal of reducing global emissions by at least 50% by 2050.
Goals, targets, without measures to support them, are useless, in my view, and I have often made that point. I do not agree with those who just grandstand by setting targets without actually making concrete proposals. To help us achieve those goals, we are determined to work better together with the U.S. to develop clean energy technologies like carbon capture and storage and to replace the aging infrastructure of the North American power grid with a more efficient system. For our part, under Canada's economic action plan, we have already committed $1 billion to the green infrastructure fund over five years to support modern energy transmission lines and sustainable energy projects.
However, our commitment to bilateral co-operation does not mean we will delay our own action on the environment. In April of this year, for example, in advance of U.S. legislation, we announced our intention to regulate tailpipe emissions. We are now working with the U.S. to ensure common North American standards for greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. We breathe the same air.
These are all concrete examples of this government's commitment to sustainable development. By investing in research and technology, stewardship and effective regulation, we are working both on our own and at the bilateral and multilateral levels toward achieving the delicate balance between our social, economic and environmental priorities.
Another important illustration of that commitment was the passage, with all party support, of the Federal Sustainable Development Act in 2008, barely 18 months after our government first took office. In our collective enthusiasm for this legislation, however, several key elements were overlooked during the committee stage. The amendments before the House today in Bill S-210 would address these issues, strengthening the act so that we can work more effectively toward our mutual ultimate goal of sustainable development.
The existing act requires the government to produce several reports and table them in the House. In the interests of greater accountability and oversight, Bill S-210 proposes these reports should also be tabled in the Senate. This is a sensible change that I trust will enjoy all party support.
In addition, Bill S-210 would give the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development more flexibility in the timing of one of his reports. This would help ensure that the information is as useful and as relevant as possible. In this way, the report would contribute to greater accountability and support the drive toward sustainable development.
Our government is committed to both sustainable development and greater accountability. The amendments proposed to the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act in Bill S-210 would strengthen both these objectives.
It is worth noting that in keeping with the Federal Sustainable Development Act, the government has embarked on broad consultations for the draft federal sustainable development strategy. I submit that by reinforcing a commitment to debate and transparency on sustainable development, the amendments before the House are, thus, very much in the spirit of the act itself.
I have to say that I was particularly pleased as a Conservative member to sponsor a bill proposed by a Liberal senator, not only because I respect the work that Senator Tommy Banks has done but because I wanted to demonstrate a non-partisan, indeed a bi-partisan spirit in the House.
A bill like this serves to remind us that we all serve the same master, the people of Canada, and we should do so with civility and respect. I have worked closely with Senator Banks in moving this bill forward and I very much appreciate the support that he has shown to me.
For all of those reasons, I ask all members to join with me in supporting Bill S-210.