Bill to Amend—Message from Commons—Motion for Non-Insistence Upon Senate Amendment—Debate

1st Session, 42nd Parliament
Volume 150, Issue 266
Thursday, February 21, 2019
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker

Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: I rise to speak to the message on Bill C-57.

I’d like to thank Senator Harder for his speech yesterday which very ably summarized the three amendments. I want to emphasize they were unanimously passed by your Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. However, I must say that I do not agree with Senator Harder’s characterization of the amendment which was rejected by the other place. The amendment which I proposed to the committee was about accountability and enhancing accountability.

Honourable senators, 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, in his view, reduced 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 narrowly to only refer to procurement contracts, but Ms. Julie Gelfand, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, who also works in the Office of the Auditor General, suggested that in order to ensure sustainable development goals are met, the committee should put section 12 back into the act in order, as she said:

. . . to make sure the government does not read it as related to only procurement activities but that the performance pay be linked to the achieving of sustainable development goals.

Senator Harder, pointed out that in his view the original section was repealed due to it being “vague and difficult to interpret.”

As critic, I introduced an amendment that 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 that 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.

This amendment sought to bring the clarity which the previous version was said to be devoid. My amendment also introduced through the words “where applicable” means to allow flexibility in the application of this clause, making it in my view easier to interpret and apply, not more difficult.

It was also intended to make decision-making related to sustainable development more transparent and subject to accountability in Parliament, which Senator Harder described as the scope and intent of Bill C-57.

I will also point out that in his support for accepting this message, Senator Harder pointed to the fact that:

The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development monitors the extent to which departments have contributed to meeting FSDS targets and objectives and the extent to which they have implemented the plan set out in their own sustainable development strategies.

Yet it was the commissioner herself who suggested this amendment to the committee. She obviously believed that reciting goals and targets of sustainable development strategies in performance-based employment contracts will enhance her abilities to monitor the effectiveness of departments in meeting these goals and targets.

Honourable senators, I believe this bill is a good example of what this chamber exists to do. As legislators, we provide the second set of eyes required to ensure that nothing is missed. 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 approve bills before they become law.

Your committee listened carefully and unanimously recommend these amendments. That is why I must respectfully insist on all my amendments and will be voting against the message. I would urge all senators who trust in the good work of their committee to do the same. Thank you.