The Senate

Motion to Adopt the Senate of Canada Environmental and Sustainability Policy Statement--Debate Continued

March 3, 2022


Honourable senators, in Motion No. 7, Senator Anderson provided a powerful first-hand account of how climate change is affecting her territory. It is, for me, a very important context within which to provide the speech I’m about to give. I’m thrilled to rise on debate to move that the Senate of Canada adopt a new environmental and sustainability policy statement. This is a call to action for our institution.

As you learned from Senator Griffin during her excellent speech on Tuesday evening, adoption of this motion will guide the Senate as it reduces its carbon emissions to net zero by 2030. This ambitious but achievable goal will enable the Senate to demonstrate leadership on climate action, encourage accountability of federal institutions and allow us to gain first‑hand experience that will inform us in our legislative process as it relates to this existential issue.

Colleagues, I will elaborate on what exactly is being requested from this chamber and why adoption of this motion is needed for us to fulfill our unique parliamentary role. I will also outline a proposed road map or next steps if it is the will of this chamber to adopt this motion.

Before I begin, please allow me to briefly explain how we got here. Last May, the Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, or CIBA, unanimously granted Senators Griffin, Carignan, Anderson and myself with the opportunity to form an Advisory Working Group on Environment and Sustainability. I will be referring to this working group as the AWG.

The AWG’s order of reference was to examine and report on the existing Senate of Canada environmental policy, which dates from 1993, and to recommend short-, medium- and long-term actions. We were grateful to be provided with this important challenge, and the AWG members submitted a unanimous report last November. This report, with its 11 recommendations, was made public last Thursday and is now available on the CIBA website.

The report and the motion before you today resulted from a consultation that reached across our organization and beyond. To this end, please allow me to acknowledge the insights and the incredibly wise counsel provided by my three colleagues on the AWG and their tireless teams — a lot of work was put in on this, and I’m grateful for all the effort; the Senate Administration, from the leadership right through staff across each directorate helped enormously; the Library of Parliament analysts and specialists from Public Services and Procurement Canada.

Lastly, I need to acknowledge our dedicated Senate clerks, whose considerable wisdom helped us to navigate the constraints that can sometimes emerge from within the Rules of the Senate, as well as the steering committee and membership of CIBA who reviewed and supported the motion I am tabling here today.

I am grateful and honoured to present the product of these collective efforts that we are now asking the chamber to adopt. The AWG report informs the rationale behind the recommendation to adopt a new principles-based policy statement. This recommendation has the intention of replacing the 1993 policy of the Senate. We have proposed a principles-based policy statement rather than a policy. This policy statement is not prescriptive, but empowers each directorate, senator or staff member to do their part in enabling us to achieve our collective goal of net zero.

Our research has not identified any other national parliamentary body that has chosen to adopt a comparable target and plan. That is why it is important for this motion to be debated in and, I trust, adopted by this chamber so that CIBA will then be empowered with the authority to further examine and consider the range of recommendations in the AWG’s report.

So that’s the “what.” Now I’d like to speak to the “why.” Since the adoption of the current environmental policy of the Senate three decades ago, the Senate has advanced various initiatives aiming at reducing the environmental footprint of this institution. In addition to these efforts, the Senate has also been cooperating with Public Services and Procurement Canada as part of the Long Term Vision and Plan. That is why one of the AWG’s first activities was to examine the actions taken by the Senate over the years in order to identify the current environmental and sustainability initiatives that might be under way across the Senate directorates.

The AWG also reviewed environmental policies and actions taken by other legislatures, both domestically and internationally. It was clear that a lot of efforts were undertaken by the Senate but, equally, that many complexities associated with achieving progress remained, in particular as it relates to our capacity to benchmark and systematically reduce our organization’s carbon footprint in an effective and cost-efficient manner.

That is why we concluded that this new policy statement needed to enshrine a mandate for the Senate of Canada that shifts from a nice-to-have to a must-have commitment where a clear and auditable whole-of-organization commitment to sustainability is embraced.

It must also provide a principle-based policy statement designed to guide the formulation of specific policies across the Senate directorates and Senators’ offices into the future. This would allow for flexibility, creativity and inclusivity in our implementation efforts.

Finally, we need to enshrine a robust accountability framework. The policy from 1993 had an accountability structure but was never integrated thoroughly into our operations. These new targets must be defined and reported on regularly and transparently.

Perhaps most importantly, what became clear to our working group was that the Senate of Canada must demonstrate leadership on this existential issue. Why? Because the road to net carbon neutrality is so challenging, that’s why. If we do not act, how do we hold the government and its officials to account? None of us are fans of saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.” That approach does not honour our important role and responsibilities. It doesn’t provide us first-hand knowledge and credibility, which is something we need if we are going to effectively review the government’s efforts and hold them to account.

Climate change is an intergenerational crisis with a rapidly closing window for action. Our children and grandchildren, and the world’s children and grandchildren, are now being described as a vulnerable population. This is because we already know what will happen to our planet if our generation doesn’t just act, but unless and until we actually succeed in reversing climate change.

We have no greater responsibility.

The advisory working group, or AWG, members began our November 2021 report to the Committee of Internal Economy with a unanimous statement intended to drive this message home. I’d like to read it to you now:

Increasingly, we are experiencing the devastating effects of climate change. In 2021 alone, Canadians have seen a killer heat dome, catastrophic wildfires, drought conditions that have tested the resilience of even the strongest western grain farmers and cattle ranchers, and increasing levels of shoreline erosion and permafrost melt that are threatening northern communities. Election 2021 also saw every major federal political party acknowledge the existential risks created by climate change. The Senate of Canada has a responsibility to demonstrate leadership and action by committing to do its part in creating a more sustainable environment, while demonstrating the action necessary to hold other federal institutions to account for their efforts.

Colleagues, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development in the Auditor General’s office submitted a report last year called Lessons Learned from Canada’s Record on Climate Change. They identified as the first lesson that “stronger leadership and coordination are needed to drive progress towards commitments.” We all know that little is accomplished in this world without it. In that light, the AWG concluded unanimously that in order for us to do our job, the Senate must demonstrate to the rest of Canada that progress can be made towards net zero. Additionally, how can we achieve our parliamentary responsibilities without more fully understanding the conditions necessary to actually achieve progress, versus our sadly too-frequent tradition of only announcing intentions? That’s why the AWG believed that the Senate of Canada, like every organization in Canada, needs to become a net-carbon-neutral organization.

Now, I’m going to focus on three of the key outcomes we’ll see by adopting this motion to give you sense of the road ahead. If adopted, the Internal Economy Committee would further examine the recommendations included in the AWG report to, first, secure external expert advice; second, empower the directorates of the Senate, senators and their staff; and third, integrate a robust accountability framework into Senate governance.

First, let me explain the need for us to secure external expertise. I mentioned that the AWG canvassed the Senate’s directorates. Some fabulous ideas were brought forward. However, the organization does not have the expertise needed to assess which actions would produce the most effective and cost‑efficient results. Like far too many organizations, the Senate does not currently have the capacity to measure its total carbon footprint and specific sources of emissions. Without data, we cannot begin our journey.

Let me give you an example of where data informed a complex cost-benefit challenge. The state of California recently announced their intention to ban the use of gas-powered leaf blowers. This is because the emissions produced by one leaf blower in one hour is equivalent to the emissions produced by a 2017 Toyota Camry travelling 1,700 kilometres. I would never have guessed that, not in a million years.

The Senate’s path forward has to be investing in upfront costs to secure expert support to, first, measure and benchmark the emissions resulting from the Senate’s current activities; second, glean insights to direct our efforts in an effective and cost‑efficient manner; and third, track our reduction of those emissions over time. The AWG concluded that this approach will deliver the best return on investment. That’s because this initiative isn’t about spending more but spending smarter. Achieving our 2030 goal simply throwing more taxpayer money at the challenge will not be acceptable to any of us, and that approach won’t help us to demonstrate that Canada can tackle the climate change crisis while improving our prosperity.

This motion includes a request that the Internal Economy Committee, as the Senate’s management body, use its expertise to secure and manage this expert support. Additionally, we can learn from others as we’ve found at least one provincial legislative body that is working in a similar direction as us, that being the National Assembly of Quebec. They have made great progress, and I am certain there is much we can learn from their efforts. That’s our first step as an institution.

Second, the AWG has recommended an approach that empowers the Senate directorates, senators and their staff. I’m going to offer a personal comment here. My experience is that the fastest-growing companies, those that are rapidly and continuously improving productivity, have a culture that invites incremental change from across their organizations. That buy-in and engagement are essential to identifying opportunities and successfully implementing solutions.

Third, I want to highlight the AWG’s recommendation to integrate a robust accountability framework into the Senate’s governance. This is the direction the Senate is already heading in establishing the Audit and Oversight Committee. We want to adopt world-leading standards of transparency and accountability, and we believe we can do that as we benchmark and track our progress towards net zero.

I think we all appreciate that the Senate will not be able to reduce its carbon output to zero. As a result, we must ensure that the Senate’s carbon output reduction is achieved as cost effectively as possible. This will provide us with the resources to offset the balance of the output with carbon credits.

I want to wrap up by reinforcing the importance of our being ambitious in our timeline. Recently, in partnership with the Bank of Canada, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, or OSFI, released a report examining the economic risks associated with climate transition. One finding in particular is important when considering this motion. These two institutions with the primary responsibility of overseeing the stability of our financial system looked at the financial risks associated with two different approaches to confronting the climate crisis. The Bank of Canada and OSFI found that on our path to achieving net zero by 2050, acting later with a shorter transition time to net zero introduces much more risk of financial and overall economic volatility. In short, the later we act, the higher the ultimate economic cost.

Additionally, the Office of the Auditor General stated, “Climate change is an intergenerational crisis with a rapidly closing window for action.” I believe I am far from alone in agreeing with that powerful statement. Canada’s future generations need our generation to act now.

Honourable senators, I hope that you will follow Senator Griffin’s parting advice and support this motion, so we can pass it swiftly and begin the vital task ahead.

Thank you colleagues.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

Honourable senators, it is now six o’clock. Pursuant to rule 3-3(1) and the order adopted on November 25, 2021, I am obliged to leave the chair until seven o’clock unless there is leave that the sitting continue.

Accordingly, the sitting is suspended until seven o’clock.

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