Listening to Canadians
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The draft 2022 to 2026 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy was released on March 11, 2022, for a 120-day public consultation period. The draft strategy took a new approach: it was structured using the 17 SDGs of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with a focus on their environmental aspects. It featured targets based on Canada’s Strengthened Climate Plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy; the Greening Government Strategy; and many other initiatives.
During public consultations, Environment and Climate Change Canada’s (ECCC) Sustainable Development Office (SDO) asked you to comment on the evolution of the concept of sustainable development; the FSDS frame; its targets and indicators; the linkages between environmental, social and economic issues; the federal government’s role in advancing sustainable development; as well as issues that you thought were missing.
The SDO provided multiple options for sharing feedback, including the PlaceSpeak consultation website, the online version of the strategy, public webinars, social media posts, and written/video comments by email. The SDO also held a national photo contest with the winning photos featured in the final strategy.
Again, Canadians were engaged and thoughtful in addressing sustainable development challenges. More than 700 people joined the conversation, providing constructive suggestions to strengthen the strategy and better reflect Canadians’ aspirations while building on the work of previous strategies.
The SDO heard from partners and stakeholders across the country, including other levels of government, Indigenous governments and organizations (including five National Indigenous Organizations—Assembly of First Nations, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Métis National Council, and the Native Women’s Association of Canada), environmental nongovernmental organizations, academics, businesses and youth organizations, as well as individual Canadians. The SDO also received detailed comments from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Advisory Council.
The photo contest provided us with 65 inspiring submissions. The winning photograph is featured on the cover and finalists’ photos appear throughout the strategy. The SDO thanks everyone who participated.
What we heard
What you liked
Overall, you supported structuring the strategy around the SDGs, as they provide an integrated view of the challenges facing Canada, and a common vocabulary for comparing progress among countries. You also supported the overall frame of the FSDS, with targets, indicators, and implementation strategies to demonstrate a clear trajectory forward. Furthermore, you supported a whole-of-government approach with ministers assigned to and responsible for specific targets.
Many of your comments centered on SDG 13: Climate Action as a top priority. You also wanted to see greater acknowledgment of socio-economic challenges such as inequality, poverty, and the rising cost of living in Canada. Many of you also underscored the necessity to ensure all Canadians have access to clean water and emphasized the strong connections among social, economic and environmental issues.
Reconciliation and respect for Indigenous rights and self-governance were also strong themes in the consultations. Comments highlighted the importance of a distinctions-based approach, which means going beyond a “one size fits all” perspective and accounting for the unique history and lived experience of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. Consultation feedback also emphasized themes of Indigenous self-governance, sustainable management of traditional lands and waters, and intergenerational equity.
Other sustainable development priorities for Canadians included ensuring a just transition to sustainable jobs, securing workers' rights and livelihoods when transitioning to net-zero, and calling for more action to advance a circular economy in Canada. A number of comments emphasized the role of nuclear energy in Canada’s transition to net-zero, and called for more investments and partnerships among all levels of government. Agriculture was another area that garnered comment, from calls for more stringent controls on the sector to highlighting new developments in agricultural practices.
Your suggestions for improvement
You liked the use of the SDGs as the strategy’s frame but you urged us to strike a better balance among all three dimensions of sustainable development, suggesting that the FSDS would be strengthened by integrating more social and economic targets and indicators. For example, you noted that building new and sustainable housing units will help address affordability while contributing to climate action and other environmental goals. Other issues that you wanted to see in the strategy included the promotion of peace, digital innovation, and increased Indigenous and youth engagement.
During engagement with representatives of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, you advised us to take a distinctions-based approach when discussing Indigenous priorities and challenges in the FSDS. You asked us to incorporate place-based perspectives, underlining Indigenous knowledge systems are inherently built on the land. Some of you encouraged us to consider history, culture and Indigenous rights as dimensions of sustainable development. Finally, you emphasized the importance of recognizing Indigenous self-governance, as well as support for Indigenous ownership and leadership in projects involving renewable energy and conservation.
Canadian youth shared their thoughts about intergenerational equity. Several youth highlighted the importance of youth engagement in decision making, improving sustainable development educational resources, including longer-term goals, and accounting for future generations when measuring policy impacts.
Many of you noted that people and communities lie at the heart of sustainable development, and you wanted to see more emphasis on this in the strategy with examples of projects “on the ground” that are being undertaken to advance sustainable development in Canada. Your comments also urged us to include additional perspectives from equity-seeking groups such as racialized and 2SLGBTQI+ communities.
Finally, you underscored the importance of strengthening targets by making them more outcome-based and ensuring that target time frames go beyond the four-year FSDS cycle, as well as the need for strong accountability and reporting. You also suggested that we could simplify progress tracking and reporting by reducing the number of contextual indicators.
Consultation Input from the Sustainable Development Advisory Council
The Sustainable Development Advisory Council is established under the Federal Sustainable Development Act and is responsible for reviewing and commenting on drafts of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy, as well as providing advice on any matter related to sustainable development, including those referred to it by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. As part of the consultations on the draft 2022 to 2026 FSDS, the council provided the following advice and recommendations:
- incorporate social and economic targets, and work toward the consolidation of federal sustainable development frameworks
- underscore the importance of a just transition and the need for an industrial strategy to support net-zero by 2050, examined through the lens of full labour involvement and alleviating poverty
- ensure accurate and transparent accounting of Canada’s hydroelectricity emissions
- include more context and specificity in targets and indicators, add more content focused on climate change adaptation, and acknowledge regional differences when addressing issues related to disaster mitigation across Canada
- introduce a carbon border tariff, adopt post-consumer material requirements for the purchase of plastics, and strengthen government procurement actions and targets
- strengthen the relationship between federal and local governments through flexible funding structures to directly support access to sustainable transportation, affordable housing, and green spaces for vulnerable populations
- include distinction-based Indigenous perspectives and the importance of Indigenous rights, knowledge, and the need for capacity building and funding for meaningful engagement
What we did
Expanding the frame
We have broadened the FSDS’ frame to strike a better balance among social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. This includes revising Goal 1 to align more closely with Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy; taking a broader view of health in Goal 3; incorporating a new gender equality target in Goal 5; adding a housing target in Goal 11; and incorporating new content related to confidence in Canada’s criminal justice system in Goal 16. The social and economic dimensions will evolve over the course of this and future strategies.
Strengthening our targets and raising our ambition
The final strategy better reflects the depth and breadth of the federal government’s ambition on sustainable development, incorporating content from the 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan; mandate letter commitments; and announcements made in Budget 2022. This has led to new targets and milestones in areas such as child care in Goal 4, as well as methane emissions reduction in Goal 13.
We have also improved existing targets by making them more specific and measurable, or more ambitious and long-term. This includes a strengthened target on meeting prescribed standards for First Nations drinking water systems with treated water in Goal 6, a more specific target on increasing the production of clean fuels in Goal 7, and making the zero-emissions vehicle charging infrastructure target in Goal 9 more ambitious and longer-term.
Amplifying Indigenous perspectives
Involvement of Indigenous Peoples is one of the core principles of the Federal Sustainable Development Act. In recognition of this, and in response to your requests to elevate Indigenous-led and distinctions-based perspectives, the 2022 to 2026 FSDS includes reflections from members of National Indigenous Organizations. These highlight additional dimensions of sustainable development, such as Indigenous rights-based perspectives and cultural dimensions.
Several National Indigenous Organizations and Indigenous members of the Sustainable Development Advisory Council provided case studies with distinctions-based examples of local, Indigenous-led sustainable development in action. These have provided perspectives on diverse topics such as energy democracy in Indigenous communities and reaffirming traditional understandings of gender diversity in First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities.
Continuing the conversation
Although the final strategy has been tabled in Parliament, this is an ongoing conversation. Sustainable development is a shared responsibility, and it is never too late to share your thoughts on how to build a more sustainable path forward. The Sustainable Development Office wants to hear from you as the government implements the new strategy and plans for the future.
We invite you to provide comments on your sustainable development priorities, goals and targets, and tell us how to improve future strategies. We also encourage you to join the discussion and connect with us on social media using the hashtag: #SustDev, and share our posts. We also enjoy hearing from you so feel free to drop us an email anytime at SDO-BDD@ec.gc.ca.
We also encourage you to come back to the strategy often over the next four years since we will be including indicator results against targets as they become available and, for the first time, will report milestone achievements in real time.