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Strengthening transparency and accountability

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The Federal Sustainable Development Act

Since 2008, the Act has required the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to table and report on a Federal Sustainable Development Strategy every 3 years.

Environment and Climate Change Canada has worked with other federal departments and agencies to develop 4 strategies (covering 2010 to 2013, 2013 to 2016, 2016 to 2019, and 2019 to 2022). Each has built on the one before, reflecting new federal priorities, improved measurement of environmental performance, and comments from Canadians, as well as reviews by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and parliamentary committees.

In 2020, amendments to the Act came into force. They responded to a 2016 review of the Act by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. The committee’s review highlighted ways in which changes to the Act could facilitate more effective sustainable development strategies.

The amendments have broadened the Act’s scope and reach. Its focus has shifted from the environment alone to also include social and economic aspects of sustainable development. The Act’s purpose now goes beyond transparency and accountability to include advancing sustainable development in Canada with a view to improving the quality of life of Canadians. New principles have been added to guide the strategy’s development and departmental sustainable development strategies.

The amendments also promote a whole-of-government approach. The number of federal organizations required to contribute to the strategy has increased from 28 to 99. This approach provides a comprehensive view of federal sustainable development action and ensures that organizations across government work toward common goals and targets.

Transparency and accountability remain central to the Act. Beginning with the 2022 to 2026 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy, all targets must be measurable and include a time frame. Federal organizations will also be required to report on how they are implementing their own sustainable development strategies.

The amendments support an ongoing dialogue with Canadians. The role of the Sustainable Development Advisory Council, originally established under the 2008 Federal Sustainable Development Act, has been revised to ensure the council can advise the Minister of Environment and Climate Change on a range of sustainable development issues. The number of seats on the council that are reserved for representatives of Indigenous peoples has been doubled from 3 to 6. The Act also includes a new requirement for federal organizations to consider public comments when preparing their own sustainable development strategies.

The draft 2022 to 2026 strategy reflects the strengthened Federal Sustainable Development Act. In particular:

  • through a new frame focused on the environmental aspects of all 17 SDGs, it shows the complex interrelationships between the environment, economy and society
  • all 99 departments and agencies included in the Act’s schedule were engaged in developing the draft and will play a role in implementing the strategy
  • each target included in the draft strategy is supported by an indicator to measure progress, includes a time frame, and identifies a responsible minister

Departmental sustainable development strategies

Under the Act, each federal organization that is required to contribute to the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy must prepare its own departmental sustainable development strategy within one year after the federal strategy is tabled. These complement the federal strategy by setting out what individual organizations will do to support its goals and targets. In preparing their strategies, federal organizations must consider comments from partners, stakeholders and Canadians provided during public consultations on the draft Federal Sustainable Development Strategy. Each federal organization must report on its progress in implementing its departmental sustainable development strategy each year for at least 2 years after it is tabled.

In keeping with the Act, the draft strategy includes 17 goals, with each goal supported by at least one target. Short-term milestones and implementation strategies support achievement of the goals and targets.

Federal Sustainable Development Strategy targets must be specific and measurable, include a time frame, and identify one or more ministers responsible for their achievement. They must also align with the 7 sustainable development principles set out in the Act. Targets generally take a medium-term view.

Short-term milestones represent interim steps that will help ensure the Government of Canada stays on track to achieve the goals and targets set out in the draft strategy. They highlight results to be achieved within the strategy’s 2022 to 2026 cycle.

Finally, implementation strategies set out what the Government of Canada will do to achieve its goals and targets. They describe the actions that federal organizations are committed to taking to make progress. Implementation strategies set out in the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy are complemented by specific commitments in departmental sustainable development strategies.