1. Introduction

Beginning in 1997 and every three years thereafter, Ministers tabled departmental sustainable development strategies in Parliament, as required by the 1995 amendments to the Auditor General Act. This was a step up from the previous approach to sustainable development, but not enough to deliver the intended results the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (the Commissioner) was looking for.

What was really needed was one government-wide strategy with common goals and targets and a means to measure progress to prevent environmental sustainability issues from being pushed to the margins of federal planning and reporting. This realization was the impetus for the Federal Sustainable Development Act (the Act) which was passed in June 2008. Its purpose is:

 “…to provide the legal framework for developing and implementing a Federal Sustainable Development Strategy that will make environmental decision-making more transparent and accountable to Parliament.”

As a means to improve the way the federal government plans for, and reports on, sustainable development, the first Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS) was tabled in Parliament on October 6, 2010. It is the first significant improvement to sustainable development planning and reporting since 1995, reflecting the Government’s commitment to improved environmental decision-making, transparency and accountability.

For the first time, Canadians have in one place, comprehensive information on activities across the federal government that contribute to environmental sustainability. The FSDS renders environmental decision-making more transparent and accountable using an improved framework for planning and reporting with three key improvements:

  • An integrated, whole-of-government picture of actions and results to achieve environmental sustainability;
  • A link between sustainable development planning and reporting and the Government’s core expenditure planning and reporting system; and,
  • Effective measurement, monitoring and reporting in order to track and report on progress to Canadians.

The FSDS brings together goals, targets, and implementation strategies which have been created through the normal course of government decision-making. The FSDS itself does not set new goals and targets, with the exception of those for greening government operations (GGO); rather it makes the outcomes of decision-making more transparent and accountable to Parliamentarians and Canadians.

Goals, targets, and implementation strategies within the FSDS are organized under four priority themes:

I. Addressing Climate Change and Air Quality
II. Maintaining Water Quality and Availability
III. Protecting Nature
IV. Shrinking the Environmental Footprint – Beginning with Government

The first three themes reflect the Government’s priorities for environmentally sustainable policies and programs. Theme IV focuses on shrinking the federal government’s environmental footprint.

1.1 Purpose of the Progress Report

This first Progress Report describes actions taken to implement the requirements under the Act since the tabling of the FSDS in October 2010. It focuses on progress made on setting up the systems needed to implement the FSDS and lays the foundation for future reporting by outlining how results will be measured and shared. Like the FSDS itself, progress reports are part of a long-term "Plan, Do, Check, and Improve" management approach geared at making environmental decision-making more transparent and accountable over time.

1.2 Intended Audience

This report presents, to Parliamentarians and Canadians, the progress made by the Government since the first FSDS was tabled in October 2010. It is submitted by the Sustainable Development Office of Environment Canada to the Minister of the Environment and tabled in each House of Parliament, as required by the Act.

1.3 Time Period for Reporting

This first Progress Report covers the period from October 2010, when the first FSDS was tabled in Parliament, to April 2011 when work for this Progress Report was substantially completed. The Act specifies the timing of both the first FSDS and the first Progress Report. The Act requires that this first Progress Report be received by the Minister of the Environment at least once every three years after June 2008 (the date the Act came into force), meaning the first Progress Report must be presented to the Minister by June 2011. 

A second and more substantive Progress Report on the 2010-2013 FSDS will be tabled in the fall of 2012. Subsequent progress reports will be completed, as outlined in the Act, “at least every three years” thereafter. Adjusting the timing of the second and subsequent progress reports will better align with planning and reporting cycles thereby better informing the FSDS "Plan, Do, Check, Improve" system (Exhibit 1). As more time will have passed since the tabling of the 2010-2013 FSDS, the second Progress Report will be able to provide a more complete picture of the progress that has been made in implementing the first FSDS and better inform the ‘improve’ step of the cycle.

At the time this report was prepared, departmental reports on plans and priorities (RPPs) had not yet been tabled.