New Laws

Bill C-57: Senate improves Canada’s federal sustainability laws

The Government agreed with some Senate changes to help improve Canada’s federal sustainability laws.


The Federal Sustainable Development Act, which came into force in 2008, is a legal framework to develop and implement sustainable development strategies for federal departments and agencies. Following a review of the act, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development put forward recommendations on how best to update the laws. The Government responded with Bill C-57. The legislation incorporates seven new sustainability principles, including intergenerational equity, a polluter-pays approach and the internalization of costs, into the act. It also expands coverage from 26 federal organizations to more than 90, while also promoting collaboration and coordination.

The Senate’s Role

Bill C-57 arrived in the Senate in June 2018. During the course of in-depth study at the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, three amendments were adopted. Independent Senator Diane Griffin, who sponsored the legislation in the Senate, explained that one amendment made consequential changes to the Auditor General Act, required to maintain consistency due to changes in the Federal Sustainable Development Act. She thanked Senator Dennis Patterson, critic of the bill in the Senate, for proposing another amendment to expand the mandate of the Sustainable Development Advisory Council to allow it to undertake studies of its own choosing in addition to those recommended by the minister. A third amendment, also proposed by Sen. Patterson, proposed to reinsert performance-based contracts with the federal government, including employment contracts, under the legislation.

The Result

The House of Commons began consideration of the Senate amendments in December 2018. Sean Fraser, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, thanked Sen. Griffin, as well as the Senate committee, for “their thoughtful review and valuable insights.” He detailed that while the Government supported two amendments, it did not support the reinsertion of performance-based contracts into the legislation. Indeed, the Government repealed that section from the act in the original version of Bill C-57 for several reasons, including that it was beyond the scope of the policy and was interpreted in various ways. “Employment contracts are a matter for Treasury Board as an employer and they should not be subject to a bill whose purpose is to increase transparency of decision-making relating to sustainable development,” Mr. Fraser said in a speech to the House of Commons. “A clause without clarity is not one that should be in a bill.” The House sent the bill back to the Senate after accepting two of the three amendments.

The Senate accepted the position of the elected chamber on Feb. 28, 2019. “C-57 is an example of the Senate working collaboratively to improve Canada’s commitment to environmental sustainability,” Sen. Griffin said. “Together with Senator Patterson, we ensured that committee witnesses brought a different perspective than those from the House of Commons. This resulted in a new amendment accepted by Government. As sponsor, I thank Minister McKenna and Senator Harder for their support.”

Bill C-57: Senate improves Canada’s federal sustainability laws