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2005 September Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

September 2005 Report—Chapter 7

Case Study 7.2—The government's guidance for the three priorities in its 2004 strategies was inadequate

What we examined

We expected that central agencies and interdepartmental committees would provide guidance to departments on the three priorities identified in the government's Coordinating Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies:

  • Federal role on fresh water
  • Implementing 2002 World Summit commitments
  • Greening government operations

We also expected departments to include commitments that were meaningful and contributed significantly to these three priorities.

What we found

Departments did not receive adequate guidance to help them incorporate the three priorities into their strategies. However, departments could have made further progress in incorporating the last two priorities—implementing 2002 World Summit commitments and greening government operations—into their strategies because they are basic to the mandate and operations of many departments.

Federal role on fresh water. The Environment and Sustainable Development Coordinating Committee asked the Interdepartmental Water Assistant Deputy Minister Committee to prepare a federal framework on fresh water. However, the Coordinating Committee did not approve the framework until February 2004, after the strategies were tabled in Parliament. Even then further work was needed to refine the framework. Without an approved federal direction, we could not determine if commitments made by departments contributed to significant government-wide progress on fresh water. If fresh water remains a federal priority, departments could use the framework to develop and incorporate targets and action plans into their 2007 strategies. (Chapter 4 of this Report, on safe drinking water, provides more information on the fresh water framework).

Implementing 2002 World Summit commitments. The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development developed the Plan of Implementation, which contained over 600 commitments. In 2003, the Earth Summit 2002 Canadian Secretariat started to prepare an action plan for 46 commitments, identifying the lead department for each one. The Secretariat was disbanded and never completed its plan, which could have helped departments incorporate the commitments into their strategies. We found that only four departments incorporated Summit commitments in their strategy action plans. Without an approved federal direction, we could not determine if commitments contributed to significant government-wide progress on World Summit commitments. See Action on International Commitments for more details on Canada's progress in meeting its international commitments.

Greening government operations. All departments that produce a strategy have a role in greening government operations, and their strategies could be used to advance this area. In 2000, the government provided guidance on greening government operations, which included targets and measures for the 2001 strategies. Some departments incorporated them into their strategies.

For the 2004 strategies, the government did not produce guidance for greening its operations. However, 11 of 24 departments stated in their strategies that they would develop a common framework for measuring and reporting on greening operations. While a common framework is important, we expected the government to have made further progress by this time. The three largest property managers—Public Works and Government Services Canada, Correctional Services Canada, and National Defence—have made some progress; they will report on common indicators in 2006. Also, Treasury Board Secretariat, Environment Canada, and Public Works and Government Services Canada are developing a performance management framework that will explain their current state of greening operations and provide a governance model and reporting indicators. Treasury Board Secretariat informed us that the framework and its recommendations for action will be prepared by fall 2005.

We examined the commitments made by selected departments on vehicle fleet management, real property, and green procurement (see Chapter 6 of this Report for more details on green procurement commitments). We found that some departments had made specific commitments, while others referred to action plans that they were developing. In the absence of federal direction, we could not determine if commitments made by departments contributed to significant government-wide progress on greening operations.