Since 1995, the Office of the Auditor General of Canada has had a specific environmental and sustainable development mandate. This mandate was established through amendments that were made to the Auditor General Act to encourage stronger performance by the federal government in these important areas.

The 1995 amendments to the Auditor General Act included creating the position of Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and adding environmental effects to the list of what the Auditor General considers when determining what to report to the House of Commons. The amendments also included authorizing the Auditor General to receive petitions on environmental and sustainable development matters and requiring Ministers to respond to the petitions within 120 days.

In addition, the 1995 amendments to the Auditor General Act require ministers to prepare sustainable development strategies and to update them every three years. In 2008, the Federal Sustainable Development Act was passed, changing responsibilities regarding sustainable development strategies. The federal government must table its first federal sustainable development strategy in the House of Commons no later than June 2010 and every three years thereafter. Departments and agencies must develop sustainable development strategies of their own that comply with and contribute to the targets set out in the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy.

The Office implements its environment and sustainable development mandate in a variety of ways:

  • We conduct performance audits to determine whether activities that are designed to respond to federal environment and sustainable development policies are being implemented effectively and are delivering results. We also monitor progress made by federal departments and agencies on recommendations from past audits and conduct follow-up audits.
  • We manage the environmental petitions process, which ensures that Canadians get answers from federal ministers on specific environmental and sustainable development issues that fall under federal jurisdiction. Petitions prompt action by federal departments and agencies, including new environmental projects, follow-ups on alleged violations, and changes to or clarifications of policies and practices.
  • We review the draft Federal Sustainable Development Strategy, to determine whether its targets and implementation strategies can be assessed. We also monitor the sustainable development strategies that are prepared and updated by designated departments and agencies. Under the current legislation, the Commissioner must monitor and report on how well federal departments and agencies are meeting the targets and goals set out in the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy.