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Why Canada's Sustainable Development Strategy can become a model

Why Canada's Sustainable Development Strategy can become a model

On the subject of Sustainable Development, Canada and the European Union share principles and goals, formally signed in the Strategic Partnership Agreement. Canada has also adopted a Federal Strategy, renewed every 3 years and standing out for its efficiency and effectiveness, that sets an example to be followed.

Paolo Quattrocchi*

Canada has made sustainable development a priority since the late 1900s.


The first is the government intervention in 1995 with the Auditor General Act by which each federal administration was required to prepare its own sustainable development strategy. Also in 1995, the Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD) was created, the purpose of which was to monitor to what extent the individual administrations achieved the goals they had set themselves with the adopted strategy.

The lack of success of the initiative led the Canadian government to change direction by adopting a more meaningful system that took concrete form with the publication in 2008 of the Federal Sustainable Development Act.


The FSDA's mission 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.


The definition of sustainable development


It is always the FSDA that defines what is meant by Sustainable Development:


development that meets the needs pf the present without compromising the abilities of future generations to meet their own needs.


The implicit reference to responsibility constitutes the guiding principle of the FSDA, so much so that the preamble of the standard clearly states that: The implicit reference to responsibility constitutes the guiding principle of the FSDA, so much so that the preamble of the standard clearly states that:


The Government of Canada accepts the basic principle that sustainable development is based on an ecologically efficient use of natural, social and economic resources and acknowledges the need to integrate environmental, economic and social factors in the making of all decisions by government.


And always in the FSDA we read that:


 it is the responsability of the sponsoring minister and ministers to ensure that the enviromental implications of the proposed initiative are fully reflected in their policy, plan or program proposal.


The relevance of the principle enunciated is evident and does not require further comment.


The Federal Sustainable Development Strategy


In October 2010, Canada therefore adopted the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS) which, according to the provisions of the Act, had to be updated, as has happened, every three years.


To date, 4 Strategies have been activated by the Canadian Federal Government, each of which has integrated the content of the following:

  • 2010/13
  • 2013/1
  • 2016/19
  • 2019/22

Each document, at the end of the period of validity, has in fact undergone a careful analysis and evaluation which, upon the outcome, has produced the evolution of the subsequent strategy.

Examining that 2019/22 we read, among other things, that:

the government, led by Employment and Social Development Canada, is working with partners to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly through the development of a whole-of- society 2030 Agenda National Strategy. As we implement the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy and future federal strategies, our efforts will continue to align with and contribute to this broader national approach.

The 2019–2022 FSDS goals

The 2019–2022 FSDS is organized around 13 aspirational goals that are a Canadian reflection of the SDGs

It is therefore evident the need felt by the Canadian government to coordinate its action with that of other International Organizations active in the sector and, above all, of extreme importance is the awareness that the involvement of all levels of society is essential for the achievement of government objectives.

In this regard, again from the latest FSDS:

We acknowledge that we cannot achieve sustainable development alone—partners such as provinces and territories, Indigenous peoples, communities, businesses, scientists, academia and non-governmental organizations all play a role in helping us meet our goals. 

Finally, we need your help—you can make a difference in areas such as addressing climate change, protecting ecosystems and improving air quality. We hope that you’ll take action, and that you’ll continue to provide input and ideas to help us further refine our sustainable development vision and long-term goals. 


The FSDS as Federal legislation is applied throughout the Canadian Federation through the territorial agencies but nothing prevents some Provinces from having felt the duty to prepare their own Strategies, as in the case of Quebec, Manitoba and the Region of Athabaska (in the Province of Alberta).


To this level we must add the aforementioned commitment of the municipalities which also have their own role, which can be financially supported by the Federal Government.


The areas of intervention of the FSDS are 13 and this is in line with the UN 2030 Agenda (where the objectives are 17).


The key elements of the Canadian Sustainability Strategy


The characterizing elements that emerge from reading the FSDS are:

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

The monitoring and reporting System

Therefore, in addition to the involvement of the entire federal administrative system, called to act in harmony and with shared purposes, the aspects summarized under 2 and 3 appear worthy of particular attention.


The (2) linking the FSDS to the Expense Management System (EMS) ensures that any decision made by the Federal Government takes into due consideration the environmental consequences that may arise from the adoption of policies and programs, with the further consequence that all this must be followed by an increase in transparency and in the level of responsibility of decision makers.


In this sense, it is appropriate to underline the monitoring role performed by the Expense Management System.


It is divided into two actions:

  • on the one hand, the Report on Plans and Priorities (RPPs) presented periodically by each administration with which, for a period of three years, the priorities are outlined and which and how the outlines expenditure items are allocated, over a three year period, an organization's priorities and where it will allocate the resources to address those priorities
  • on the other hand, the adoption of Reports on the results achieved by each administration Departemental Performance Report (DPRs) which are presented periodically and which offer an overview of the objectives achieved, comparing them with what is proposed in the RPPs provides an overview of the accomplishments achieved by the organization compared to what it proposed in the RPP (Environment Canada, 2011, 8).

Third and perhaps most distinctive element is that relating to:

effective measurement, monitoring and reporting in order to track and report on progress to Canadian citizens

This, together with the involvement of all the components of the company, is the element that characterizes the FSDS, not so much for the forecast of monitoring the results, but for the meticulous planning, execution, monitoring, and new planning based on the results achieved, all subject to verification, in the control and new planning phase, of their SMART character, i.e. the specificity of the objectives, measurability, reachability, relevance and time required.

The following table clarifies the scheme.

The Plan-Do-Check-Improve management model

Source: The 2019–2022 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy Management Framework 


The Green Government Fund


Worthy of note in the latest FSDS, as part of the Greening Governemnt objective and the Greening Government Strategy, introduced in 2017, is the establishment of the Greening Government Fund.

All ministries and federal agencies that have CO2 consumption above a certain level are required to pay an amount proportional to the excess consumption into the fund.

The money raised in the fund will in turn be used by the same federal administrations that contribute to its creation for the implementation of projects aimed at improving their sustainability performance.


It goes without saying that the processes of evaluation, approval and verification of the projects are promptly carried out and made public.


Sustainable Development and EU-CANADA relations: the Strategic Partnership Agreement


As regards specifically the relations between the EU and Canada on the subject of sustainable development, reference should be made to the Strategic Partnership Agreement, signed in 2016 and entered into force in 2017.


The agreement makes Sustainable Development one of the key elements of the agreement itself.


The entire Title IV is dedicated to Sustainable Economic Development and under Title IV, art. 12 (the longest and most complex of the entire agreement) sets out principles and binds the contractors in a clear and defined manner.


It may be objected that all Canadian and European policy on sustainable development is a series of sound principles well stated which risk not being fulfilled.


In the case of Canada, the explicit awareness on the part of the Federal Government of the need to involve, in addition to the Government itself, in all its articulations, also the entire civil society, in all its components, making everyone directly responsible and active, right from the determination of the priorities to the verification of the results, makes the Canadian model a good example from which to draw inspiration.


*Director of Centro Studi Italia Canada, Partner of Nctm Studio Legale,

Vice President of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Canada West

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