The Conservative Government has taken "sustainable growth" out of the title of a key cabinet committee and removed the Environment Minister from its membership – instead focusing solely on "economic prosperity."
This week's cabinet shuffle also included changes to the membership and focus of the powerful cabinet committees. The most significant change was renaming what was once called the "Cabinet Committee on Economic Prosperity and Sustainable Growth," which had included Environment Minister Peter Kent. Now, it's simply the "Cabinet Committee on Economic Prosperity," and Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq isn't among its members.
The Prime Minister's Office played down the change, saying the appointment of Ms. Aglukkaq – a Nunavut MP – as Mr. Kent's replacement signals the government takes sustainability seriously.
"The appointment of a Minister of the Environment from the North, a region susceptible to climate change, speaks volumes about our government's commitment to the environment and sustainability," spokeswoman Julie Vaux said, in a statement that did not specifically address why the name and membership were changed. "And Canadians can count on our government to remain focused on creating jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity."
The change comes one month after the federal government wrapped up public consultations on its renewed "Federal Sustainable Development Strategy." The strategy is updated every three years, with the next version due for release this fall, and is aimed at giving Canadians a look at what Ottawa is doing to boost environmental sustainability, including in its own day-to-day operations.
Mr. Kent, the former environment minister, suggested the conclusion of the public consultation might be linked to the name change, but stressed: "The FSDS is continuing government policy." An update earlier this year found that the federal government is "making progress" towards its sustainability goals.
"This integrated whole-of-government approach [focuses] on four key themes: climate change and air quality, water, nature, and of course, greening our government operations," Mr. Kent said. "Although no longer in cabinet I'm sure the Harper government will stay the course on our FSDS."
Despite the name change, the mission statement of the committee still includes "sustainable development" and "environment and energy security" as focuses. None of the other committees are tasked with focusing on environmental or sustainability issues.
Environmental issues continue to be tied closely to energy development, which the Conservative government has championed. In particular, Canada is now relying on its environmental track record as a pillar of its appeal to the United States to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Ambassador Gary Doer's recent letter to American Secretary of State John Kerry, urging him to give Keystone the go-ahead, focused almost entirely on environmental issues, though left out certain details. Monday's shuffle also merged two committees – Foreign Affairs and Defence, and National Security, now become the Cabinet Committee on Foreign Affairs and Security. Justice Minister Peter MacKay, the former Defence Minister, chairs the new version. His replacement, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, is vice-chair.
The shuffle also did away with a "Priorities and Planning Sub-Committee on Government Administration," instead making it a sub-committee of the Treasury Board. It's still chaired by Treasury Board President Tony Clement.