National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy

National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE)

What Happened

The 2012 federal budget announced that funding for the NRTEE would be cut after the organization produced a pessimistic report on Canada’s provincial and territorial climate change plans emphasizing the fact that the government would not reach its set targets of greenhouse-gas reductions unless additional measures are taken.

Consequently, NRTEE will shut its doors in March 2013, generating savings of $5.5 million per year.

The “Reality Check” report

In March 2011, Environment Minister Peter Kent wrote to the Chair of NRTEE, seeking advice on sustainable development, and specifically asking it to "conduct a comprehensive assessment of provincial and territorial climate change plans and how they will contribute to meeting the federal government’s 2020 target to reduce emissions."  

The resulting report, Reality Check: The State of Climate Progress in Canada, was not optimistic. The conclusion said that there is a “large gap between Canada’s emissions trajectory and the federal government’s target of 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020” and that "Canada will not achieve its 2020 GHG gas emission reductions target unless significant new, additional measures are taken… No other conclusion is possible."

According to the Report, the Harper government had set itself a goal of 607-million tonnes of greenhouse gases in order to meet its 2020 targets. However, existing measures, largely taken by the provinces, will bring emissions to only 724-million tonnes, far short of targets.
Current policies demonstrate that even the Harper government's exceedingly moderate targets will not be met.

Alberta alone, Canada's largest fossil fuel producing province, will actually increase its emissions, single-handedly ensuring that Canada will fail to meet the Harper government's targets.  

Leading Canadian commentator, Jeffrey Simpson, observes that "the rest of Ottawa's measures are puny. Several are dopey…"

The NRTEE Report was the first time that any research body or agency had comprehensively tracked where we are in Canada in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The 2012 federal budget kills the NRTEE

In the 2012 budget, the Harper government killed the agency, arguing that although:

"NRTEE filled an important need in the past, a mature and expanded community of environmental stakeholders has demonstrated the capacity to provide analysis and policy advice to the Government. As a result, the Government will introduce legislation to eliminate the NRTEE.”

Environment Minister Peter Kent said the research produced by the agency is now redundant with what can be found on the Internet or produced by think tanks and universities. However Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird seemed to suggest that the content of the research itself was what justified the shutting. Baird said the NRTEE was pushing for a carbon tax the Canadians already rejected. He said: “It should agree with Canadians. It should agree with the government. No discussion of a carbon tax that would kill and hurt Canadian families.”

Later on, Baird said the NRTEE is no longer needed as it was 25 years ago.

The NRTEE is led by David McLaughlin, a former Chief of Staff to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and dominated by Conservative nominees. McLaughlin denied that there are other sources of research similar to the one the NRTEE is producing: “This is new and original information that we’re putting out,” he said.

In June 2012, current and past members of the NRTEE wrote to Stephen Harper to express their disapproval of Bill C-38 and asked the government to reconsider its intention to close the NRTEE.

The NRTEE cuts are part of an $88 million package of “planned savings” targeting Canada’s environmental programs. 

Relevant dates:

  • 1988: the NRTEE is established by the former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney
  • 1993: the NRTEE is mandated by Parliament
  • March 2011: Environment Minister Peter Kent asks the NRTEE to produce a report on the state of provincial and territorial climate change plans in Canada.
  • March 2012: The federal budget announces the closure of the NRTEE in March 2013.
  • June 2012: Current and past members of the NRTEE present Stephen Harper with a letter expressing their concerns with Bill C-38. 

Role or Position

In 1988, a national round table was established to advise the Canadian government and Parliament on ways to reconcile environmental and economic priorities. In 1993, Parliament established the round table as an independent agency to achieve that purpose, by legislating its uniquely independent, national policy advisory role on sustainable development.
The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) is a nonpartisan agency, and the only national organization with a direct mandate from Parliament on sustainable development. Specifically, its mandate includes researching on issues of sustainable development, with the input of opinion leaders and experts across the country, and proposing solutions to the Canadian government and Parliament on the best ways to solve the environment and economy dilemma.

Implications and Consequences

  • Democracy: These cuts will reduce our collective ability to develop innovative, economically viable solutions to Canada’s environmental challenges, and will limit the federal government’s capacity to deliver effective programs and public policy for Canadians. The ability of Parliament and Canadians to hold the federal government to account will be diminished by the loss of yet another independent agency.
  • Knowledge: Another leading knowledge organization in Canada is eliminated, leading a gaping hole in the knowledge development and management in the area of the environment, the economy and sustainable development.
  • Transparency: The defunding of the NRTEE is one of the various budgetary reductions in the 2012 federal budget. There have been complaints about the secrecy in which the government is undertaking such cuts and the lack of information about their impact. The case for more transparency has been made by the Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, a non-partisan public servant who has faced considerable hurdles in obtaining information on the impact of cuts and especially of omnibus bills.


Date published: 18 August 2012

Date updated: 22 October 2012