How Well Does Canada's National SDG Strategy Involve All Canadians?

An analysis of different stakeholders’ involvement and how we could reach further.

Why It Matters

With just over a decade left to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, Canada has put together an interim strategy towards achieving the goals nationwide. But how well does it involve all Canadians, and what can we do to further engage stakeholders?

The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is an ambitious 15-year plan intended to end poverty globally, tackle inequalities of all kinds, and fight climate change. The 2030 Agenda is comprised of a whopping 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 169 targets, and 232 indicators to track progress towards a more peaceful, inclusive, and prosperous world, with a strong focus on bringing the Agenda’s 17 goals to life by 2030. 

Together, the SDGs provide a common framework for all countries to recognize and make progress on social, environmental, and economic challenges in an interlinked and indivisible way. In 2015, alongside 193 other United Nations (UN) Member States, Canada adopted the SDGs, also known as Agenda 2030. 

In the four years that have since passed, the Government of Canada has made notable strides towards the SDGs, including setting up data hubs to track Canada’s progress, completing a voluntary national review, and engaging 2,500 Canadians across the country to inform a national, whole-of-society SDG strategy.

The Government of Canada has now released a draft of this national strategy, Towards Canada’s 2030 Agenda, in which it proposes 30 actions for stakeholders across Canada to take to achieve the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda. 

A key differentiator of the UN’s Agenda 2030 from its predecessor — the Millenium Development Goals, eight global goals that wrapped in 2015 — is their recognition that success will require participation from all countries. In that same vein, Canada’s draft national strategy equally recognized a few key stakeholders in the country’s 30 actions. Here’s who those stakeholders are, how they’ve been looped into Canada’s strategy, and how we can push further for more participation on the SDGs.

 

Public Servants

Key related actions in Canada’s national strategy

3. Develop training materials on the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs for federal public servants across all departments and agencies.

6. Foster collaboration with communities, cities, and municipalities to further implement the 2030 Agenda.

Displayed in a federal department mapping against the SDGs, the goals touch across all departments, and their success will depend on engaging public sector staff from all levels of government. Canada’s interim national strategy calls for training and awareness for federal public sector staff in order to build capacity for government to take a leadership role in this area. And with 23 percent of the global SDG indicators having a local or urban component, the engagement of municipalities will also be paramount to meeting the goals in Canada. 

 

Recommendation

While little to no existing forums currently convene public servants at all levels, explorations into training that crosses government levels may begin to shift this siloed culture. Leveraging existing training and development groups — such as the Canada School of Public Service and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to develop joint training could begin to build points of connection and support collaboration across government levels.

 

Youth

Key related actions in Canada’s national strategy

13. Partner with schools, universities, academic institutions, and research networks to support research, development, resource sharing, and youth engagement in SDGs.

Canada’s interim national strategy recognized the need to harness young people’s existing commitment and determination to achieve a better world by providing them with increased support and more accessible tools. However, youth were only highlighted directly in one of the recommended actions through the engagement of academic institutions.  

 

Recommendation

Building upon the recommendations of Canada’s Youth Policy, we should explore creating more opportunities for youth to engage directly in the decisions that affect the world they live in and will come to inherit. In particular, Canada should ensure that as it builds out its recommended advisory committee of experts to guide the implementation of the SDGs, it considers diverse expertise that includes youth representatives. 

 

Indigenous Peoples and Communities

Key related actions in Canada’s national strategy

5. Develop long-term inclusive engagement plans with Indigenous partners and communities … Identify opportunities for collaboration and for integrating Indigenous perspectives, priorities and ways of knowing into the SDGs, support capacity building and increase awareness about the 2030 Agenda.

18. Advance data disaggregation and the recognition of indigenous identity across the Canadian Indicator Framework to the extent possible, and enhance the future integration of Indigenous-owned, community-based data, building upon National Outcome-Based Framework’s development of Indigenous indicators of poverty, health and wellbeing.

Unique to Canada in nationalizing the SDGs was the integration of a whole-of-Canada approach and recognition that the 2030 Agenda is both interlinked and dependent on the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Canada’s interim national strategy notes a need to look at the trends specific to Indigenous communities within aggregated data to be able to identify the unique needs and barriers across the indicators for Indigenous people. It also highlights how Indigenous knowledge systems and traditional practices hold significant lessons for all citizens and stakeholders in addressing and achieving the SDGs. 

 

 

Recommendation

The strategy shows significant intentions to integrate and support reconciliation, with nine of Canada’s 30 recommended actions directly recognizing Indigenous stakeholders. Maintaining these intentions in implementation of the strategy will require ongoing review and learning, with training and education for public sector staff and Indigenous voices present on the external advisory committee.

 

Private Sector

Key related actions in Canada’s national strategy

26. Enhance collaboration between different levels of government, the private and non-profit sectors and research communities, and support the development of new and innovative partnerships, approaches, and breakthroughs to advance multiple SDGs. 

28. Partner with organizations to encourage SDG implementation in the business community, including corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Agenda 2030 is building momentum within the private sector and, through the UN Global Compact Network, the UN is specifically targeting corporations to build support and integration of SDGs into this sector. Although experts have raised concerns of companies “blue-washing” themselves — i.e., using the UN logo to their benefit without actually being compliant with the Global Compact’s principles — further encouragement of the private sector’s collaboration and engagement was highlighted in the Canadian strategy. 

 

Recommendation

The Government of Canada has the chance to play a bigger role in encouraging and holding the private sector accountable to the SDGs, due to corporations’ significant contribution to social, environmental, and economic challenges. Developing specific incentives and reporting to deepen implementation and leverage the weight and impact of the private sector would be beneficial. 

 

Citizens and SMEs

Key related actions in Canada’s national strategy

8. Work with partners on compelling storytelling and calls to action and highlight stories of Canadians who are taking action on the SDGs from coast to coast. 

Building upon global examples from Germany, Switzerland, Costa Rica, and Mexico to prioritize national targets, Canada’s strategy includes a draft Canadian Indicator Framework (CIF). The framework provides focus for Canada’s ambitions on each goal, narrowing down the 232 global indicators to 60 targeted and measurable Canadian indicators. 

From halving Canada’s 2015 poverty rate (targeting SDG 1) to generating 90 percent of Canada’s electricity from renewable and non-emitting sources (targeting SDG 7) by 2030, the targets are significant starting points that will help align stakeholders around achieving these ambitious targets. 

While these targets can be used for the public sector, large multinationals, and international organizations, they are less relatable to the individual citizen or a small- or medium-sized enterprise (SME). If Canada truly wants to capitalize on individuals’ increasing levels of awareness and engagement on these issues, it would be useful to give them their own targets and tools to use in achieving the SDGs.

 

Recommendation

Aside from involving individuals and SMEs only in storytelling and calls to action, the next iteration of Canada’s national strategy could explore more ways to engage citizens and SMEs by building off of the CIF to create unique contribution targets for these stakeholders. By providing tangible suggestions on how they, too, can contribute to the achievement of each of the selected targets, the SDGs will become more tangible and attainable to broader audiences. 

 

Go Further

For Canada’s full national strategy and more on their current engagements, visit their full website