Peace and Environment News, January–February 2011
by Mike Buckthought
On November 16, Conservative Senators defeated Bill C-311 (the Climate Change Accountability Act) with a vote of 43 to 32.
The climate bill was passed in the House of Commons by a majority of elected Members of Parliament. When it reached the Senate, Conservative Senators called for a surprise vote at a time when many Liberal Senators were away. According to media reports, the Harper government ordered Conservative Senators to vote against the bill at the first possible opportunity.
Bill C-311 was a Private Member’s bill introduced by NDP MP Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay-Superior North) on February 10, 2009. On April 1, 2009, the bill passed second reading with 141 votes in favour and 128 against.
The Climate Change Accountability Act incorporated recommendations of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It would have ensured that Canada commits to reducing emissions by at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, with reductions of 80% by the year 2050. These reductions are needed to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change.
Support for the climate bill was strong, with tens of thousands of Canadians signing letters and petitions addressed to Members of Parliament and Senators. An open letter supporting the bill was endorsed by over 40 organizations across the country, including Sierra Club Canada, Ecology Action Centre, Council of Canadians, David Suzuki Foundation, Équiterre and NUPGE.
What message did the government convey to the people of the world when it obstructed passage of climate legislation? Canadian negotiators headed to the international climate talks in Cancun without a credible plan to tackle global warming.
While in Mexico, Canada’s team targeted the emissions of other countries. They insisted that countries such as China and India should commit to binding targets for reductions. Meanwhile, the defeat of Bill C-311 ensured that Canada would not commit to deep reductions in emissions. Canada’s per capita emissions are much higher than the emissions recorded in other countries.
The Harper government engineered the defeat of Bill C-311, ignoring the fact that a majority of Members of Parliament passed the bill in the House of Commons. It was a curious move, considering that Harper campaigned on the idea of a reformed, elected Senate. Instead, we now have a Senate stacked with Harper loyalists. The Prime Minister has appointed 38 new Senators in all, shifting the balance in favour of the Conservatives.
With the defeat of the climate bill and a new Conservative majority in the Senate, we are left wondering: will the Senate now block any legislation introduced by opposition parties, implementing the dictates of the new king?
Viewed from overseas, Canada is jettisoning its principles in pursuit of the all-mighty petro-dollar. In an article published in the Guardian, George Monbiot expresses his dismay. He is witnessing, he says, “the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petro-state.”
The defeat of Bill C-311 represents a serious setback for efforts to tackle climate change. There are economic consequences, too. Without strong commitments to reduce emissions, it becomes more difficult to justify investments in renewable energy. We need climate legislation with binding targets for emissions reductions, and a national strategy to invest in renewable energy and create thousands of green jobs in Canada.
Mike Buckthought worked as national climate change campaigner for Sierra Club Canada, 2008–2009. The opinions expressed here are his own.
Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 26, Number 1, January–February 2011, page 6.