And They Call It Democracy?

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.

Pedal for the Planet Reaches Parliament

Peace and Environment News, November–December 2009
by Mike Buckthought

Pedal for the Planet, Ottawa, September 15, 2009. Photo by Faris Ahmed.

Pedal for the Planet, Ottawa, September 15, 2009. Photo by Faris Ahmed.

On September 15, Pedal for the Planet riders hit Parliament Hill after riding across Atlantic Canada, Québec, Ontario, the Prairies and British Columbia.

The riders relayed a message from Canadians across the country: we need to stop Canada’s backpeddling on climate change. Canada must do its fair share.

At the rally on the Hill, we were joined by NDP Leader Jack Layton, Linda Duncan (NDP, MP Edmonton-Strathcona), Bruce Hyer (NDP, MP Thunder Bay-Superior North), Bernard Bigras (Bloc Québécois, MP Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie) and Francis Scarpaleggia (Liberals, MP Lac-Saint-Louis).

We heard some inspiring words from the riders — Malkolm Boothroyd, who cycled all the way from Whitehorse, and Martina Nowak, who cycled from Victoria. Nathalie Houle and Eugénie Capel spoke on behalf of the many cyclists who crossed Québec.

After the rally, cyclists joined a virtual world tour around Ottawa, a low-carbon journey to search for Canada’s missing climate action plan. We were welcomed by Wim Geerts, Ambassador of the Netherlands to Canada. He talked about how the Netherlands encourages cycling as a sustainable form of transportation.

We rode to Bangladesh and Tuvalu, countries hit by rises in sea level, and Costa Rica, which plans to go carbon neutral by 2021. We visited the European Union, which is taking action to switch to renewable energy.

We finished our ride outside the Embassy of Denmark. Deputy Head of Mission Jakob Henningsen talked about how cycling is encouraged in Denmark. In Copenhagen, almost half of trips to work or school are by bicycle.

What is Canada doing? We hope these examples will inspire Members of Parliament to create a climate plan for Canada. They can start by supporting the swift passage of Bill C-311, the Copenhagen Climate Bill.

The next night, Pedal for the Planet riders and Members of Parliament returned to the Hill for a special screening of “The Age of Stupid.” The film presents a clear warning: future generations are threatened by increasing temperatures, extreme weather events and rising sea levels. The September 16th screening was presented by Sierra Club Canada and Linda Duncan, MP for Edmonton-Strathcona.

We would like to congratulate all the riders and volunteers across Canada who joined Pedal for the Planet. People cycled thousands of kilometres, braving bears, blackflies and torrential rains on windswept roads.

A small group of dedicated volunteers and staff members spent countless hours in meetings, while most people were away on summer vacation. Without all our hard work, Pedal for the Planet would not have been possible. We would like to thank everyone for joining us.

Mike Buckthought is the national coordinator of Pedal for the Planet, a cross-country climate relay to support urgent federal action on climate change. Pedal for the Planet was organized by staff and volunteers from Sierra Club Canada, Oxfam Canada, Climate Action Network and other organizations across the country. For more information about Pedal for the Planet, visit

Peace and Environment News, Volume 24, Number 6, November–December 2009, page 3.

Pedalling for the Planet in Kingston

Wind turbines on Wolfe Island. Photo: Mike Buckthought.

Wind turbines on Wolfe Island. Photo: Mike Buckthought.

Pedal for the Planet riders rolled into Kingston on September 10th. The team in Kingston included cyclists who pedalled all the way from Whitehorse and Victoria, as well as people from London, Toronto and Ottawa.

Our first stop was Queen’s University. We focused on the tar sands with a teach-in by Clayton Thomas-Muller from the Indigenous Environmental Network. He talked about the devastating impacts tar sands extraction is having on First Nations communities. With contamination of the Athabasca River, he said, high rates of cancer are hitting Fort Chipewyan and other communities.

He stressed that exploiting the tar sands leads to violations of fundamental human rights. Producing dirty tar sands oil contaminates water supplies and dumps millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

After the tar sands talk, we headed over to the waterfront to catch a ferry to Wolfe Island. We cycled along the coast, the sky illuminated by the stars and the planet Jupiter. The moon was rising, casting a warm glow on the water of the St. Lawrence River.

The following day, we pedalled down some country roads to have a look at the wind turbines on the island. There are 86 wind turbines, in one of Ontario’s largest wind farms.

The blades whirl slowly, high above farmers’ fields. They generate power for people on the mainland, and generate millions of dollars in economic benefits for farmers and the township. Now the islanders are debating what to do with the extra income.

With finite supplies of oil and uranium, we are faced with a clear choice. We can continue sinking billions of dollars into the fossil economy, or move to green sources of energy such as wind and solar power.

After visiting Wolfe Island, I felt more optimistic about our future. The people of Wolfe Island have shown us that it is possible to transform our economy, making the transition to renewable energy.

Mike Buckthought is the national coordinator of Pedal for the Planet, a cross-country climate relay. This update first appeared in Sierra Club’s Climate Crisis blog, September 14, 2009. For more updates from Pedal for the Planet, visit

Peace and Environment News, Volume 24, Number 6, November–December 2009, page 2.

Climate Change — One Step Forward

Peace and Environment News, May–June 2009
by Mike Buckthought

On April 1, Members of Parliament took a crucial step forward in tackling the climate crisis. The Climate Change Accountability Act (Bill C-311) passed second reading by a narrow margin, with 141 votes in favour and 128 against. Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois MPs united to back the private member’s bill introduced by MP Bruce Hyer.

The Climate Change Accountability Act will ensure that Canada adopts firm targets for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, to avoid the most devastating impacts of global warming. It follows recommendations of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC urges developed countries to reduce emissions by at least 25% from 1990 levels by 2020, and at least 80% by the year 2050.

The Conservative government has set a target of a 3% reduction by 2020, with no legislation to get us there. Canadians take pride in protecting the environment, but our government has failed to show leadership. Other countries are doing much more.

The 27 members of the European Union are taking action. The EU has committed to reductions of 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, with deeper reductions if developed countries match its commitment. Norway and Costa Rica have promised to become carbon-neutral by reducing and offsetting emissions of greenhouse gases.

In the United States, the Obama administration is investing billions of dollars in renewable energy, and a comprehensive climate bill promises to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. On March 31, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released the draft American Clean Energy and Security Act. It proposes deep reductions in emissions, equivalent to 80% below 1990 levels by the year 2050.

Canadians can learn from the best practices of other countries. We need more incentives to encourage homeowners to install solar panels for heating hot water and generating electricity. We can invest in renewable energy and sustainable transport, to create thousands of green jobs and reduce our use of planet-warming fossil fuels.

With the federal government committed to inaction, it is up to opposition parties to pass legislation to tackle the climate crisis. Conservative filibustering delayed Bill C-377, an earlier version of Bill C-311. Although it was eventually passed by the House of Commons and referred to the Senate, Bill C-377 died on the order paper when an election was called in September.

With Bill C-311 having passed second reading, it will go on to the Environment and Sustainable Development Committee for further debate. With only months to go before climate talks in Copenhagen, Parliament has an historic opportunity. The Climate Change Accountability Act will ensure that Canadians do our fair share to stop global warming.

The costs of inaction are staggering. Unchecked climate change could lead to trillions of dollars in economic losses, and the loss of most of the world’s plant and animal species. Millions of people could be affected by droughts, famines, diseases and rising sea levels.

As Parliamentarians debate Bill C-311, they may think about how they will be judged by future generations. If they reject the bill, they will harm our environment and economic future. Supporting Bill C-311 will help set us on a path to a sustainable future.

What you can do: Contact Members of Parliament. Ask your MP to support Bill C-311, to take action on climate change.

For more information, visit Sierra Club Canada’s Climate Crisis Blog:

Mike Buckthought is Sierra Club Canada’s National Climate Change Campaigner.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 24, Number 3, May–June 2009, page 7.

Day of Action to Stop Climate Chaos

Peace and Environment News, November–December 2008
by Mike Buckthought

On December 7, 2008, Canadians from coast to coast will take to the streets to urge governments to stop climate chaos. The national day of action is part of a global movement, with protests planned in many countries. Last December, thousands of Canadians joined the demonstrations, in solidarity with people marching in 80 countries around the world.

The climate crisis is the central challenge of our time. Unless we take immediate action, our planet faces a catastrophic decline in biodiversity. Climate change could lead to the loss of many of the Earth’s plant and animal species.

Reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) talk about some of the consequences of dangerous climate change. If the global mean annual temperature increases by 2.9 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, an estimated 21–52 per cent of plant and animal species could become extinct.

Climate change will also have devastating economic and health impacts, if we do not take action now. Economic losses could total trillions of dollars, and people around the world could be threatened by extreme weather events, droughts and disease. A billion people in Asia could face water shortages. Hundreds of millions of people could be threatened by famine.

During the recent election campaign, there was a focus on recent economic difficulties, and we were warned about the economic consequences of putting a price on carbon. A carbon tax would lead to economic devastation, we were told — though countries such as Sweden have thrived, with carbon taxes in place.

Not everyone has been fooled by the election rhetoric. Climate change is acknowledged to be one of the most critical challenges facing our country. According to a recent poll conducted by Strategic Communications, 71 per cent of Canadians would like all political parties to put climate change at the top of the political agenda — even with a weakening economy.

The IPCC has talked about what is needed to find a way out of the climate crisis. In order to avoid the most dangerous climate change, developed countries need to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 25–40 per cent from 1990 levels by the year 2020. By the year 2050, emissions must be reduced 80–95 per cent below 1990 levels.

By contrast, Canada plans to reduce emissions by 3 per cent from 1990 levels, by the year 2020.

During the upcoming climate talks in Poznan, Poland, will the Canadian government show leadership, or will it continue to be a laggard, obstructing international negotiations, as it did in Bali?

Join us on December 7, to call for action on climate change. Canada needs to show leadership by committing to targets for reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases, in line with the recommendations of the IPCC. Canadians must do our fair share to stop climate chaos now.

For information about protests planned during the December 7 Day of Action, contact the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition

Mike Buckthought is Sierra Club Canada’s National Climate Change Campaigner.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 23, Number 6, November–December 2008, page 8.

PM should try copying these words

Toronto Star, October 6, 2008
by Mike Buckthought

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s campaign has received worldwide media attention following the admission he copied a speech by former Australian prime minister John Howard. If only he would copy the speeches and policies of leaders around the world who are committed to taking action on climate change.

Canadians would be pleasantly surprised if he copied a speech by David Cameron, leader of Britain’s opposition Conservative party. Harper would say, “Since becoming leader of the Conservative party I have sought to push the environment up to the top of the political agenda.”

Echoing a speech by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he would follow the advice of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Harper would say, “The report of the IPCC has once again made it crystal clear: climate change is man-made and is accelerating. The impact will be dramatic, unless we take resolute action.”

Merkel talked about the consequences of inaction: “Studies have shown that unchecked climate change is likely to result in at least a 5 per cent reduction and possibly even a 20 per cent reduction in global GDP. Effective action to protect the climate would cost a good deal less.”

During a speech in Tokyo, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt of Sweden said, “I firmly believe that pricing mechanisms are needed to promote a sustainable society. Setting an appropriate carbon price is essential for the transition to sustainable energy use. This is something that is applied both at EU level, through the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, and nationally through Sweden’s own carbon tax.”

Putting a price on carbon is an effective way to encourage the transition to a sustainable economy. Countries such as Sweden and Denmark are leading the way. Sweden introduced a carbon tax in 1991 and its economy is thriving. In Denmark, thousands of jobs have been created, with many people working to manufacture wind turbines.

Canada’s manufacturing sector is well placed to make the transition, but we need economic incentives. Our political leaders must learn that climate-friendly policies protect the environment and our economy.

The recent debate on climate change has focused on the inconvenience of a carbon tax. What is missing is the sense of what is at stake — the devastating consequences of inaction.

But if we take action now, there is hope. The international community can come together to solve environmental problems. We can learn from the success of the Montreal Protocol. The ozone layer was threatened, because of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons produced by humans. Because the international community committed to taking unified action, the ozone layer is now recovering.

We are electing the government that will represent Canada in the upcoming international negotiations in Copenhagen. Will it show leadership when delegations from around the world come together to stop the climate crisis?

Our government has claimed it is showing leadership, but in reality, Canada is a laggard compared to other countries. Canada is ranked number 53 out of a list of 56 countries according to Germanwatch’s index, which measures the effectiveness of climate change policy. Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are now 29 per cent above Canada’s Kyoto target.

If Harper copied a speech by California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, he would take immediate action to terminate Canada’s abysmal record on climate change. He would say, “The rich nations and the poor nations have different responsibilities, but one responsibility we all have — and that is action. Action, action, action.”

Canada’s next government must show leadership, by committing to firm reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases. For the sake of future generations, we must take immediate action.

Mike Buckthought is Sierra Club Canada’s National Climate Change Campaigner.

Published in the Toronto Star, October 6, 2008.

Link to the original article.