Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Bad Day for Democracy in Canada: Senate Kills Bill C-311

Apparently, as Fred Twilley, nominated candidate for the Green Party here in Sudbury, was hosting a forum on the United Nations and Climate Change last night, our unelected Senate, stacked with Conservative Party partisans, voted to kill Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act. Fred and I were at ReThink Green last night, discussing climate change issues with Sudburians in advance of Fred's attendance at the United Nation's COP-16 conference being held in Cancun later this month. We heard some very passionate words from members of our community regarding the urgent need for governments at all levels to take action to fight climate change. Upon waking up this morning, and checking my Facebook news feed, what I read about the Senate's actions last night hit me like a slap in the face.

Here's a pretty article from today's Globe & Mail which explains the nonsense which went on in the Senate last night, as well as the reaction of NDP Leader Jack Layton, whose party has been trying to turn this bill into law since 2006.

It's kind of hard to argue that the Senate remains the "chamber of sober second thought" when they kill a bill passed by parliament without any debate. And this wasn't just any bill. This was the very first bill passed by a democratic nation which established greenhouse gas emissions targets for a period beyond that mandated by the Kyoto Protocol. Indeed, Bill C-311, passed by our elected officials in parliament, established that Canada would commit to reducing emissions by 25% from a 1990 baseline by the year 2020 (in contrast to the Conservative Party's stated goal of "reducing" emissions by +3% above 1990 levels by 2020, which they use weasle words to describe as a 17% reduction from a 2005 baseline, a baseline which on the United States uses, and not the rest of the international community. 1990 was the one which was established by Kyoto, and which is used everywhere else in the world). Bill C-311, introduced by the NDP, and supported by the Liberals and the Bloc, was truly a first in the world, and would have gone some to show that Canada is serious about fighting climate change.

I've been a bit of a critic of the Bill as I continue to believe that establishing targets without any sense of a plan to actually achieve those targets is largely just a political exercise. I've yet to see the NDP, Liberals or Bloc come up with the genesis of a plan to get us to the 25% reduction target by 2020, and frankly, short of economic collapse, I can't see how we would ever get there. Nonetheless, Bill C-311 was a start, and I acknowledge that its demise last night is a blow in the fight against climate change.

And now our unelected Senators have killed our Parliament's bill without any discussion. This situation is just absurd. We elect parliamentarians to represent our interests, and that's presumably what happened when parliament passed Bill C-311. What good is a Senate which can betray our elected representatives in such a way, and betray Canadians in the process? There was considerable debate in parliament before Bill C-311 was adopted; in the Senate, none at all.

For quite some time now, I've advocated for the abolition of the Senate at the federal level of government. Our provincial governments do not have equivalent upper houses. It's always been unclear to me what value the Senate adds to the legislative process, except to perhaps stand in the way of legislation adopted by political parties which don't also have majorities in the Senate. However, it was interesting to read in the G&M article that the use of a majority last night to actually kill a bill approved by the House might be a first for Canada.

What happened with Bill C-311 isn't right, despite the Bill's obvious flaws, and despite the government's expressed intention that it wouldn't implement the Bill anyway (keep in mind that the current government might not be the government for that much longer, yet a Bill, once it becomes law, stays on the books until it is amended or remvoed; usually that's a longer shelf life than a government has). It's a setback in the fight against climate change, and it's a significant setback for democracy here in Canada. Keep in mind that these Senators are appointed for life. That means even if the other parties figure out some way to form government after the next election, their bills might still end up lining bird cages as a result of political and ideological differences with unelected Conservative Senators. And isn't that a great message to tell voters before they cast their ballots: your vote doesn't matter in Canada any more, because unelected Senators will likely kill any initiative they don't agree with.

Here's a copy of a letter to the editor of the Sudbury Star that I just sent off. Please feel free to steal liberally from it and write your own letters to the media. Even if you don't believe that anthropogenic climate change is a threat to the world, and to Canada in particular, you probably believe that having unelected individuals over-ride the decisions of democratically elected Members of Parliament is just plain wrong.

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Unelected Senate thwarts will of elected MP's

On the eve of international climate change talks scheduled to take place in Cancun later this month, our unelected Senate has just voted to kill Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act. Bill C-311, approved by our elected Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, would have established meaningful greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for Canadians, and would have gone a long way to show that Canada is a serious contender in the fight against climate change.

After packing the Senate with hand-picked Conservatives, Stephen Harper, who has opposed any meaningful action on climate change, can chalk up yet another victory for his efforts to do nothing. The so-called “chamber of sober, second thought” called for a snap vote on Bill C-311, and without any debate, voted to kill the Bill outright, thwarting the expressed will of our elected representatives in the process.

This recent vote by the unelected Senate to overturn the expressed will of our elected Members of Parliament bodes ill for any and all future efforts to tackle some of the significant issues facing Canadians today, including climate change. If the unelected Senate is going to play partisan politics with bills passed by the elected House of Commons, we can expect to see more important bills bite the dust for ideological reasons. This is a bad situation for the majority of Canadians who desire our government to take meaningful action on climate change; it’s even worse for those who are concerned about democracy in this country.


Steve May
CEO, Sudbury Federal Green Party Association

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Addendum: It looks like the Conservatives are now claiming that they weren't responsible for killing the Bill, and that it was instead the Liberals who called the vote. Read this interesting piece from Gloria Galloway at the Globe & Mail for more information. This is truly bizarre, if it's to be believed. Hansard's official transcript is actually vague on who called the vote. The Liberals, however, maintain that on the audio copy of the proceedings, it's clear that the Conservatives called the vote, and apparently they'll be going to Hansard to have the record corrected.

Does mean that unelected Conservative Senators not only killed a bill passed by the House of Commons, and are now lying about having been responsible for doing so? Fact is, it doesn't matter who called for the vote (although that's interesting): the Conservative Senators all voted to defeat the Bill, despite it having been approved by the lower House!

1 comment:

dw declare said...

just another example of how the conservatives and all those who put them in power don't give a shit about the environment!