Environmental bill struck down by Senate

On Nov. 16, the Senate defeated a private member’s bill to set greenhouse gas emissions targets for Canada over the next 40 years.

“I am absolutely profoundly disappointed. I am not surprised, but I am disappointed,” said Grant Mitchell, the Liberal senator who sponsored the bill in the Senate.

Bill C-311, introduced in the House of Commons by New Democratic Party (NDP) member of parliament (MP) Bruce Hyer, would have set a target for Canada to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

This plan and its implementation would be reviewed by the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, as well as the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, which would report back to the government and to Parliament.

“The bill would have made it awkward for the government because the targets set in the legislation were tougher than the ones the Conservatives established,” said Roberto Leone, assistant professor of leadership and journalism at Laurier.

“The government’s view is that tougher targets are not attainable without substantial shock to the economy and loss of jobs.”

Bill C-311 included, as an interim target, that Canada reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, which conflicts with the Conservative government’s target of reducing emissions to 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.

“I support [Bill C-311] because I am deeply concerned about climate change. I am struck that the government is doing literally nothing. It is a great bill by Bruce Hyer of the NDP… The argument that it will harm the economy is nonsense,” stated Senator Mitchell, noting that the short-term target in the bill, of a 25 per cent reduction by 2020, is not binding. Despite the opposition of the Conservatives, the bill was passed by the House of Commons due to the support of all three opposition parties, who collectively outnumber the Conservative MPs. Having passed the House of Commons in May, the bill was under consideration in the Senate.

It is highly unusual for the Senate to defeat a bill that had been passed by the House of Commons, although the Senate does often amend bills and send them back to the House.

Senators are typically reluctant to defy the will of the House of Commons because, unlike MPs, they are appointed by the prime minister and are not elected.

Leone noted that a few major bills were defeated by the Senate in the 1990s and explained, “It’s totally within their realm of power to defeat bills… The Senate has near equal powers with respect to legislative duties as the House of Commons.”

When Bill C-311 came up for a vote in the Senate, the Conservatives, who now have a near-majority due to recent appointments, voted against the bill and it was defeated by a vote of 32 to 43.

“They [the Conservatives] don’t have democratic principles, they have democratic conveniences. I bet they will find other bills [that they want to defeat in the Senate],” predicted Senator Mitchell.

Leone doesn’t see any prospect for a breakthrough in Canadian climate change policy in the near future: “There was a stalemate before the defeat of C-311 and it continues today. This will likely be the case for the foreseeable future.”

Bill C-311 facts

First reading in Parliament Feb. 10, 2009 when Hyder introduced the bill

Ensure that Canada meets its global climate change obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Reduce to 80 per cent below levels registered in 1990 by 2050. The bill would also have required the government to commit to a series of interim targets leading up to 2050 and to develop a plan to reach those targets

—Courtesy of www.parl.gc.ca

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