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November 24, 2010

Senate killing Bill C311 shameful

On November 16th, 2010, by an unprecedented snap vote, the Canadian Senate struck down the Climate Change Accountability Act, otherwise known as Bill C311.

By a vote of 43-32, the bill was defeated in a Senate where many Liberal Senators were missing. The bill was not subjected to debate before the Conservatives called it into a surprise vote, which makes the occasion truly unprecedented.

What strikes most Canadians regarding this development is the fact that the Senate, an unelected body of legislators, was capable of striking down a bill that the elected House of Commons passed. This in itself speaks volumes about the specifics of the Canadian legislative system.

After sitting on Bill-311 for 193 days, Stephen Harper and his Conservatives used a tactic that Harper himself disapproved of in the past.

Now, just ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico (COP16), Canada has no regulations regarding greenhouse gas pollution. Worse still, many Canadian environmentalists and activists worked extremely hard to push Bill C-311 through the House of Common, only to have it undemocratically struck down.

This bill would have called for greenhouse gases to be cut 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, and to set a long-term target to bring emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

“This was one of the most undemocratic acts that we have ever seen in the Parliament of Canada,” NDP Leader Jack Layton said at a press conference Wednesday morning. Layton and his New Democratic Party were instrumental in the construction and defense of Bill C-311.

Bruce Hyer, a New Democrat representing Thunder Bay-Superior North was the one who introduced the bill in the first place. 

“To take power that doesn't rightfully belong to them to kill a bill that has been adopted by a majority of the House of Commons representing a majority of Canadians is as wrong as it gets when it comes to democracy in this country,” Layton continued. He attributed Harper’s decision as one that had in mind Harper’s friends in oil companies, not the Canadian people.

In fact, this is the second time that the NDP has seen a climate change bill killed in the Senate. In June 2008, the NDP pushed a similar bill through the House, only to have it killed due to the elections at the time. Furthermore, no Senate has killed a bill in such a fashion (without debate, by surprise, and against the will of the House) since before the Second World War.

Such unprecedented irresponsibility points to just how low environmental issues sit on the Tories’ priority list. Canada, a developed country, now heads to COP16 completely empty-handed.

Despite promises in the past to regulate emissions, the Conservative government, since coming to power, has not tabled one law regarding climate change. Instead, it has killed the only proposed mechanism by which the people of Canada could have gained some remnant of accountability from its government regarding environmental issues.

This uproar has also caused some to question Prime Minster Harper’s views on democracy. Having campaigned vigorously against unelected Senate killing of legislation pushed through an elected House, Harper did exactly that vis a vis Bill C-311. Many view this as an act of serious hypocrisy, and “morally wrong,” according to Layton.

Gerard Kennedy, the Liberal Party’s critic on the environment, also believes that the killing of Bill C-311 is not an accident, but planned by the Conservatives in order to free themselves heading into COP16.

As of now, after the resignation of Jim Prentice, the Conservative administration has only a part-time environment minister, no legislation on climate change, and no plan on how to regulate carbon emission heading to Cancun, Mexico.

Canada will perhaps be the only country with no idea regarding its plans on climate change at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Shame.

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Dotan Rousso. Holds a Ph.D. in Law—a former criminal prosecutor in Israel. Currently working as a college professor in Canada.

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