Canada’s only proposed climate legislation defeated by government Senators

November 17, 2010

We got sad news last night about Canada's Climate Change Accountability Act, a private member's bill that could have helped move Canada into a leadership role in tackling global warming.

Before it even had a chance to be debated, the bill was defeated by Conservative Senators in a surprise vote.

MPs from all three opposition parties have supported the legislation, known as Bill C-311, so it passed its final vote in the House of Commons in May. Conservative MPs voted unanimously against it then and have opposed it every step of the way.

Late yesterday, after months of delay on discussing the bill, C-311 came up for a snap vote. It's virtually unprecedented to hold a vote at that stage of considering legislation - before a bill has even been debated - and the move certainly took the bill's sponsor by surprise.

The bill was defeated 43-32 along strict party lines (with the exception of Independent Senator Anne Cools, who voted with the government against the bill). More than 15 Liberals were absent from the Senate yesterday, as were two Progressive Conservatives and one Independent. Among those missing was the bill's Progressive Conservative co-sponsor.

Pembina is a non-partisan think tank, but I don't think there's anything partisan about saying how disappointing yesterday's vote was for us. C-311 would have set a science-based national greenhouse gas emissions target for Canada for 2050. It would then have required the government to adopt annual plans and implement policies to reach the target, and to report on their progress.

Anyone who's serious about cutting greenhouse gas pollution would agree that we need a long-term goal and a transparent plan to meet it. Indeed, that's exactly why the bill has won consistent support from all three opposition parties, who have passed nearly identical versions of the bill twice now (the first version was lost due to the 2008 election.) Polls have consistently shown that Canadians worry about climate change and want to see their government take stronger action to tackle it.

In the Senate, the bill was championed by a non-partisan duo of Alberta Senators, Liberal Grant Mitchell and Progressive Conservative Elaine McCoy. (The two House of Commons versions have been introduced by NDP MPs Jack Layton and Bruce Hyer.) Support for the bill came from environmental groups, youth, labour, and faith communities across Canada.

The loss of C-311 leaves Canada without any federal climate legislation on the table. Unless there's a dramatic announcement, our government will head into the UN negotiations in Cancun later this month without any kind of a credible plan to meet its target, a point that columnist Jeffrey Simpson makes very clear in today's Globe and Mail.

It would have been difficult to watch the Senate defeat this groundbreaking legislation under any circumstances. But to see it lost in this way is even tougher: C-311 was defeated without any debate, without the chance to call a single witness to explain what it offered, and at a moment when key supporters of the bill happened to be away from the Senate.

I think that Canadians deserved better.