Posted on behalf of Hannah Hoag
“Spitting mad,” is how the Victoria Times Colonist described Andrew Weaver, a climate modeller at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, following the news that Canada’s climate change bill had been defeated in the Senate late on Tuesday. “Retiring with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s sounds good right now,” Weaver said.
The Climate Change Accountability Act called for greenhouse gas emissions cuts with a short-term target of 25% below the 1990 level by 2020, and a long-term target of 80% below the 1990 level by 2050. For nearly a year and a half it had shuttled between the House of Commons and its environment committee before being passed by the House on 5 May, supported by all three of Canada’s opposition parties. It then languished in the Senate, until it was voted down 43-32 this week.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s conservative government has long been opposed to the bill. Harper told the Commons on Wednesday that the bill was “irresponsible”, and risked shutting down parts of the Canadian economy and cutting thousands of jobs. He has appointed 35 conservative senators to the senate since July 2007, swinging the balance of power in the chamber to the right. (In Canada, unlike the United States, the Senate is composed of appointed (non-elected) members, and it has the final say on which bills become law).
“The outcome of the vote in the Senate isn’t particularly surprising,” says Stuart Soroka, a political scientist at McGill University in Montreal. “But in terms of legitimacy it is shocking. The Senate doesn’t tend to overturn House bills.” Jack Layton, leader of the centre-left New Democratic Party, scolded the senators for killing the bill. “The Senate should be abolished. It should be ashamed of itself,” he said.
The climate change legislation was a Private Member’s Bill (that is, introduced to the House of Commons by a member of Parliament who is not a cabinet minister), which was first introduced in October 2006, made it through the House, but died in the Senate when Parliament was dissolved for the 2008 federal election. It was reintroduced in February 2009, again as a Private Member’s Bill – few of which become law. “It was kind of a rare opportunity as far as those interested in climate change are concerned,” says Soroka.
The current government could introduce a new bill in the House – presumably setting a lower bar on emissions targets. Or in principle, a new Private Member’s Bill – even one containing the same material – could be introduced. But as The Star put it, Tuesday’s decision leaves Canada “empty handed” when representatives arrive in Cancun from 29 November for international talks on climate change.