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Harper's Senate shoots down climate change bill


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Well, this is just lovely. It was good of the PM to declare this bill to be flawed and ask his cronies to vote it down in the senate after the house had already passed it. What a fucking coward.

CBC Story

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has defended Tory senators who voted down a climate change bill ahead of an upcoming United Nations meeting on the issue in Mexico.

Harper, in responding to a query from NDP Leader Jack Layton in question period Wednesday in Ottawa, said Conservatives have been consistent and clear in their opposition to Bill C-311, which the prime minister called "a completely irresponsible bill."

"It sets irresponsible targets, doesn't lay out any measure of achieving them other than ... by shutting down sections of the Canadian economy and throwing hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of people out of work," Harper said. "Of course, we will never support such legislation."

Layton argued Harper had no right to use his "unelected senator friends" to kill the bill, which he called the will of the House, and said it was the first time that a bill passed in the House was defeated in the Senate.

"He's lost his moral centre," Layton said. "He's fundamentally undemocratic, Mr. Speaker. Let's be clear about it, that's the truth. He broke his promise to bring our troops home, which this House asked for. He broke his promise to have votes on the use of our troops in foreign wars.

"He broke his promise never to appoint unelected senators, and now, he's using them to subvert the will of this House. It's never happened before. It should not be permitted, and where is his democratic impulse?" said Layton.

'Another ambush move'

Earlier in the day, another NDP MP called it "another ambush move" by the Harper government.

"I'm still reeling from the shock, but after no debate, no consideration at all, all of a sudden in another ambush move by Stephen Harper, the Senate voted yesterday to kill the climate change [bill] without debate," said Bruce Hyer, MP for Thunder Bay-Superior North.

Bill C-311, which was voted down 43-32 late Tuesday, would have called on the government to establish five-year plans to meet greenhouse gas emission targets by 2050, according to Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell, the author of the bill in the Senate.

The bill was passed in May by the House and went to the Senate for final approval.

There is debate about who actually initiated the Senate vote, with each side saying the other was responsible.

"Killing Bill C-311 shows a fundamental lack of respect for the many Canadians who care deeply about climate change. They had a right to have this bill debated properly," Mitchell said in a news release.

Mitchell later told reporters in Ottawa that it was an unprecedented move to defeat a bill that had been passed by Parliament.

"They would defeat a bill in the Senate that was passed in the House of Commons by a majority of elected members of Parliament," he said. "Not only did they defeat it but defeated [it] before it even got to a committee stage, where it could have more airing."

It's 'one of the most anti-democratic acts' seen in Parliament, says NDP Leader Jack Layton, shown in Ottawa on Monday.It's 'one of the most anti-democratic acts' seen in Parliament, says NDP Leader Jack Layton, shown in Ottawa on Monday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The bill — the Climate Change Accountability Act — has spent the last year or so bouncing between the full House of Commons and its environment committee.

The legislation called for greenhouse gases to be cut 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. That level is more stringent than the Harper government's goal of a 17 per cent emissions cut from 2005 levels by 2020, which is in line with the U.S. administration's targets.

'We aren't giving up'

"We worked on this bill for five years. The vast majority of our elected representatives voted for it. It was killed in the night by trickery," said John Bennett, executive director of Sierra Club Canada.

"We aren't giving up. We will continue to work with mothers and fathers who want a brighter future for their children. We will find the solutions," said Bennett.

The Sierra Club said the bill was developed with the participation of scientists and environmentalists and "was passed by a significant majority of members of Parliament and was supported by a petition signed by more than 150,000 Canadians."

The government can prevent any bill from coming on to the Senate floor for debate, said the NDL's Hyer, and "they've done that for 193 days, and the first opportunity they got after not enough Liberals were around, they moved quickly to kill the bill."

"A number of our Conservative senators — who darn it, won't go on the record — have told me that the [Prime Minister's Office] has ordered them not to speak about the climate change bill, not to allow it to come up for a vote and to kill it when they could," Hyer said.

Canada has one of the worst records in the world on climate change and the Tories are using the Senate "as a strictly political tool," he said. "Everyone is in shock about this."

UN delegates will meet in Cancun later in November in an effort to broker a climate-change deal.

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Question Period today and Friday~

Bernard Bigras (Bloc, Rosemont - La Petite-Patrie)

The Canadian government is going to Cancun without any credible plan to fight climate change. And yet non-elected conservative senators were able to destroy a bill that had passed in this House. Does Canada have a game plan to really fight climate change by sabotaging this bill, the conservatives are free to do what they want. They will be able to defend big oil interests in Cancun. Isn't that what this is really about, Mr. Speaker?

Hon. John Baird – Minister of the Environment

There was a good debate about this bill. I would say to the member, he should listen to some of what our own colleagues in the House of Commons said about this bill. One member said it was a public publicity stunt by the leader of the NDP. That same member said that the leader of the NDP wants to continue to play media games and try to frighten Canadians and mislead Canadians and be dishonest with Canadians. The same member, Mr. Speaker, said we don't think C-311 concludes a climate change plan for Canada. Why won't the member listen to my friend from Ottawa South?

Bernard Bigras (Bloc, Rosemont - La Petite-Patrie)

Once again, the Minister is trying to distract us. Because they're going to Cancun without a position, without a plan. And yet this is a very doable thing. The European Union will go -- they already have their objectives on their internet site. Does the Minister of Environment realize that his lack of transparency will torpedo not only Quebec’s efforts but will also undermine any progress at Cancun?

Hon. John Baird – Minister of the Environment

The Copenhagen Accord has have some 138 countries around the world. Under that accord we'll be reducing our emissions by 17% by 2020. We've already begun substantial action with the administration of Barack Obama in Washington targeting particularly the transportation sector, where for the first time ever we've got a North American common standard that will reduce emissions on vehicles. We're moving into trucks, light vehicles, we're moving into marine and aviation. We're working significantly with the Obama administration. We think that's the right thing to do.

Linda Duncan (NDP, Edmonton – Strathcona)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This government's actions on climate change or should I say inactions are undemocratic, short sighted and out of touch. Canadians are contacting me, shocked by the Prime Minister's use of the Senate to kill 311. They're saying the conservatives have deparade future generations on climate change. Today's poll shows a majority of Canadians including 87% of conservative supporters believe we have a moral responsibility to lead on reducing green house gas eliminations. With Cancun just around the corner, will this government respond for the will of Canadians and deliver on climate change?

Hon. John Baird – Minister of the Environment

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Obviously climate change is an incredibly serious issue. We have brought forward a series of initiatives and policies designed to reduce carbon emissions in Canada. If the member opposite doesn't like the actions of the Senate, I urge her to stand in her place and to support our government's agenda to elect the Senate. Stand in her place and limit Senate terms to eight years. Stand in your place and do the right thing!

David Christopherson (NDP, Hamilton Centre)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This week we've seen the government use an unelected, undemocratic body to override the democratic will of the Canadian people. Bill C-311 was passed in this House by a majority of members representing a majority of Canadians. The country then witnessed the indignity of seeing it killed by the unelected, unaccountable members of that other place! Will the government agree to a new bill to be passed at all stages that sets hard accountable targets for pollution reduction so the majority position of Canadians will also be heard in Cancun!

Hon. John Baird – Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, we'll continue to take credible action to support a clean environment. We'll continue to take measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We'll continue to work with Barrack Obama’s administration south of the border. But if the member opposite wants to stand in his place and criticize unelected senators making decisions, we can end it all today. We can pass legislation that would bring an elected Senate to Canada. We can pass legislation that would end 45-year terms for an elected senator. Limit them to eight. Stand in his place. Let's do the right thing, Mr. Speaker.

Question Period in the Senate

November 17, 2010


Climate Change Accountability Bill

Hon. James S. Cowan (Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, the Senate has a long-standing and well-deserved reputation as a chamber of sober second thought, a place where the issues of the day are carefully and thoughtfully considered and Canadians are given an opportunity to be heard. Yesterday was a black day for the Senate and for that tradition.

Yesterday, this government thumbed its nose at the House of Commons and at Canadians from coast to coast to coast who care deeply about climate change, arguably the most important issue facing Canada and the world. Yesterday, this government refused to allow a bill that came to us with the support of a majority of the elected members of the other place to proceed even to committee, where it could receive careful scrutiny and allow Canadians to be heard on the merits of the bill.

For 193 days, this bill sat here on the Order Paper. Not a single Conservative senator cared enough about the issue of climate change to stand on her or his hind legs to express an opinion for or against the bill — not one. A review of the Debates of the Senate records only the speeches of Senators Mitchell and Peterson in support of the bill. Not one speech, not one word from the other side: silence. Then those same Conservative senators stood silently to kill the bill at second reading.

Senator Mercer: Trained seals.

Senator Cowan: Honourable senators, the Senate certainly has no obligation to pass every bill that comes here from the House of Commons; but it does have an obligation, a duty, to give those bills due and proper consideration, to subject them to debate and to committee scrutiny and to give Canadians an opportunity to be heard.

Yesterday, for the first time in living memory, the Senate rejected a bill coming from the House of Commons without first sending it to committee for study. There was no debate, no explanation, no witnesses, no evidence, nothing.

Senator Mercer: Orders of the PMO.

Senator Cowan: Once again, this government has shown its autocratic and anti-democratic underbelly, shutting down Parliament to dodge a defeat —

Some Hon. Senators: Oh, oh.

Senator Cowan: Some honourable senators find this funny. I do not think Canadians find this funny. Once again, this government has shown its autocratic and anti-democratic underbelly, shutting down Parliament to dodge a defeat or to avoid uncomfortable committee study — throwing its own fixed election date laws under the bus, and now this.

This government, which spins itself as the champion of openness, accountability and democracy has once again shown its true colours.

This government believes that its ideas are the only ones worth listening to or talking about, which stifles dissent and launches vicious personal attacks against anyone who has the temerity to express an original thought or an independent view.

Honourable senators, this unprecedented action of the unaccountable, unelected Conservative majority in this place was shameful. Canadians deserve better, much better, and sooner rather than later they will get it — a government that respects them and the institutions which reflect and represent them.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Hon. Claudette Tardif (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, prior to yesterday's defeat of Bill C-311, the Senate has defeated only four bills that were passed by the elected members of the House of Commons in the last 70 years.

In 1998, it defeated a private member's bill, Bill C-220. That legislation was introduced by Liberal member Tom Wappel, and was known as the Son of Sam bill because it would have prevented convicted criminals from profiting by writing and publishing accounts of their heinous crimes.

After arriving in the Senate, it was given second reading and referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. The committee held 12 days of hearings, hearing from a wide array of witnesses. Based on the evidence the committee heard, it concluded that Bill C-220, notwithstanding its meritorious intent, violated the freedom of speech provisions in our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and in the committee's report to the Senate, recommended that the bill not be proceeded with. The Senate accepted the committee's advice and on June 10, 1998, unanimously agreed to adopt the report and kill the bill. That was 12 years ago.

Two years before that, on June 19, 1996, the Senate, at third reading, defeated Bill C-28, the government's Pearson Airport legislation. Prior to that final fateful vote, committees of the Senate held 50 meetings on the Pearson Airport issue, hearing from almost 100 witnesses; and, indeed, one of those committees tabled a 300-plus page report.


Three years before that, the Senate, again on a third reading vote, defeated Bill C-93, a budget implementation bill. The bill was defeated following five days of committee hearings.

In early 1991, the Senate defeated the abortion legislation of then Justice Minister Kim Campbell. This defeat followed 10 days of hearings held by our Legal Committee, which heard from 38 witnesses.

Honourable senators, that is the history and tradition of a legislative chamber that respects its unelected nature by defeating legislation adopted by the elected members of the other place only after listening long and hard to a great many Canadians.

Yesterday, that all changed. Yesterday, the Conservative-dominated, unelected Senate declared that it will defeat, without explanation or any public input, any piece of legislation adopted by the elected members of the House of Commons.

Immediately following the vote, I called across the aisle, "This is a sad day for democracy." The government leader in the Senate immediately responded, "It is a great day for democracy."

What made it great, honourable senators? Is it that the Senate, which has always recognized the limitations its unelected nature has placed on its legislative activities, for the first time in living memory at second reading, killed a bill adopted by the members in the other place — Canadians who were elected to represent and speak for them in Parliament?

Yesterday was a regrettable day for the Senate and for all Canadians who expect that parliamentarians be responsive to their wishes.


The Senate

Climate Change Accountability Bill

Hon. Grant Mitchell: Honourable senators, yesterday the unelected Conservative Senate defeated Bill C-311 outright.

Some Hon. Senators: Oh, oh!

Senator Mitchell: The louder they yell, the wronger they are.

That was passed by a majority of elected — I will say that again — elected members of Parliament. They did not just defeat it; they did that without one word of debate on that bill, although they had 193 days — a big number — over which they could have prepared and presented their case. They did it without ever allowing it to go to committee, where it could have been given a broader airing with testimony and discussion in front of the Canadian people so they could properly evaluate it. Perhaps even the government would have learned something about it.

I wonder whether the Leader of the Government in the Senate could explain to us how it is that this unelected Conservative Senate has the arrogance to think that it can turn down legislation passed by a majority of elected members of Parliament in the other place. How does it do that?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): I thank the honourable senator for the question.

As honourable senators are well aware, the government has been clear in its opposition to Bill C-311. In fact, the record also shows that the government was prepared to speak to the bill.

Honourable senators, Senator Mitchell forced a vote on second reading and since the senator forced a vote on second reading, the government was not about to pass up an opportunity to defeat this bill, which would be so injurious to the Canadian economy. If the honourable senator is concerned about who caused all of this, I suggest he look in the mirror and have a strong conversation with whoever is looking back at him.

Senator Mitchell: Honourable senators, regarding who called the question, the leader knows that when she says that I called the question, she knows that is not true and I know that is not true. Honourable senators know that is not true. Senator Comeau is under a good deal of duress because he called the question.

An Hon. Senator: Oh, oh.

Senator Mitchell: Wait a minute. As to the leader's point, the government is on the record as being against this bill. Therefore, is the leader saying that we no longer have to worry about what she has to say about anything in this Senate? Ought we just to call up Hansard in the House of Commons and know exactly what position the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's Office have told the leader to take?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I think the record will clearly show that Senator Mitchell called the question and I think the record will clearly show, when His Honour confirmed the question had been called on second reading, that Senator Comeau is quoted in Hansard as saying "no." Do not try to blame Senator Comeau.

Senator Comeau: Don't pawn off your mistakes on me!

Senator Mercer: He did not mean to hurt your feelings.

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, as I said a moment ago, I suggest Senator Mitchell have a very serious conversation with himself. He was the person who caused this.

On the issue of unelected Conservative senators, we have two bills before Parliament. One is sponsored by my colleague in this chamber, Senator Brown, for an elected Senate. If the honourable senator wants to prevent such occurrences, I support an elected Senate, he ought to get on with business and start supporting Senator Brown's bill.

Senator Mitchell: Honourable senators, we are actually operating under the Rules in the way the Senate works now. Given that, can the leader tell me if she will, as a matter of course, veto legislation passed in the House of Commons by a majority of elected members? Will she veto that before even allowing anyone on her side to debate that legislation and before she even allows it to go to committee where it will get a proper, public airing before the Canadian people?

Senator LeBreton: Again, honourable senators, let us be very clear. Senator Neufeld was our spokesperson and he has been working on preparing his speech to address Bill C-311. As honourable senators know as per the Rules of the Senate of Canada, the tradition is to call bills each day. We clearly said "stand."

Honourable Mitchell was the one who forced the vote and therefore, he should not try now to unscramble the egg that he himself scrambled.

Senator Mitchell: Honourable senator, the leader and I both know that is absolutely not true.

Some Hon. Senators: Oh, oh.

Senator Mitchell: Right here, I can point, too; right here.

What happens now? There is a part-time Minister of the Environment, who was part-time even when he was full-time. Whatever plan the government thought it had has gone out the window and they are waiting for the U.S. Congress to tell them what to do. They have two weeks before Cancun, when the next round of climate change negotiations occur, and the government just defeated a bill that would have required them to have a plan for such a meeting.

What will the government take to Cancun? What will they say on behalf of Canadians? When will the government defend their interests on climate change?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I will respond to that. However, before I do, I want to again make it very clear that, on the record, when Senator Comeau said, "stand the bill," Senator Mitchell is clearly quoted on the record as saying "I do not want it to stand."

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Senator LeBreton: With regard to our excellent Minister of the Environment, my colleague, the Honourable John Baird, will be going to Cancun to carry on from Minister Prentice's good work in Copenhagen. The International Energy Agency Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka praised Canada's climate target announcement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent below its 2005 levels by 2020, under the Copenhagen accord. Our target is in line with the target inscribed by the Obama administration. We are going to Cancun to follow along on the good work done by Minister Prentice when, for the first time, the major emitting countries signed on to the Copenhagen Accord.


Hon. Tommy Banks: I have a supplementary question for the leader. Putting aside the substance of the question of the bill — I would ask the leader to take this question as notice and I will do the same and look it up, too — can she tell us whether ever before in the Senate a bill that has been sent to us by the House of Commons was defeated before and at second reading without having been sent to committee for study?

I have only been here 10 years, and I have never seen such a thing. Can the minister tell us whether that has happened before? I will do the same. I am interested to know.

Senator LeBreton: This is a private NDP bill from the House of Commons.

Some Hon. Senators: Oh, oh.

Senator LeBreton: It morphed into an NDP/Liberal/Bloc coalition bill and was sponsored by the Liberals. In answer to the honourable senator's question, we were prepared to continue the debate on the bill and send it to committee, but I do not believe ever before an opposition party has demanded a vote on second reading of a bill. I would suggest that was an unprecedented act by Senator Mitchell.

Senator Banks: Notwithstanding, are any of us aware of any circumstance in this place since 1867 in which the Senate has defeated a House of Commons bill at second reading and before committee study? I am asking for this information because I do not know but I would be very interested in finding out.

Senator LeBreton: Technically, that is not a question for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. That is a procedural question that the honourable senator, as an individual senator, has every right to research himself.

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