Last night (November 16), in a near-unprecedented move, the Canadian Senate held a surprise vote and defeated Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act. The snap vote to kill the bill in the Senate happened without notice and without debate—even though it was put before the Senate more than half a year ago. Had notice been given of the vote, more senators would have been present and the bill may have passed.
And so, just as Canada prepares to join world leaders at the UN climate-change negotiations in Mexico, a group of unelected senators have decided, without any debate, that the future of Canada’s youth is not worth the bother. It’s a shame these elderly senators may not be around to face the most severe consequences of their actions.
The bill is now dead.
Just as tens of thousands of Canadians wrote to their MPs and government to ensure the bill’s passage through the elected House of Commons, Canadians must now let their politicians know that enough is enough. Yesterday’s decision by Conservative senators to avoid debate and call a snap vote shows disrespect for our democracy and for Canadians, who time and again have told our elected representatives that we want the federal government to act on the most serious threat facing our country and the world.
Bill C-311 passed through the House of Commons with a strong bipartisan majority, thanks in part to the incredible support of Canadians from across the country. It was originally introduced by federal NDP Leader Jack Layton as a private member’s bill in the last Parliament and was set to go to the Senate when the election was called in 2008. After the election, the bill was re-introduced by Bruce Hyer, NDP MP for Thunder Bay-Superior North. The bill was debated in the House of Commons, where Conservative government members tried to obstruct it. It was then amended and sent it back to the House for a final vote. It passed in the House and was sent to the Senate for the last stage in its passage through Parliament before receiving royal assent and becoming Canadian law.
Over the five years that this piece of modest legislation has been going through the parliamentary process, the science behind global warming has become far more certain. The bill would have committed Canada to an 80-percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, and a 25-percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. We now know that these reductions are the very least that we should be achieving if we are to avoid the devastating consequences that go along with uncontrolled climate change.
These unelected senators killed the Climate Change Accountability Act just as the United Nations climate change conference is set to open in Cancun, Mexico, on November 29. Once more, it appears our government plans to show up to talk to the world with nothing but empty rhetoric, unfulfilled promises, and the hopes of Canadians firmly cast aside. It’s time to let the government know that this is unacceptable and that Canadians will not be silenced. We can all make a difference. And we will. Please call or write the prime minister and your government representatives to let them know that we expect them to live up to their promise and responsibility to be accountable to all Canadians.
Morag Carter is director of the climate change and clean energy program at the David Suzuki Foundation.