The Liberal government’s greenhouse-gas emissions-targets bill was approved by the Senate on Tuesday, passing its final vote by a 60 to 19 margin, with two abstentions.
All that’s left for the bill to become law is royal assent, which should be given to it within the next few days by Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner, who’s serving as administrator of Canada until a new governor general is appointed.
The bill’s passage is a win for the Liberal government. Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez said the bill was one of four priority pieces of legislation that needed to be passed before the summer recess. Out of the other three, only Bill C-30, which would implement the budget, appears as though it’ll pass before the Senate rises for the summer.
The urgency was underlined by a possible election in the next few months. There’s been rampant speculation that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to call a vote. The current minority Parliament has lasted longer than the average lifespan for a minority and polls are showing good signs for the Liberals. Trudeau and other ministers have also complained that Parliament has become dysfunctional, and MPs not running in the next election were recently given an opportunity to make farewell speeches in the House.
Any bills still up for debate in the Senate at the time of an election call will die.
Green groups were wary of that possibility for Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, and tried to pressure the Senate to pass the bill quickly.
“Finally, Canada adopts a comprehensive climate accountability framework,” said Independent Sen. Rosa Galvez, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, in a statement to iPolitics.
“We need this methodically planned framework to hold this and all consecutive governments accountable for demonstrating how they will achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Governments will no longer be able to set climate targets without being accountable to Canadians on their plan to achieve our objectives,” she said.
Bill C-12 would legislate targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, require regular reporting on Canada’s progress, and create an advisory panel to oversee the process. It’s modelled on similar legislation in countries like the U.K. and New Zealand.
Green groups have said laws like C-12 have helped other countries reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently pledged to reduce Canada’s emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels, which is significantly more than the 30 per cent reduction called for in the Paris Agreement.
C-12 was originally introduced last fall but wasn’t called for debate for months. The bill made it to the House Environment committee in June, where it underwent a rapid-fire clause-by-clause review with significant amendments added by both the NDP and Bloc Québécois.
The opposition parties all complained about the amending process, accusing the Liberals of poor legislative management that eventually required a speedy amendment process by the committee. Despite their frustration with the process, the Bloc and NDP supported the bill at its final stages in the House after securing particular amendments.
While the bill was being studied by the House Environment committee, the Senate Environment committee did a pre-study, hearing from expert witnesses and Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson. By studying the bill before it reached the Red Chamber, senators were able to speed up its passage, as they weren’t required to study it for a second time.
Senators expressed frustration that the bill was being amended in the House while they were studying it.
The process was “flawed” and that senators were “limited” in their “ability to conduct a fulsome committee study,” said Alberta Sen. Doug Black, a member of the Senate Environment committee.
Once the bill was out of committee, the government introduced a motion to fast-track debate at report stage and third reading to get it to the Senate.
Tuesday was the final sitting day on the Senate calendar before it breaks for the summer, as the House of Commons did last week.