After more than two decades of fecklessness, Canada is finally on the threshold of having a climate-change-accountability law that would impose some discipline on the federal government to ensure it has a real plan to meet its emission targets.
Bill C-12 received third reading in the Commons this week after a series of delays, and was sent to the Senate for consideration. The bill has flaws, but its passage would represent a major boost to Canada’s efforts to actually meet the emission-reduction targets that it sets.
It is, unfortunately, among a number of bills that the Liberals managed to pass and send to the red chamber at the end of the spring sitting, just as it’s about to adjourn for its summer break.
If senators don’t pass the bill before taking their leave — and there’s a late-summer election call, which many in Ottawa are expecting — it will die on the order paper. The government leaders in the Senate have currently set aside next Monday and Tuesday to deal with the legislation.
A derailment would result in yet another chapter in this country’s sorry story of failing to turn lofty rhetoric about combating climate change into action.
Conservative senators, in particular, are facing a test. Are they prepared to support legislation that would bring accountability and transparency to climate policy? Or will they take their cue from their caucus colleagues in the Commons, who did everything they could to delay and kill the bill because it doesn’t do enough to protect the oil and gas sector?
As he prepares for an election, it’s hard to see how Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole can make political gains if his party stands accused of blocking greater transparency and accountability in climate-change policies.
Bill C-12 would require the federal government to set a succession of five-year climate targets, starting in 2030. It would also set up an advisory body to independently analyze Ottawa’s plan to meet its commitments.
It’s the kind of rigour and accountability that was missing when: the Liberals set targets under the Kyoto Protocol in 1997; the Conservatives adopted targets under the Copenhagen Accord in 2009; and the Liberals signed on to targets under the Paris Agreement in 2015. Needless to say, Canada failed miserably in meeting the Kyoto and Copenhagen goals, and has a tremendous challenge ahead if it’s going to keep its Paris commitments.
While the Liberals complained about obstructionism in the Commons, they bear some responsibility for the lack of time the Senate has to deal with the bill before the summer recess.
Bill C-12 was introduced last November, but valuable time was lost in the House of Commons as other legislation took priority. As well, the Liberals waited until their second mandate to introduce a climate-accountability act — nine years after an NDP-sponsored private member’s bill passed in the Commons before being killed in the Senate.
Conservative MPs, meanwhile, used a series of parliamentary tactics to delay final reading of a bill, then voted against it. It was predictable foot-dragging from a caucus that continues to consider the Liberals’ greenhouse-gas policies a threat to Western Canada’s oil and gas sector, despite O’Toole’s stated commitment to fight climate change.
With only a few days left to consider the bill that just landed among them, what are senators to do?
Fortunately, the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources committee conducted a pre-study, which involved calling several expert witnesses from environmental organizations and business groups while the bill was still in the House. The committee is chaired by former Liberal, now Independent Sen. Paul Massicotte.
In a report tabled on Tuesday, it concluded that “the need for a national climate accountability framework in Canada is pressing.” And while it noted significant problems with the Liberal legislation, the committee said there “can be no delay in implementing a national climate accountability framework.”
The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices (CICC) — a non-partisan advisory group — supported its passage. “An imperfect climate accountability framework can still help Canada stay on track to meeting its climate targets,” CICC research associate Anna Kanduth wrote on Twitter.
Conservatives and business groups are unhappy for a number of reasons.
Consistent with Conservative complaints, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers noted that the legislation doesn’t require that any kind of “economic lens” be applied to the independent policy assessments.
The Senate Environment committee agreed, and said economic analysis would be a vital part of any policy assessment, However, it said the matter can be dealt with once the legislation is passed.
Sen. Doug Black — who left the Tory caucus to sit with the independent Canadian Senators Group — said this week that he expects the upper chamber will pass the bill without amendments as a result of the committee’s pre-study.
Such an outcome would be best for the country, and best for Canada’s contribution to the global effort to avert a climate disaster. It could even be good for the Conservative party.
Shawn McCarthy writes about energy and climate change, and is senior counsel at Sussex Strategy Group. He is also the vice-president of the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom.
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