“We need to hear more about the American position, the European position, the Chinese position” before considering the bill, McGuinty told CBC News.
With that rather weasely statement, Canada’s Liberal Party signalled that it will support a further delay in a vote that would set realistic limits on Canada’s Greenhouse gas emissions. I was too angry yesterday to write a decent post about it, but hey, as my partner often says, “Anger is a positive emotion”. So, here goes.
What is it?
Bill C-311 – The Climate Change Accountability Act. aims to set binding emission targets for greenhouse gas emissions (excluding land use, land use change and forestry) for Canada. Here’s the a short sentence from the preamble:
this legislation is intended to ensure that Canada reduces greenhouse gas emissions to an extent similar to that required by all industrialized countries in order to prevent dangerous climate change, in accordance with the scientific evidence on the impacts of increased levels of global average surface temperature and the corresponding levels of atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases;
Okay, ending a long sentence with a semi-colon, strange, but there it is, a very clear and concise statement of fact intending for Canada to set realistic targets for GHG reduction
What are the targets?
25% below 1990 levels by 2020, 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. This is in line with IPCC recommendations (pdf) (See page 776, thanks Climate Progress) to stabilize temperature rise to < 2°C and GHG concentrations to 450 ppm CO2 eq.
Hansen, other prominent scientists and activists at 350.org have a more ambitious target in mind, 350 ppm. In comparison, proposed legislation by John Kerry and Barbara Boxer in the US senate would reduce GHG emissions by 20% from 1990 levels, and 80% by 2050. So, this bill proposes targets that are in line with what the world’s greatest polluter (per capita, historical) is proposing and current official consensus. There is a lot of small print in the exemptions, agriculture is a big one on the US side and land use and forestry appear to be a rather significant omission on the Canadian side.
Bottom Line: The targets are exactly what is recommended by the IPCC, are reasonable and in line with what our biggest trading partner has proposed. They need to be strengthened in the near future, but are good for now.
What it doesn’t do
It does not establish a mechanism to bring about these reductions, only specifies that the government come up with scientifically sound interim targets and an emissions reduction regulatory strategy, be it emissions trading, or carbon taxes, etc. That’s fine, given Canada’s balance of powers and separation of province-federal powers, it would be best for an executive approach to regulation writing.
Bill C-311 is not new. An identical version passed the House of Commons in 2008 and was stymied by an election call. Since Canada has a bicameral legislature, the bill needed to be passed by the Canadian Senate as well and the election blocked this vote. Right now, it needs a vote to get out of committee and on the floor of the House.
So what happened?
Well, the NDP wanted to get the bill out for vote. The Bloc Quebecois supported them. The Conservatives, in a delaying tactic, wanted to extend the committee study period for another month, citing a “need for more expert testimony”, the Liberals agreed with them and the bill is stalled for now. Why? It is all politics.
This is where the story gets interesting, and epitomizes everything that is wrong with Canada’s current political system! Canada is currently (since 2006 and 2 elections on), run by a minority Conservative government. Minority governments work very differently in Canada compared with typical parliamentary democracies such as India, Israel, etc. There are no coalitions, no alliances, especially now since the Conservative party is well to the right of every other party in Parliament. Canada has four other prominent parties, the Liberals, a centrist, business friendly party that has previously governed, the NDP, a left leaning union friendly party, the Green party, an environmental issues and good governance driven party (no seats in parliament), and the Bloc Quebecois, a regional party based in Quebec which wins seats only in Quebec.
For the Conservative party to pass legislation, they need the support of one other party. Of course, to stymie legislation, they can use various parliamentary procedures. This is why C-311 is a private member’s bill, the government, which is vehemently opposed to any meaningful climate change mitigation regulation, would not bring something like this up for vote.
The NDP would like to be responsible for meaningful regulation on climate change as it is in line with their stated principles and also neatly aligns with their desire to be seen as a serious opposition party, and as a party capable of governing at the federal level.
The Liberals, well, they ran their last election on a radical restructuring of the Canadian tax system called the Green Shift. This envisaged a reduction in personal income taxes combined with the establishment of a carbon tax. The Liberals lost the election, and have been a lot more cautious about bringing up environmental issues. I happen to believe that the loss was primarily due to poor election strategy, a leader with the charisma of a freshly painted wall, and a flawed electoral system that allows for too much vote splitting, “wasted” votes and is unrepresentative. But, the media has run with the “it must be the environment” meme, and currently view any environmental legislation as a vote loser. This is in direct contradiction with polling data (pdf) that indicates the opposite to be true.
Anyway, the Liberals appeared to be getting back into the energy game. Their dear leader Michael Ignatieff (@m_ignatieff) recently tweeted about a revolutionary new clean energy plan, which seems sensible enough and forward thinking. Also, the Liberals supported this identical bill last year, and until recently. Here’s the NDP with a collection of helpful quotes from the Liberals on C-311:
“Parliamentarians don’t know where this country is going, as a sovereign nation state, on climate change. The really good news and the good faith behind Bill C-311 is helping to prompt a timely debate of where we’re going in advance of the important Copenhagen negotiation.” – David McGuinty, Environment Committee, June 18, 2009
“[Bill C-311] has been reintroduced under a new MP, a bill that was put forward in the last Parliament by the leader of the NDP. As such, it really has no material changes compared to its predecessor bill.” –David McGuinty, Hansard, March 4, 2009
“It’s very simple: we won’t be taken seriously until we are serious about the environment.” – Speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade, October 13, 2009 – MIchael Ignatieff
Unfortunately, the price for success against the government in this half-assed minority government situation is likely an election! Opinion polls indicate that an election held today would likely result in very much the same situation as the last time around, maybe even an increased near majority for the Conservatives.
Image courtesy Globe and Mail
The Conservatives (in blue) have a solid lead over the Liberals (Red) and the NDP (in orange) apparently have a 20% ceiling. In a normal parliamentary system, this would mean an alliance between the NDP and Liberals to win the election pretty handily (note that the votes would not additive, but there is a conservative vote ceiling around 40%). But as long as electoral reform is off the table, and the extremely hidebound Canadian mainstream media does nothing other than bemoan the lack of electoral participation while roundly condemning any alternative that would increase such participation, we are stuck with ths situation in which a Conservative government takes this country slowly rightward where it really does not want to be taken, given that solid majorities are against said conservative policies.
Canada dithers again on climate change. To the core supporters of the Conservative party, this is as should be. However, for the majority of the country, for the international reputation of the country, and for the political system as a whole, this is an unacceptable delay. The Liberals win no friends by being indecisive and showing no leadership. The NDP is stuck with no amount of “responsible” opposition work giving it any traction in the polls, the political intelligentsia of Canada would not accept an NDP ascendancy. The political system does not reward cooperation. So, we remain stuck, a country of many beautiful words and very little action.
* – I like weasels!