Canadian Senate kills climate change bill: No big deal

So today the Conservatives in the Canadian Senate voted down the NDP’s climate change bill that had been bouncing around for years. Big deal.

Harper haters are up in arms about what they see as the anti-democratic nature of the move. A bill passed by a majority of elected MPs has now been quashed by a majority of unelected Senators.

But calling this anti-democratic or unconstitutional or even contrary to the spirit of the constitution and traditions of Canada is simply wrong. At least until the Senate is reformed.

The role of the Senate

As it stands right now, this is the legitimate role of the Senate. As most Canadians know, Senate reform has been a long-standing goal of Harper going all the way back to his days as a Reform Party policy advisor.

But Senate reform has been resisted at every turn by the Liberals, NDP, provincial premiers and everybody else whose knee-jerk reaction is to say “this is not the time for Senate reform.” Just about everybody has seen Senate reform as a tiresome waste of time in which the chances of losing are probably greater than the chances of winning.

OK, so be it. A few years ago Harper accepted that “this is not the time for Senate reform” and made it clear that he would use the current arrangement to advance Conservative policies and points of view. Just like the Liberals have done for decades, and just like the NDP would do if they ever won power in Ottawa.

This bill had no chance

The fact that the Liberals let things play out like this in the Senate today does not make them look very savvy. Or perhaps it does. Who knows? Maybe they saw an opportunity to torpedo the bill and blame it on the Conservatives.

In any event this “climate change bill” had very little hope of going anywhere even if it was passed. The Conservatives – who happen to form the government right now – did not agree with its stringent CO2 emissions standards and opposed it every step of the way.

The fact that the bill passed the House of Commons over the objection of the governing party simply points out one of the problems of minority governments in our parliamentary system.

The Senate is important in minority situations

The government party is unlikely to take such a bill seriously even if it was passed. It would mean pretending to commit to objectives that they did not believe were attainable or not worth the cost of tyring to attain them. As Harper said today in Question Period:

[This bill] 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. Of course, we will never support such legislation.

Of course Jack Layton will argue that there is some kind of legal obligation on the part of the government to vigorously enact such legislation whether they agree with it or not. It was passed by the House of Commons!

But all posturing aside, he knows better.

You can be quite sure that if Harper had not been confident of the Senate option he would have one way or another turned this bill into a question of confidence. And if he had done that enough Liberals would have stayed home on the day of the vote to ensure that it didn’t pass.

End of discussion.

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