Democracy the big loser as unelected Senate trumps Parliament

The environment took the back seat to the economy this past week, when unelected and unaccountable Conservative Senators killed a New Democrat climate change bill that a majority of Members of Parliament had passed.

Bruce Hyer’s Climate Change Accountability Act, Bill C-311, would have forced the government to act on this key environmental issue. The bill required Canada to reduce greenhouse gas emission levels by 25 percent in the next 10 years and 80 percent in the next 40 years.

This was the only federal climate change legislation in Canada. On two separate occasions this climate legislation passed all stages in the House of Commons; once two years ago, when it was lost as the House dissolved for a general election called by Mr. Harper; and again in May, only to be killed by the Senate who overruled the work of our nation’s elected representatives this past week.

Bill C-311 was defeated in the Senate by a snap-vote during the early stages of the legislative process. The Prime Minister’s finger prints are all over this. Stephen Harper promised to be different; instead he stacked the Senate with unelected, unaccountable Senators and directed them to overrule the elected representatives of the Canadian people.

When the Climate Change Act was first passed as Bill C-377, Canada was a world leader on environmental initiatives. We were the first country to set greenhouse gas reduction targets as a follow up to the Kyoto Protocol. The events that took place on November 18th , leaves Canada with no vision or commitment to reduce greenhouse gasses.

The NDP climate change bill not only addressed environmental concerns, it also took into account the economy. Economic modeling by M.K. Jaccard and Associates last year showed that Canada could meet C-311’s goals, improve the economy, and increase jobs all at the same time. All of this would have added up to better quality of life for Canadians in their public and private lives.

In a previous column, I drew upon an Aboriginal proverb that applies well here: “Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”

What will it take for the government to realize that a healthy environment means a healthy society? When will they recognize that a healthy society cost less in terms of health care delivery? What we in the North know so well - that the rivers that run through our towns and the trees that grow alongside our roads are directly related our health and livelihood - must be understood at the highest level. If we are to move ahead in a climate that promotes environmental and societal health, we mustn’t take these gifts for granted. Killing legislation that addresses our current challenges does just that. Now Canada will show up empty handed at a major conference on climate change in Mexico this December.