Thursday, February 15, 2007

Canadian Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper fails to show up for Kyoto votes

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has missed two votes in the House of Commons concerning Kyoto and Canada's commitments to the accord.

Harper, a long time climate-change denier, failed to show up on February 5 and again on February 14.

"Kyoto is essentially a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations," said Harper in a 2002 fundraising letter to his fellow members in the former Canadian Alliance party.

It seems clear that Harper has no intention of showing up to vote on the matter. Canada deserves better.

Honour Kyoto, House tells PM

February 15, 2007
Toronto StarOTTAWA–The Conservative government has been backed into a constitutional corner after the passage of an opposition bill in the House of Commons last night calling for Canada to meet its Kyoto targets.

Bill C-288 would force Environment Minister John Baird to present a climate change plan within 60 days, providing a map for Canada to meet Kyoto's greenhouse gas reduction targets. The treaty calls for emission levels at 6 per cent below 1990 levels – a drastic reduction from current levels.

Within three months of the bill's passage into law, the federal cabinet would have to set out regulations on the petroleum and auto sectors, and other polluters, to have them meet their Kyoto targets.

If no action is taken, individual Canadians, environmental groups, lawyers – anyone – could take the federal government to court for being afoul of the law, said Montreal Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez, the sponsor of the private member's bill.

However, the Conservatives, who have called Kyoto targets impossible to meet, have given every indication they plan to ignore the bill.

But it is unclear how they can delay its implementation. In any event, a court challenge to force implementation would be a lengthy process, with any decision coming long after the next election. MPs voted 161-113 in favour of Bill C-288, allowing it to clear the last hurdle before entering the Liberal-dominated Senate. There, it is expected to be passed into law after being studied briefly by the environment and energy committee.

Liberals said the Conservative party's dissenting vote last night shows the government has no intention of honouring Kyoto, an international treaty that aims to halt global warming.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not show up in the Commons for the vote.

Two weeks ago, he missed the vote on a Liberal motion calling for the government to recommit to the accord.

But Liberal leader Stéphane Dion said responsibility for Kyoto, which Canada ratified in 2005, has now been shifted to Harper's shoulders following weeks of debate.

"Canada is back in the family of Kyoto as long as the House has some influence on the government," Dion said, leaving the Commons after the vote.

A few feet away, Baird was quick with his rebuttal: "If the world only worked in such a simple fashion."

"You've got to roll up your sleeves and make an effort. That's what this bill is saying," said deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.

The Tories said the bill does not allot them any money to accomplish the task set out in the legislation. Also, it provides no regulatory powers and suggests no penalties for non-compliance.

"If we could implement Kyoto without it costing a dime, I suspect we would have done it back in 1997," Baird told reporters ahead of the vote.

For the third time yesterday, House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken rejected a government challenge to the validity of the bill and allowed the vote to go ahead.

Several constitutional experts have told Canadian Press the Conservatives must respect the law. In interviews last week, university law professors Ned Franks, Patrick Monahan and Stewart Elgie all agreed that the government has no choice but to follow the law.

Adding his voice to the list yesterday was Errol Mendes of the University of Ottawa.

"If the bill passes... it will be a binding legal obligation on the part of the government," Mendes told CTV. "There could be very serious legal consequences."

Elgie, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said the Conservatives deserve credit for the success of Bill C-288 because of changes that they introduced to Parliamentary rules when they were in opposition. Those changes now allow private members' bills to proceed to a vote more quickly.

"This kind of ... bill probably wouldn't have been passed before this Parliament because the rules allowed the government to slow them down forever and kill them," Elgie said. "The irony is cruel."

In Toronto yesterday, before the vote, Baird and Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon said Ottawa will continue two programs aimed at encouraging consumers to buy fuel-efficient vehicles. The government will continue to produce fuel-consumption guides and window stickers for cars and light trucks already available in Canada, and maintain a program aimed at making Canadians more familiar with new technologies, such as hybrid and diesel engines, from other countries.

Both programs are to be slightly expanded, but the money available – up to $36 million over four years – will remain roughly the same as in the past.

"That's it?" asked a surprised John Bennett of the Climate Action Network, a coalition of environment groups, when he learned about it. "We thought it would be bigger than this. This is an inconsequential program."

The new measures – now named ecoENERGY for Personal Vehicles, and ecoTechnology – simply carry on programs that have operated for years and haven't worked, Bennett said.

With files from Peter Gorrie


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