Australian Senate
2 min

The saga of the Senate and C-311

There has been a great deal of moral outrage expressed over the Conservative Senators killing Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act, on Tuesday – most of by people like the NDP who feel the Senate should be abolished. Of course, directing outrage to the Senate itself rather than the procedural trickery with which they used to kill the bill – and then to try and deny responsibility – is good old populist bullshit, and I’m calling it out as just that.

Basically, the Liberals in the Senate were trying to force the bill to head to committee, because it was languishing on the Order Paper. It got turned into a vote, where there wasn’t enough time to get enough opposition Senators in the Chamber, and it got defeated at Second Reading, without debate. There has been confusion in the transcripts as to who called the vote, and the Conservatives got out ahead and tried to blame Senator Mitchell – the bill’s sponsor – for calling the vote and dooming it.

The fallout, however, has been largely disingenuous and in fact outrageous. Jack Layton gave a holier-than-thou rant in the Senate Foyer about how awful the unelected Senate was, but the fact is the bill was killed using procedural trickery, and you can’t tell me that the NDP are above procedural trickery because I know for a fact that they are not. I have had NDP MPs tell me their plans to use procedural manoeuvres to get their own agenda items passed on several occasions. What’s good for the goose and all of that, right?

And yes, there has been a whole lot of hypocrisy, from the way that people have dredged up Harper’s previous comments about how the Senate should never do such a thing, or Marjory LeBreton’s previous statements about how the Senate should never stop a bill passed by the democratically elected House (thus knee-capping her own constitutional legitimacy), and yet she defended Tuesday’s actions. But this is not the fault of the Senate as an institution, just because it is an appointed body. It is appointed for a reason – the founding fathers of Confederation had their reasons, and they have proved to be good ones. This is the fault of a government that will do anything to kill climate change laws, and who treat their Senators as another collection of backbenchers that can be whipped rather than as an independent group who are beholden to no Prime Minister or party leader.

The other part of this whole issue that I have trouble with is the talk about how this means that we now have no plan going into the Cancun climate change talks. The truth is a) the bill would not have been passed into law by next week, and b) this government, that doesn’t respect the rule of law, would have ignored it anyway and let it spend the next several years tied up in the courts, just as they did with Pablo Rodriguez’s Kyoto bill a couple of years ago. Even if the bill had passed, it would have only been a symbolic victory – the same way that they can claim moral victory for non-binding motions passing the House. I somehow doubt that would pass muster among the international community at Cancun, but maybe that’s just me.

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