The Conservative government is now placed in a difficult position. The government really does not want to pass this bill. Baird has even made the ridiculous statement that the new bill is weaker than the original Clean Air Act. Of course he gave no evidence of this and the statement flies in the face of the evidence and statements by the main environmental groups who support the amended bill. My prediction would be that the Conservaitives will let the bill die on the order paper and make their own announcements about their brave new world of environmental initiatives. I doubt the Conservatives want to fight an election after having been defeated for not supporting this bill but we shall see!
Pass overhauled clean air bill, Harper urged
Last Updated: Friday, March 30, 2007 | 4:37 PM ET
Environmental groups urged the Harper government on Friday to pass a bill rewritten by a special Commons committee because they say it takes real action on greenhouse gas emissions.
The Climate Action Network, Pembina Institute and Sierra Club of Canada said the bill, now called the clean air and climate change act, is much stronger now than it was when it was first tabled in the House of Commons in October.
"We expect that the government will respect the bill, put it before Parliament and respect the will of the people," John Bennett, executive director of the Climate Action Network, said in Ottawa. "This is a moment of truth for government."
Opposition parties revamped the bill through more than 100 amendments. Originally called Canada's clean air act, it was sent to the special legislative committee after it passed first reading.
"This is a government bill. This is their bill. They agreed to have it brought to a committee. Two-thirds of Canadians voted for MPs who made these amendments," he said.
The bill requires the government to make regulations to set hard targets for industry to cut greenhouse gas emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels, starting in January 2008.
Levy on carbon emissions
It includes a $20 levy for every tonne of carbon emissions a company produces above its target. And it requires that vehicle fuel consumption regulations match international best practices.
Clare Demerse, a climate change policy analyst at the Pembina Institute, said there is no question that the bill is stronger because it requires the government to regulate heavy industry. The bill provides a standard by which to measure any new targets announced by the Harper government, she said.
Environment Minister John Baird has said the government plans a few weeks to bring in new targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He declined to say in question period on Friday whether he will bring the revamped bill before Parliament for a vote.
Demerse said she is surprised that Baird said the revamped bill is weaker than it was in its original form.
"I want to know why the minister think the bill is weaker. I think the bill is acceptable. It's not perfect, but there are targets for large emitters put right in the bill. That's what we supported," she said.
"If they are going to go ahead and make their announcement, we now have a standard. The standards are in the bill," she said.
Stephen Hazell, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, said the bill is a much improved version of the old bill because its targets are not based on the level of industrial output.
If, for example, previous Canadian governments had relied on what are known as intensity-based targets to deal with the problem of acid rain, Canada would still have the problem of acidic lakes, he said.
"The committee has squeezed the hot air out of the clean air act and turned it into the real deal. It's a real bill," he said.
As of Friday, the bill heads back to Parliament and into the hands of Baird.
It is up to Baird to act on the amended proposal, and decide whether he will bring it back to the House for a vote or leave it languishing on the order paper.
Election call possible
The government can accept the changes in the bill as proposed by the committee or use them to trigger an election call.
Under the first reading version of the previous bill, there was no mention of the Kyoto Protocol and there were no hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions until 2020 or 2025, but the government said it would seek to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45 to 65 per cent by 2050.
Also, its emissions regulations on large polluters did not take effect until 2010.
"We're going to take some time to look at the entirety of the changes they've made. I can tell you I'm not happy," Baird said Thursday. "I think they've weakened the bill and not strengthened it."
But NDP MP Nathan Cullen said all parties made compromises and hailed the new proposal as an act that could become one of the most significant pieces of environmental legislation in decades.
"Just accept defeat on the things that you've lost, and accept the fact that there are things you've voted for, and that's how the Parliament works when you're in a minority position," Cullen said.
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said the government agreed to send the bill to the committee and now it must act on it.