Speeches | Bill C-311, Climate Change Accountability

01 June 2010

It is often said by senators, when they stand to address a given issue or debate a given bill, that they do so with pleasure, and I am sure they do. In this particular case I do so with pleasure because I am struck by the magnitude and importance of Bill C-311, which has been compounded significantly by virtue of the fact that it has been supported by the majority of the elected representatives in the House of Commons.

Bill C-311 lays out a number of provisions that will assist Canadians and the Government of Canada in achieving important obligations in the fight against climate change. This bill was authored and presented by New Democratic member of Parliament, Bruce Hyer. I have had the pleasure of working with Mr. Hyer for several weeks, and I am struck with his commitment to this important issue.

As I proceed with my comments, the deputy leader will realize that I, unlike him, am rising above partisan debate and partisan remarks.

Senator Cowan: You better explain that to him, because they do not know.

Senator Mitchell: They would know, because their leader wrote the letter with the Bloc and the New Democrats to propose a coalition prior to their winning a minority government a few years ago. I want senators to remember that.

Not to be diverted, I have grown to understand, appreciate and value and Mr. Hyer's commitment to this important issue and to doing something about it. He has a career of working in the wilds of Canada. He understands the environment intimately and he feels very strongly about this bill, as do I.

Mr. Hyer was not alone in the House of Commons in supporting this bill. It received a broad level of support from all three opposition parties representing 60 to 65 per cent of the Canadian population. That illustrates the thrust behind this bill.

In a specific sense this bill follows on from Bill C-288, the Kyoto implementation bill that we passed here several years ago. To some extent it provided a function and a service in the development of policy, although it has to some extent also been neglected by government. Its requirement for ongoing planning and reporting by government expires in 2012, and this bill will pick up where the Kyoto bill, Bill C-288, left off.

This bill does a number of things, honourable senators. I want to underline, particularly for my colleagues across the way, that this bill is not aggressive in the way that it has been construed by some, including, perhaps, their colleagues in the House of Commons. The bill fundamentally directs the government to plan. That cannot be that big a chore given that the government must be planning now. It has established and announced targets and programs. The bill simply brings the planning process out into the public eye. That is the first step.

The second thing that it does is to require an audit of how the plans are being implemented and a review of how the plans are established before they are implemented. The environmental commissioner will be charged with the responsibility of reviewing the government's five-year plans leading up to 2050. The national round table on the environment and the economy will be responsible for assessing where those plans have gone, what they have accomplished and whether they are sustaining the trajectory necessary to reach the 2050 targets and other targets that will ensure that we do our part and meet our obligation in this fight against climate change.

The bill establishes one irrevocable target while the other target that it establishes is not irrevocable. Both targets share a significance to the extent that they are based on science that says that we have climate change and we cannot allow it to produce temperature increases of greater than 2 degrees. That target is not a surprise because the Prime Minister himself has established his commitment to the target of limiting climate change to two degrees. He did that twice. He did it at last year's G8 conference as well as at Copenhagen. That target is not particularly controversial, given that the Prime Minister has accepted it.

The bill calls for a target of 80 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions based on 1990 levels by 2050. The government's own target is 80 per cent reduction from 2005 levels by 2050. One could say that that is a difference of consequence, but when you consider that it is spread over 40 years, it is of almost negligible difference year by year and could easily be achieved by a government intent on that second target. If it can achieve that, it can certainly easily achieve the one of below 25 per cent by 1990 levels.

The more controversial target is the 25 per cent reduction below 1990 levels by 2020. That is seen to be too aggressive. The parliamentary secretary responsible for this file said that it would be a disaster for our economy. However, that is not a required target in this bill. The government does not have to accept that target. It does have to accept the 2050 target but not the 2020 target by any means.

As soon as the government establishes its first plan for 2015 — and it could do that tomorrow — the second target no longer applies. The government is given a great deal of flexibility in this bill to establish a series of targets up to 2050 to increase or moderate the trajectory of those plans as long as the overall longer-term target of 80 per cent is achieved by 2050. It does all of those things.It underlines planning; it enhances the planning's significance and impacts by requiring review by the environmental commissioner and the post-application implementation review by the national round table; and it establishes targets as guidelines, as a demonstration of commitment to the science that is required to be accepted. The government does accept them, as I said, but those are not unreasonable when you do the analysis of the bill and you see what the possibilities are.

In fact, it leads me to a conclusion that I do not see why the government would not have supported this bill, and I will get into that later. They are planning. The targets are not unreasonable, given what they have already accepted and said they would do. It would be great politics for them in accepting this bill, which is seen by the environmental community and many Canadians as being enlightened in its approach in dealing with climate change, and there would be little economic downside, if any. In fact, I believe there will be a great deal of economic upside, and I will talk about that as well.

There is a real urgency to action and to dealing with this problem. We all see the physical impact of climate change, and I will talk about the science of that. We all know at some deep level — or maybe not such a deep level — that it is occurring. Look at what has happened to the fisheries on the East Coast and the West Coast; look at the drought across the Prairie provinces; look at the sea level increases in the North — they are having an impact on the North and everywhere; look at what is happening to the pine beetle and the forests burning in British Columbia. I do not know if that is the reason in Quebec, but I would be interested in having a look. The point is that although someone might say these kinds of impacts are not significant — maybe one or two are not directly climate related — but when you have this preponderance of events that are out of the ordinary, many of them absolutely unprecedented, occurring at the same time with all kinds of evidence that temperatures are rising and are causing the change in the climate in this country and in the world, then you have to begin to understand that this is occurring.

The IPCC has said that there is about a 90 per cent chance that it is occurring and that we are causing it, and the IPCC has defended those miniscule attacks. The old story is if there was a 90 per cent chance that the plane you were about to get on was going to go down, how would you react? You would do something about it. We have to do something about it. People can say that these are unrelated incidents. The science says they are not, but the fact is they are occurring in a way that is damaging economies profoundly and could begin to damage economies infinitely in a way that would make any kind of investment impact, in trying to solve the problem, absolutely miniscule. In fact, I am not so sure, as I have said, that the investment impact will be negative at all. It will probably be positive.

The other thing that addresses and enhances the urgency of this bill and the need to embrace the action it calls for is what is happening with other nations. Whether or not we think it is occurring — believe me, I do, and I know we all do — and whether or not we feel that we are at some disadvantage in that process, the fact is that other nations have accepted that it is occurring. Other nations are beginning to take action and are undertaking economic initiatives that will at least leave us behind and at worst damage our ability to trade with them.

Nowhere is this more profound than in the case of the American power act, which was presented about three weeks ago by several senators in the United States. This is not their first draft. This is an iteration of that power act. Because they have been working at it for so long and it has come back in evolutionary form, it is getting closer to the likelihood of being passed. What they have laid out is very interesting, namely, the cap-and-trade system.

They will sell allocations to those companies that will be subject to caps. Those companies will have to buy credits and they say that most of the money will be returned to the consumers. They are taking steps to ensure that the market for allocations for carbon credits, will not be manipulated and cannot be manipulated. This is an important step. They have pointed to specific ways to ensure that occurs. They will put a collar on the price, which cannot be higher or lower than certain limits. Second, they will not allow people to speculate. Third, you can only buy them or sell them if you are actually under the cap-and-trade regime. You cannot buy or sell them because you want to speculate on them. You have to put up real money. You cannot buy or sell on margin, I would presume, so you can specifically limit how that thing applies and deal with some of those excesses that people perceive to be a problem or a potential problem with that kind of a market.

One element of this act that should be very urgent to us is that they, of course, are calling for border adjustments, and they are calling for a zero conventional and other oil import regime. They do not want to be dependent upon imported oil, and we export a lot of oil to them. They are prepared to put border adjustments, tariffs or penalties by another name, on products that we would like to export. That will not be just oil and gas by any means. It will also be manufactured products that have not been manufactured under a sufficiently rigorous carbon limit regime. Then we would not be able to sell those products to the United States.

A number of things can be taken from this. One is that they are progressing in a way that we have to be very conscious of economically, if we are to continue our trade with the U.S., and two, they are planning. They are not afraid to present that plan publicly. It presents a public planning model to us, and, second, a much greater urgency in getting this done. There are many advantages to plans and reviewing plans. Once they are public, you begin to harness the energy focus, and commitment of the private sector. You begin to harness the energy, commitment and focus of the other sectors, the people working in government and who are responsible for achieving these objectives. You cannot manage what you cannot measure. That is why it is so important to have objective public measurement, as would be called for in this bill by the round table on economy and environment.

My next point is that we disagree on many things in the Senate and in our political process here — and that is great because debate is wonderful. However, there comes a point in time when we have a chance to agree on something very important, something that, in many respects, should transcend specific values some of us might think we hold that do not allow us to embrace that issue. There comes a point in time that gives us a chance to do something that has a magnitude and an impact that is broad and significant, that is not just for tomorrow but is for eons to come. Honourable senators, this is one of those issues. It has transcendence in its importance for all of us, for our children and for the world. It also transcends partisan consideration. The fact is that we all agree to it. I have said it before and I will say it again: the Prime Minister agrees to the two degree limit; he has accepted an 80 per cent target that is well within the realm of the 80 per cent target for 2050 presented in this bill; and he is not being forced to do anything by this planning process that is contrary to what, clearly, he and his Minister of the Environment must be doing. They are planning now. They have programs and processes.

I want to make the case that we can agree on this, and that it is important that we agree on this. We have this chance to actually agree to do the right thing and to support this measure — I can hardly believe I am saying this — and to see the government gets some credit for doing the right thing on this very important environmental file.I thought I would go through the arguments I have heard against this bill, and against the idea of doing whatever it is we have to do with climate change. Then hopefully I could prevail upon several senators who are predisposed to vote against it, get them to vote for it, pass it and really do something.

The first argument really underlines — and it is not as explicit any more — the debate and doubt about climate change and taking dramatic action and that is the problems people have with the science. I have said it a couple of times and I will repeat it again. There is no one on that side who does not believe in the science, certainly not my colleague.

The science has been assaulted. Certainly over the last year it received some hits but, when the specific areas about which the science was attacked are identified, the conclusion is that they have been dispelled or explained. One was the number of emails in East Anglia. That has been absolutely dispelled. Yes, it revealed frustration and yes, some of them should not have been written the way they were written, but it certainly did not in any way taint the type of research, science and conclusions the scientists had drawn.

Then there have been a couple of other cases about the glaciers in the Himalayas. Yes, they are not melting as fast as it was said somewhere in a thousand pages of the IPCC’S fourth report. The fact remains that glaciers are melting.

Honourable senators, the science is very strong. When we hear from people who are skeptical we do not ever see actual science that supports their skepticism. They certainly can nitpick at certain features of the science that supports climate change, but they cannot find ways to defend their arguments.

Some people have moved from pure skepticism that climate change is occurring, to skepticism that it is occurring but we are not causing it. My answer to them is — as I have said very often — if we are not causing it then we have a real problem, because we cannot fix it. The prospects of that scenario would make anyone hope that, in fact, we are causing it. There is overwhelming scientific evidence and support.

I note that the national academies of science in all of the G8 major industrialized nations have clearly endorsed the conclusion that we are causing climate change, it is occurring faster than we imagined and we absolutely have to do something about it. Science stands up very well when given a chance and really underlines and backs up this bill; remembering that this bill is premised upon the idea of a limit of 2-degrees increase in temperature.

Second, there was some argument or debate about when Bill C-311 was originally presented as Bill C-377. That debate was around whether it gave too much power to the executive and whether you could use a bill of that nature to essentially extend criminal powers to a realm outside of criminal law. What was determined by many experts and written into this version of the bill were some specifications that support specific powers for the executive but not too the extent that they erode the power of the houses of Parliament to watch government in that regard. It also has a provision whereby CEPA can be included under the administration of this act, and it has already passed constitutional muster in the determination of whether you can apply criminal-like sanctions under a law that is not the criminal law of Canada. Those constitutional arguments have been met.

Honourable senators, it is also true that this bill has been approved by authorities in the House of Commons in meeting the legislative requirements That is of some consequence because these bills are given great and rigorous review to ensure that they meet requirements, whether they are, among other things, a money bill and constitutionally compatible.

Also there is, as a final default, the peace, order and good government clause, which is not necessarily full support for the argument that this is constitutional, but it certainly does derive precedent that further strengthens this case. There is not a problem with the constitutionality of this bill.

Third, the issue of targets has been construed as a problem for the government. I have talked about it briefly and I will talk about it again. The relationship between the 2020 target of 25 per cent below 1990 levels and economic "disaster" is well overblown by the parliamentary secretary who used those words and, in fact, there is very little proof of any economic disaster occurring from any proposed climate change policies.

Just as an aside, I would like to say something that is very interesting to me. I cannot really remember seeing cases in any number of economic policy, government policy, and environmental government policy and environmental business policy that have hurt businesses or economies. In fact, good environmental policy absolutely protects and builds economies and businesses.

This concern is really dispelled by virtue of the fact that the government does not have to accept that target. They can accept a much different target and focus on pacing their achievement over the next 40 years until 2050. Setting that aside, I do not think targets are a problem at all.

The economics of the bill constitute the core problem for most people. Again, Parliamentary Secretary Warawa did say that this bill would create an economic disaster. Essentially he is contradicting the Prime Minister, who has said that the government accepts the science of the 2-degree limit, so you cannot have it both ways. However, it is okay, it is all good, because I do not see even remotely where the economic disaster would occur, unless it is in the continuation of climate change — climate change that is so far hurting the economies of the Maritimes and B.C. and probably some of the central provinces, the Prairie provinces, not to mention the problem with lowering water levels in the Great Lakes and what that will do to shipping and property values around them. That is the economic problem.

People say it will wreck the economy and it will be a disaster, as Warawa said, to do something about climate change. We had to fundamentally restructure the economy to win the Second World War, as did Britain. It did not wreck their economy. It did not wreck our economy. It created some of the strongest industrial economies in the Western world. Therefore it is not immediately obvious that that scenario would occur at all. In fact, when we consider the world taking on major environmental initiatives like acid rain, we find that it is not overwhelmingly costly. What we find is it is actually done in about one tenth the cost in about one tenth the time, and in that case it actually created an industrial initiative. It created opportunity.

Honourable senators, it does not follow that climate change initiatives will hurt economies. In Britain, 550,000 clean jobs have been created by a government and by an economy that has doubled the achievement of its Kyoto commitment, or all but done so and will have by 2012.

(1550)

The real cost to the markets of reducing one tonne of carbon in Europe today is about $15 to $20. At that price, we could have fulfilled our Kyoto commitment if nothing else, and I am not arguing that we should have done so. Had we done nothing but buy reductions where they are cheap and easy to do so, it would have cost about $5 billion a year. That is all it would have cost us. That should say something to the conservative market-driven mind and that maybe it is not as expensive as we think it is. Maybe once we get going, we will find that it drives itself. We will find a way to do this through the creativity, commitment, energy and intelligence of Canadian business and Canadians generally. I have every confidence that they will find absolutely a way to do this much more cheaply than the cynics suggest it will cost.

We do have studies on the other side of it, it is very clear. The most recent one, which is excellent, was sponsored by TD Bank and prepared specifically by Dr. Mark Jaccard, a well-known, internationally renowned environmental scientist from Simon Fraser University. The study concluded that if we carry on with business as usual until 2050, there will be a growth of about 2.4 per cent. If we make the move to reduce the rate of climate change to the 2020 figures, growth would be about 0.1 percentage points less, at 2.3 per cent instead of 2.4 per cent. I do not believe that is exactly the right conclusion, because economists are conservative and will not overplay the possibilities. If we are within 0.1 percentage point in growth by doing it versus not doing it, why would we not do it? Once we get started, we will find the growth to be even greater. How can it not be greater when one invests in an economy?

If it were not the case, then this government never would have introduced the stimulus package, which proves that investment stimulates an economy. To say that we should not invest in a green revolution during the next Industrial Revolution because it is too expensive is to say that we should not have invested in the last one. That cost money, too, but, thankfully, generations before us had the wherewithal to take the new and the unknown and to invest for the sake of a future that would be different.

My economic argument is that there is no danger. On the other hand, we have real danger if we do not proceed more quickly. If one wants to wreck an economy, just continue to allow climate change to spiral. That would demonstrate the real danger to the economy. If one wants to hurt an economy, just hold it back and hold back Canadian business when it wants to get going and it wants to compete but it does not quite know what the rules of the game will be. While the plan called for in this bill will not be entirely enough to give business a sense of security about what the rules of the game will be, it will certainly give direction upon which they could begin to do their planning and much of their thinking for the future. They might even begin to act more aggressively than what we see today.

Honourable senators, when you analyze all of the issues related to this bill, you will readily conclude that much of the concern raised over this bill to this point really does not apply. This bill will not hurt the economy. The government is not limited in what it is able to do under this planning section. In fact, it is probably already planning and I would give it credit for that because I see some of its announcements that suggest it is so. Once we see the plans, we will engage in further debate with better participation and produce better ideas. Once we review and audit their progress and implementation, then we will have greater motivation for people to do what needs to be done and to achieve it. The sooner we get started, the better it will be. For each day of inaction that goes by, we are losing not only on the climate change side, but also on the economic side with those countries with which we compete. They are progressing much more rapidly than we are. The U.S. spends 18 times per capita on clean technologies and renewable energy technologies than we spend in Canada. How can we compete if we do not get started? At some point, we will be so far behind that we will not be able to keep up.

I ask honourable senators to consider these arguments and to deem this bill an important piece of proposed legislation. It will give Canada a chance to do something important and special, leaving a legacy for our children. We will begin to see its importance and impact just scant years after we begin to act on it in the things it will cause and the energies it will harness.

Thank you.

 


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