Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Curious Case of Bill C-311

We all have our prejudices, so before I begin, I will share mine. I am an ardent believer in the necessity of reducing global green house gas (GHG) emissions. The scientific evidence cannot be ignored. Severe climate change is occurring and it is being brought about by human activity.

Even if the validity of this premise is uncertain, from a risk management perspective, it is by far more prudent to incur the economic costs of moving towards a low carbon economy than to risk the catastrophic consequences of significant global warming.

Bill C-311 imposes the required limits on Canada's GHG emissions: 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050. The Bill was adopted by a majority vote in the House of Commons and is now stalled in the Senate.

Before it can become the law of the land, it needs to be passed by the upper house. However, it is expected that by November the Conservatives will have a majority in the Senate and, as a result, will be able to kill Bill C-311.

This state of affairs is extremely curious.

How is it that a bill adopted by the majority of the elected members of the House of Commons can be thwarted by the majority of an unelected Senate, especially when the recent appointments to the Senate are made by a Prime Minister of a minority government, one that has the support of only 23% of the electorate?

In this case, the Senate would not be acting as an instance of sober second thought; it would be acting in a manner diametrically opposed to the fundamental values of a free and democratic society.

Let us be clear. This is game changing legislation. If adopted, we would have to restructure our economy and the consequences of doing so are unknown.

The million dollar question is who decides?

Are we a democratic nation or are we still an English settler state in which an electoral system and constitutional convention allow a minority of the population to impose its will upon the majority?

If we are democratic, this situation demands an appropriate response to change our political institutions. An unelected body cannot be empowered to overturn the decisions of an elected majority, more so when the members of this body are appointed in a manner that reflects our pre-democratic colonial past.

Presently, Canada has a Prime Minister that favors an elected Senate, and if politics is the art of the possible, a possible solution to our democratic anomaly is to push for an elected Senate that uses a proportional voting method. This would be in keeping with our Commonwealth cousin, Australia, and wouldn't require any constitutional amendments.

As well, if it's still necessary to seek out the approbation of the mother of all Parliaments in Westminster, the coalition government in the UK has announced its intentions to undergo a modernization process that includes a referendum on the voting system for its House of Commons, a redrawing of the electoral map, and the possibility of holding elections for its upper house, the House of Lords.

It's time Canada leapt into the twenty-first century and addressed its democratic short comings instead of continuing to be a laggard with respect to the evolution of its system of governance.

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