Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/11/2010 (3761 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It is the moral responsibility of every prime minister to respect the will of the House of Commons, federal New Democratic party leader Jack Layton reminded Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday.
Mr. Layton was upset because an NDP private member's bill, approved by the Liberal, New Democrat and Bloc Québécois opposition parties, was killed by the Conservative-dominated Senate this week. The Climate Change Accountability Act was opposed by the Tories in the Commons because it would have required Canada to meet goals that it could not be reasonably expected to meet -- to reduce greenhouse gases to 25 per cent below the levels of 1990 emissions and to reduce them even further, to 80 per cent below 1990 levels, by 2050.
These are easy promises for any party such as the NDP or the BQ to make when they have no hope of forming a federal government. It is more curious that the Liberals, who still harbour hopes of forming a federal government someday soon, would support it, since their track record as a green team is 0-for-1. It was the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien that signed the Kyoto Accord in 1998 and then cheerfully sat back and did nothing as Canada's greenhouse-gas emissions rose year after year. What a Liberal government would do now under the mystifying leadership of Michael Ignatieff, and why it would bind itself to targets that cannot be reasonably met, is any fool's guess.
Whatever one might think about the Conservative party's position on climate change, it has been consistent in its ambiguity. As Prime Minister Harper replied to Mr. Layton's criticism, the climate bill the Senate killed was "completely irresponsible" and would have thrown "hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of (Canadians) out of work." Green Tory is not a phrase in the Canadian political lexicon.
Where Mr. Harper has been less consistent, however, is in his position on the Senate. He has, as Mr. Layton pointed out, always opposed it as an unelected and undemocratic institution that can thwart the will of the House of Commons on a whim. This week, Mr. Harper used his new majority in the Senate to thwart the will of the House of Commons because his party opposed the legislation in question, and invited Mr. Layton to join the Tories in reforming this unelected Senate.
But Senate reform, it seems, is merely a merry-go-round of hypocrisy, and no major political party appears willing to get off it. That's a pity, because an unelected Senate can be abused, but it cannot be truly useful or convincing as a chamber of sober second thought.