The Liberal government’s climate-accountability law passed through clause-by-clause review at the House of Commons’ Environment committee on Wednesday and could soon be on its way to the Senate after the government hinted it might move to cut short the remaining debate.
Bill C-12, the Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, would set legally binding emissions targets as Canada seeks to produce net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. It would require the government of the day to have a credible plan, informed by an expert advisory body, to meet those targets. The bill also requires the environment commissioner to report on the government’s progress and provide recommendations on how to better achieve the required reductions. It’s modelled on similar laws in the U.K. and New Zealand.
After hearing expert witnesses’ opinions on the legislation, the House Environment committee undertook a lengthy clause-by-clause review of the bill, spending five meetings and more than 12 hours mulling over its specific details. For much of that time, Conservative MPs on the committee had been intently debating each proposed amendment, but that changed on Wednesday.
“We’re not going to move any more of our amendments because I believe this process is broken,” Conservative Environment critic Dan Albas said during the committee’s meeting yesterday. Albas’ office did not respond to a request for further comment.
As a result, the committee quickly moved through the remaining clauses and the bill will now be seen next in the House at the report stage. After the report stage, where MPs will either agree to or reject the amendments passed by the committee, third reading is required before a vote is held on whether or not to pass the bill to the Senate — where the legislation will be required to pass through the same process before becoming law.
The government has not yet said when the bill will begin its next steps.
There’s also currently a motion before the House that would extend its daily sitting hours until midnight, beginning this Friday and going until June 23, when the House is projected to take its summer recess.
The Senate has already begun a pre-study of the bill and the leader of the largest senators’ group indicated it would be open to extend the Senate’s sitting into the summer to ensure the bill is able to proceed through the proper processes before senators also takes their summer break.
“We are in favour of a thorough study of the bill, which is why we supported the pre-study that is underway…We look forward to a report from (the Senate Environment committee) that properly addresses the actual bill that comes out of the House of Commons,” Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, leader of the 41-member Independent Senators Group, said. “We are not part of the government and we do not determine its priorities. If the government wants the Senate to sit in order to deal with its bills, we will be here.”
Some senators indicated their support for the legislation at a meeting of the Senate Environment committee yesterday, which Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson appeared before to answer questions about the bill.
Sen. Paul Massicottee, chair of the committee, said he’d be open to sitting past when the Senate is supposed to break for the summer to consider the bill. The decision of whether or not that will happen ultimately belongs to Senate leadership.
Sen. Doug Black, who sits on the committee, said he supports the bill but is intent on spending enough time reviewing it to “get this right.”
“My view that we need to take the time required to get this right,” Black said. “We’re talking about setting the course for decades from now and we shouldn’t be rushed, yet again, into quickly passing an important bill without the proper review, just because the bill wasn’t prioritized earlier in the House.”
The Senate Environment committee has already added additional meetings on C-12 and should “continue to do so until we are satisfied that we can ensure the legislation will help us get to net zero in the most economically and environmentally viable way,” Black said.
Bill C-12 is one of the government’s main legislative priorities heading into the final stretch before Parliament rises for the summer, Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez said at a press conference Thursday morning. The others are the Budget Implementation Act, the conversion-therapy bill, and a bill that would modify the Broadcasting Act.
On Wednesday, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson sent an open letter to the NDP and Bloc Quebecois urging them to support C-12 by using whatever “parliamentary tools (are) available to ensure this bill advances to the Senate of Canada for consideration as soon as possible.”
In response to the letter, NDP MP Taylor Bachrach said his party will “do everything we can to ensure that this bill becomes law” but blamed the Liberals for poor legislative management.
“The fact that we’re talking about this at the 11th hour really falls squarely on the shoulders of the Liberals,” Bachrach said.
An NDP source confirmed that there have been conversations between House leaders “about needing to use parliamentary tools” to move the bill along, but did not explicitly say whether using time allocation to cut off debate at the report stage was one of the tools being discussed.
Time allocation was already used to get Bill C-12 from second reading to the committee stage, and was also used to cut off debate for C-10, the Broadcasting Act’s controversial update.