Sunday, November 19, 2006

On healthier legislation

Jack Layton has unveiled the NDP's plan to turn the Cons' Clean Air Act into legislation which actually improves air quality and fights climate change. Which will allow us to find out just where the other parties stand when it comes to real action on the environment:
The NDP-proposed amendments include the following:
- To rename the act the Healthy Air and Climate Act, indicating that Kyoto Protocol targets, which were absent from the original bill, would become a key priority of the revised act;
- To set targets that Canada must meet, such as the Kyoto Protocol 2008 to 2012 targets, an (sic) 80 per cent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels, by 2050;
- To set interim targets at five year intervals between 2015 and 2050;
- To give new authority to the environment minister that would allow him or her to designate significant areas under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act;
- And a "just-transition fund" to help the automobile (industry) move from voluntary to mandatory targets...

"Industries need to know that if they pollute a lot they're going to pay, but if they clean up their act and bring in more energy efficiency and renewable energy, and then there will be financial help. And that's what the carbon trading system is all about and we want to legislate that so that we get going and follow the path that's been set out by Europe where they're meeting their targets and in some cases exceeding them," he said.

"It's time to get Canada on track on this whole question of cleaner air and climate change and that's what our amendments propose to do while helping industry to make that transition."

Layton said he hopes the Conservatives will closely consider the amendments the NDP has put forward, and said Canadians want action, and "they're going to call on all members of parliament from all parties to get moving."
The article speculates as to whether or not the Cons will back the amendments as a trade-off for getting legislation passed. But that seems to be about the least likely possible scenario: it would force the Cons to admit their own failures as a government and implicitly accept Layton's criticisms of the existing legislation as "not honest", which doesn't seem a likely reaction from a party so obsessed with appearances. Instead, the Cons will presumably only vote for the amendments and/or the amended bill if all other parties are onside, such that they could otherwise face the danger of being the only party opposed to their own putative legislation (and the resulting environmental benefits).

The more obvious question for the moment is that of how the other two opposition parties will handle the proposed amendments. From the Bloc's standpoint, it seems like a slam dunk to support the amendments: they would help bolster the party's self-image as one in favour of environmental progress, and would provide a strong wedge issue if the Libs and/or Cons fail to do the same. And it doesn't look like anything in the amendments would interfere in provincial affairs, meaning the Bloc's usual excuse when it rejects progressive stances won't come into play.

And then there's the Libs, whose decision looks to be the most interesting of all. There would certainly be some costs in supporting the amendment: it would serve as a tacit acknowledgement that the Libs didn't do all they could and should have while in government, and would likely constrain the actions of any future Lib government (which the party already appears to be planning for).

But then, the costs of opposing the amendments appear to be far higher. Instead of having to level the bulk of its criticism at a previous government which is receding from the public's memory, the NDP (and Bloc as well) would be able to slam the current Lib caucus as having taken a concrete stand against environmental action. Meanwhile, there wouldn't likely be any concurrent benefit to the Libs on their right flank, since the Cons would almost certainly feel free to oppose the amendments as well.

Naturally, the best result (both for the NDP and from a policy standpoint) would be all-party agreement that the NDP's amendments be adopted, or at least form the basis for a consensus plan for healthier air. Whatever the outcome, though, the NDP's planned amendments can only ensure that both the environment as an issue and the NDP as a party receive their due attention in the campaign-within-a-minority-Parliament set to begin in earnest next weekend.

Update: More details about the plan from the NDP's website.

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