Senate Scandal Burns Political Oxygen

Canadian Senate
John Rafferty MP
John Rafferty MP

OTTAWA – Politics – The Senate Scandal in Ottawa has taken on a life of its own and is using up much of the political “oxygen” in Ottawa.  While we must keep an eye on the gross behaviour of some Senators and members of Prime Minister Harper’s office, we must also keep a close eye on the work of parliament as well.   This week I would like to tell you about a strange vote that occurred in March that is sure to be of interest to more than a few people in our riding.

Senate Scandal Burning Ottawa Oxygen

On March 19 New Democrat Environment Critic Megan Leslie (Halifax) put forward a motion calling on the Government of Canada to table a credible plan to deal with climate change.  The NDP has been calling for such a plan for a long time and not just in the interests of a healthy environment, but also for the benefit of our energy industry which consistently faces an uphill battle to export and sell what many foreign governments call our “dirty” oil from the oil sands of Alberta.  A credible national plan to deal with climate change would demonstrate that Canada and our energy industry are committed to preventing some the more disastrous consequences of human activity.  

The wording of Ms. Leslie’s motion was quite straight forward:

[THAT] “This House: (a) agree with many Canadians and the International Energy Agency that there is grave concern with the impacts of a 2 degree rise in global average temperatures; (b) condemn the lack of effective action by successive federal governments since 1998 to address emissions and meet our Kyoto commitments; and (c) call on the government to immediately table its federal climate change adaptation plan.”

Despite the obvious need for a credible and transparent climate change plan, our motion was voted down.  We expected the Conservatives to side against the idea of creating a credible plan, but surprisingly Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and the Green Party’s Elizabeth May also cast votes against our motion, which was a bit of a shocker to say the least.

The Green Party’s vote against this motion in particular has been met with confusion and concern, but especially considering the party’s reputation has been based predominately around their support for environmental action.  It’s difficult for me to see what Ms. May found so disagreeable in this motion.  The first section of the motion, acknowledges that there is a problem. Check.  The second point acknowledges that the current and previous governments have failed to adequately address the problem.  Check.  The third section calls on the current government to table a plan.  Check.  So what does Ms. May find so disagreeable exactly?

The simple fact is that the global average temperature is rising and something must be done about it by governments.  Changing seasonal and weather patterns, an increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters in populated areas, and even the disappearance of island countries like Surinam are all likely to occur with a rise in the global temperature of just two degrees Celsius.  Such events will clearly disrupt economic activity while causing tremendous human suffering in at risk communities around the world.  We know that this sort of issue is not of concern to Mr. Harper and his Conservatives because it never has been, but I was quite surprised as a New Democrat to see that our motion did not receive the support of the two other “progressive” parties on the opposition side of the House.

For my part, I do not view the environment as a political issue as it is something that we are all concerned about to some degree or another.  From my discussions with Members from all parties I have found that there is a general consensus that climate change is occurring, that humans have exacerbated this change through our own actions and behaviour, and that something needs to be done urgently to limit any potential social and economic catastrophes that may result.  As such, I have no idea why it was so hard for Mr. Trudeau and Ms. May to support this seemingly straightforward and common sense motion, but I do think their supporters deserve an explanation.

John Rafferty MP

Thunder Bay Rainy River

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John Rafferty is the current Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay – Rainy River and a member of the New Democratic Party caucus in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Ontario. John was first elected to serve as MP in the 2008 federal election and was subsequently re-elected on May 2, 2011 with 48.1% of the vote.