UXBRIDGE - The Canadian public is completely at odds with its own government on climate change, a new survey revealed Friday.
A large majority of Canadians want urgent action on climate, including redirecting military expenditures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In sharp contrast, the Stephen Harper-led Conservative minority government used parliamentary trickery to kill pending legislation to reduce emissions that had already been passed by the majority of Canada's elected representatives.
"This is a real low point in Canadian democracy," said Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist at the University of Victoria.
"It's an abuse of democracy like we've never seen before in this country," Weaver told IPS.
Canada has a multi-party parliamentary system. In May, a majority of Canada's elected members of parliament (MPs) passed Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act, committing the country to a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. The only reason Bill C-311 passed is that the anti-climate-action Harper government has just one-third of the votes.
After Bill C-311 was passed, unelected senators in the Canadian Senate were supposed to review and debate its merits and then pass the bill into law as per usual. The Senate's role is to give pending legislation a second look, offer suggested changes, but not overturn what elected MPs have already voted for.
Instead, Conservative senators successfully engineered a snap vote Tuesday night to kill the bill without notice and without debate when many other senators were not present.
"Whether you supported the bill or not, they prevented any discussion, any debate about it. There should be an election over this," said an outraged Weaver.
Weaver also pointed out that global temperature measurements taken through the end of October show this year has been the warmest ever recorded. The latest climate science continues to show climate change is happening faster and with more impacts than previously projected.
Prime Minister Harper said Bill C-311 "sets irresponsible targets... throwing hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of people out of work".
Weaver scoffed at Harper's exaggerated claim of millions of jobs at risk. "Does he think Canadians are morons?"
As for emissions reduction targets, scientists say a 25- percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2020 is not nearly enough to stabilise global temperatures at two degrees C above what they have been for tens of thousands of years. Canada's reductions should be at least 45 percent by 2020 and reach zero by 2050, based on the latest science.
According to Weaver, the message the Harper government is sending to the upcoming United Nations climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico starting at the end of the month is that "Canada is a dinosaur...with a government controlled by the oil patch and the tar sands industry."
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In contrast to the actions of its government, the Canadian public agrees industrialised countries like Canada have an international obligation to significantly reduce their emissions, according to the poll released Friday. Conducted by leading polling agency Environics Research Inc., it found that some 85 percent of Canadians surveyed agreed that "Industrialised countries ... should be the most responsible for reducing current emissions."
"Canadians agree that rich countries must bear most of the responsibility for reducing emissions," says Andrea Harden- Donahue of Council of Canadians, a large Canadian NGO and one of the co-sponsors of the poll.
"If Canadians were deciding our climate policy we would be following a very different path," Harden-Donahue told IPS.
The vast majority (87 percent) of Canadians polled agreed that climate change results from too much focus on economic growth and consumerism. And they also overwhelmingly agreed with the statement that: "We need to have an economy that is in harmony with nature, which recognises and respects the planet."
The poll questions are based on those agreed to by participants at the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia earlier this year. The Canadian poll is one of several polls that are part of a Global Referendum on Climate Change that will document the views of the people of world. The final results will be presented at the U.N. climate conference in Cancun and present some context for what happens at the official negotiations.
The poll also found that over 70 percent of Canadians support redirecting military spending toward efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the idea of a World Climate and Justice Tribunal to judge and penalise countries and corporations whose actions have contributed climate change.
Over 80 percent of Canadians believe the Canadian government should invest in "green jobs" and transition programmes for workers and communities negatively affected by a shift away from fossil fuels.
"There is a real disconnect between the government and the public in Canada on climate change," said Harden-Donahue. That disconnect raises important questions about the state of democracy in Canada. And the killing of Bill C-3111 raises even more questions, she says.
Canadian media are complicit in their failure to cover events like the World's People's Conference and to consistently report on how climate change will impact Canadians and developing countries, she said.
Canada was widely criticised at the last climate meeting in Copenhagen for ignoring its international commitments to reduce emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, for refusing to agree to any mandatory emissions cuts and for defending the enormous emissions of greenhouse gases from Alberta tar sands.
"Canada's international reputation is tarnished because of the Harper government's failure to act on climate change," said Harden-Donahue.
Through manipulation of the media and pandering to the uninformed, the Harper government pretends to be taking action on climate while doing the opposite, said Weaver. "This government acts as if climate change is a big game."