On November 19, 2020 the Liberal government proposed the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act (Bill C-12) in response to the growing fears surrounding climate change. This federal legislation aims to mitigate the climate crisis through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions over the course of the next three decades. More specifically, Canada must reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. Although Bill C-12 seems to be a step in a positive direction, the drafted legislation has raised controversy in Parliament. Party leaders struggle to agree on a feasible solution to Canada’s dangerously high greenhouse gas emissions rate. Among the adversaries is the leader of the national Green Party: Annamie Paul. 

The Greens Versus Bill C-12:

Annamie Paul argues that Bill C-12 is another Canadian environmental bill that is bound to join its failed predecessors. The leader of the national Green party attributes Canada’s inability to reach net zero emissions by 2050 to various shortcomings within the drafted version of the bill. Primarily, the bill fails to include emission reduction targets prior to the year 2030. The Greens hold that a lack of specific emission reduction goals prior to 2030 is detrimental to the long term, liberal goal.

However, the main cause for concern has been the bill’s failure to include proper measure’s of accountability. The Environmental Commissioner will be primarily responsible for drafting the implications of the bill. However Paul has stressed that Trudeau’s perception of accountability, is simply not adequate.

Primarily, the progress of Bill C-12 is to be overlooked by a government appointed advisory committee. Therefore, there is no independent body that is required to evaluate the attainment or shortcoming of reduction targets. Moreover, the Environmental Commissioner must report on the progress of the bill only once every five years. This is a stark contrast to The U.K. Climate Change Act, 2008 – this legislation requires a comprehensive, annual progress report that is drafted by an independent committee. The U.K. government is responsible for adhering to the report and making the necessary changes to reach climate targets. However according to Bill C-12, there is no legal requirement for the government to respond to the Commissioners report.

According to Annamie Paul, the lack of accountability within the bill attests to Canada’s failure to reach any proposed climate target in the past. In a recent tweet she stated:

“Insufficient targets and timelines are one reason Greens cannot support Bill C-12, but there are other deficiencies.”

Paul has also expressed frustration about the exclusion of knowledgable actors in the drafting of Bill C-12. At a recent news conference, she said “there have been no Indigenous witnesses, no climate scientists and no young climate advocates who have had the opportunity to testify,”. Paul believes that the lack of public participation in this crucial area of legislation attests to the government’s unwillingness to engage in initiatives that will lead to substantive environmental change. 

Interestingly, the preamble of Bill C-12 stipulates that expert advice will be needed in order to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. Therefore some of Paul’s criticisms appear unfounded and might be better suited for finalized legislation with specific drawbacks.

The Dissenting Minority

The Conservatives also voted against Bill C-12 on the grounds that its ambitious target potentially risks harming the oil and gas sector. Earlier this year, Conservative leader, Erin O’Toole, pitched the ‘Personal Low Carbon Savings Account’. This program aimed to tax Canadians each time they purchased hydrocarbon based fuel: the most common energy source in the world. Rather than the government collecting a portion of the carbon tax, the money would be returned to Canadians through their personal carbon savings account. Therefore, this drafted policy created no meaningful incentive for Canadians to yield investments in non-renewable energy sources.

There is an element of irony in the Conservative and Green Party’s disapproval of Bill C-12. It could be considered controversial that Annamie Paul has publicly sided with a party that has failed to suggest substantive measures to mitigate climate change, yet she disapproved of the Liberal government for attempting to do so.

Bill C-12 will likely to be subjected to various amendments, as it must be passed through the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. An environmental law charity, Ecojustice, defends the pending bill in that all parties must work together to strengthen the existing measure’s. Through cooperation and commitment in Parliament, this bill stands a chance for unprecedented Canadian, environmental change.

As greenhouse gas emissions surge and the effects of climate change worsen, Bill C-12 bears one of the few hopes that a sustainable future is on the way.


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