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Conservative motion demanding 'unelected' Senate pass carbon-pricing carve-out bill fails

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OTTAWA -

A Conservative motion demanding the "unelected Senate" immediately pass a bill exempting more farm fuels from carbon pricing has failed, with the Bloc Quebecois saying it could not support what it called a Tory intimidation campaign.

The motion Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre brought forward on Tuesday got NDP support, but it was defeated on Wednesday afternoon when the Bloc and Liberals voted against it.

It would not have been binding on the Senate but would have put some political pressure on senators, whom the Conservatives accuse of holding up the bill against the will of what the Tories stress are "elected" members of Parliament.

Bill C-234, introduced last year by Conservative MP Ben Lobb, passed the House of Commons in March with all but Liberal support. It would exempt the natural gas and propane that farmers use to heat buildings and dry grain from the carbon price for at least eight years.

Poilievre has made getting rid of carbon pricing his number 1 goal, and earlier this month, his party launched a full-scale campaign to get the bill passed.

It must pass a final vote in the Senate before it can become law. But if the bill is amended, it will need to be sent back to the House of Commons for approval.

The Tories have raised concerns that such amendments would allow the government to prevent the bill from ever reaching a final vote. And they have accused the government of conspiring with some senators to make that happen.

The government and the accused senators, who were appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the advice of an arm's-length advisory board and sit as independents, deny the accusation.

So far, the Senate has rejected several amendments to the bill.

Earlier this month, senators voted down a version of the bill that contained amendments introduced in committee.

They defeated one of the same changes to the bill after it was brought forward again earlier this week, during the final stage of debate. Another reintroduced amendment may not be voted on until next week.

Quebec Sen. Pierre Dalphond, who revived one of the committee amendments, said these are legitimate debates and the Conservatives need to let the Senate do its work.

"Independent senators are not rubber stamps," he said.

Dalphond noted that when the Senate rejected the committee's report, it was after Conservative Sen. David Wells said the amendments should be debated and discussed by the whole Senate instead. That's why they've come up again.

The final debates over the bill are unfolding after some heated moments in the upper chamber.

Two senators said they were inundated with harassing, hateful and intimidating phone calls in the wake of a post on social media by Conservative House leader Andrew Scheer, which included their photos and contact information.

Sen. Bernadette Clement said one of the calls was from an angry man who threatened to come to her house, prompting the police to advise her to leave her home temporarily for her own safety.

The Bloc referred back to Scheer's post when they explained why they voted down the Tory motion on Wednesday.

"What the member for Regina-Qu'Appelle did is unacceptable," Bloc MP Claude DeBellefeuille said during debate Tuesday, referring to Scheer.

"If the Conservatives think the Bloc Quebecois will play their game and support a motion that encourages the intimidation of two women, they are wrong. We have no intention of playing that role," she said.

"I understand the Conservatives are on a quest, that they feel like kings in waiting, but I will tell them quite frankly: if they think they will appeal to Quebecers with such tactics, they are wrong."

Poilievre dismissed concerns about the threats Tuesday, saying Canadians who can't afford to buy food or pay their rent are the ones facing real intimidation and threats.

He said senators need to pass the bill, because the House did.

On Wednesday, Ontario Conservative MP Adam Chambers said senators should "learn their place in a democracy."

"They should go back to doing what they're good at, which is being invisible," he said before the Conservative caucus meeting in Ottawa.

He also seemed to dismiss concerns from senators who said they felt threatened.

"It's time for them to get out of the way and pass a financial piece of legislation," he said. "There is no need for any of them to go into witness protection."

Chambers did not respond when asked what exactly he meant by witness protection.

Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to know what the outcome of the vote on Poilievre's motion would be.

"I agree that the Senate should always be informed by the will of the House, at the same time as they have important work to do," he said.

"Now, there will be a vote today that will express the will of the House on (Bill C-234), and I look forward to seeing the result of that vote."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2023.

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