Senate made 'terrible mistake' blocking bills: PM
The Liberal-dominated Senate has passed the Conservatives' controversial budget, as well as a bill that legally obligates the government to meet Kyoto emissions reduction targets.
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the unelected senators are ignoring the will of the Canadian people by blocking the passage of a number of key crime bills and a Senate reform bill.
The blocked bills would have:
- Raised the age of consent from 14 to 16;
- Set mandatory prison sentences for gun crimes;
- and limit bail for those who commit gun crimes.
These reforms, Harper said, are backed by police, prosecutors, big city mayors, the NDP and Ontario Liberals "but not the Liberal majority in the Senate."
Another bill held up by the Senate would have limited the terms of senators from up to 45 years down to a maximum of eight, Harper said.
"They have not merely defied the government, they are defying elected members of parliament, public opinion and all common sense," Harper said Friday afternoon, speaking to reporters.
Harper, who has made senate reform a major priority since he was elected, said the Liberal-dominated senate has made a "terrible error."
"I believe Senate reform will happen one way or another and I believe they've made a tragic mistake that will exclude them from the process," he warned.
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion defended the move, saying the Senate did its duty by blocking the bill. He said Harper has not taken the necessary time to consult with the provinces on the issue before simply limiting senators' terms.
Only Liberal senators from Atlantic Canada and Saskatchewan voted against the budget bill, with a final tally of 45 in favour and 21 against, with six senators abstaining.
Many from Atlantic Canada and Saskatchewan have opposed the budget, saying it breaks Prime Minister Stephen Harper's promise to exclude non-renewable natural resources from the formula used to calculate equalization payments.
Senator Ethel Cochrane, a Conservative from Newfoundland, was one of those who abstained.
Nova Scotia MP Bill Casey was kicked out of the Conservative caucus recently after he voted against the budget in the Commons.
The budget was opposed by Liberal Leader Stephane Dion in the House of Commons but it passed with the support of the Bloc Quebecois.
The budget and Kyoto documents were among a host of bills expected to be passed by the Liberal-dominated Senate and receive royal assent in a ceremony Friday, as the result of backroom negotiations between the minority Conservatives and Opposition Liberals to push the legislation through before the summer break.
With the passage of the Kyoto bill the Conservatives are now legally obligated to implement the Kyoto Protocol on climate change as of noon Friday -- a task the federal government steadfastly claims is impossible.
The Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act was originally introduced by Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez. Its provisions:
The government has two months to come up with a blueprint for how it will meet its commitments under Kyoto;
Within 180 days, the government must bring in regulations to "ensure that Canada fully meets its obligations" under the protocol.
Kyoto requires Canada to achieve a six per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2012 -- an objective Environment Minister John Baird argues would cripple the economy.
But interpretations of Rodriguez' bill vary widely. House Speaker Peter Milliken ruled the legislation doesn't require the government to spend money, though the bill states the required plan must include "spending or fiscal measures or incentives."
Baird used Milliken's decision to back up his argument that the bill is basically meaningless.
Government House leader Peter Van Loan also played down the significance of the bill.
He said the proposed legislation could only be considered by Parliament because Rodriguez said "it wouldn't involve the spending of a single penny."
But he said the government can't be expected to meet the Kyoto targets without spending any money.
"Perhaps you do it through massive tax increases ... I know we certainly don't want to go in that direction," Baird was cited by The Canadian Press as saying.
"I have yet to see anybody put a demonstrable plan on the table that could achieve what the Liberals are seeking to achieve with that bill," he said.
The Conservatives have maintained that emissions rose by 35 per cent during the Liberals' 13 years in office, putting them in a position where the Kyoto targets are now well out of reach.
But Liberals say the Kyoto targets are still achievable if the government is willing. And with the passage of Rodriguez' bill, they will simply have to take action.
"I think scientifically there are no barriers for the implementation," Liberal Senate Leader Celine Hervieux-Payette told CP.
"They will comply. It's a bill, it's an order from Parliament. They may not respect the accord but I hope they will respect the bill."
However, anonymous government officials quoted by The Globe and Mail said the government will simply publish a report, following the time frame set out by the bill, which compiles all the previously announced environmental initiatives.
With files from The Canadian Press