Duelling clean-air acts

Peace TowerThe stakes have gone up again in Parliament’s consideration of legislation on greenhouse gases and smog. The toothless Clean Air Act the Tories introduced last fall is emerging from the House of Commons environment committee on Friday:

The opposition introduced more than 50 amendments to the bill, while the Conservatives did not introduce a single amendment.”It’s now in the hands of the prime minister to decide whether he is going to abide by the will of the committee and, ultimately, the will of Parliament,” Liberal MP David McGuinty told CBC News Wednesday.

“What we have done is put Humpty Dumpty back together again in a way that perhaps the prime minister might not like it.”

The government could either accept the changes in the bill as proposed by the committee or use them to trigger an election call, according to the Canadian Press.

McGuinty said the bill now includes much of the clean air plan proposed by Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion.

It went in there in the first place to appease the NDP and head off an inconvenient confidence vote.

The National had Conservative MP Mark Warawa complaining about the loads of new taxes he said would have to be imposed, and a clip of Environment Minister John Baird saying he was extremely unhappy about the the changes.

I haven’t seen them — the committee worked into the evening and hasn’t officially presented its marked-up bill yet — but it does seem that Baird’s in a tough spot. If the environment committee has indeed modified the bill to reflect the Liberal party’s air-pollution plan (and the Liberals are boasting that it does), Baird’s already on record saying the Liberals’ proposals would be weak and ineffective.

The Liberals’ plan has tough short-term deadlines, but relies heavily on market mechanisms to achieve its goals, and it’s minus virtually all of the interventionist nonsense Dion talked about during the Liberal leadership campaign, such as having the federal government invest in and profit off the same emissions-trading system it’s supposed to regulate. It’s more or less what I’d have thought a serious Conservative plan might look like.

So where are the Tories on this? Baird left open the possibility of treating the committee’s mutated version of the Clean Air Act as a confidence measure. So once again, the expectations of the as-yet-hidden Conservative climate-change plan rise.

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