Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Finding common ground

Last fall, when NDP leader Jack Layton first browbeat the Conservatives into striking an all-party committee to rewrite the Conservatives' crappy "Clean Air Act," criticism from the Liberals was swift, harsh, and frequent. Though all of the parties were taking part in the committee, deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff still dubbed it a "marriage of convenience" between the NDP and the Tories, and later accused the NDP of "propping up" the Tories through that committee's work. Never mind the fact that the NDP had voted against the government on every confidence motion--something the Liberals themselves couldn't claim--the NDP were willing to venture beyond their own partisan fiefdom, and were therefore evil, evil, evil. And the Liberals stalled and obstructed the committee's work every step of the way.

What a difference a couple of months can make.

Not only have the Liberals now finally come on board with their own amendments to the Clean Air Act; they're also now proving willing to unite with the NDP and the Bloc to try and push a joint set of amendments through. The David Suzuki foundation say they're "ecstatic," and I have to agree. If passed, these amendments would produce a multipartisan piece of legislation that includes Kyoto targets. And while the Conservative cancellation of a Tuesday meeting of the committee has led to some speculation that they might vote against their own bill and use it to trigger an election, others are suggesting that even they might be convinced to come along for the ride.

Now, while it's hard to deny that the Liberals are Dion-come-latelys on the Clean Air Act committee, I have to say that their new willingness to jump on the bandwagon has softened my skepticism about their commitment to the environment. This kind of cooperation is a political risk for any party in an antagonistic political culture like ours, but this is especially the case for the Liberals. If real progress on the environment happens under a Conservative minority, after all, it will be much harder for them to argue that the planet is doomed if they don't get back into power post haste. But those who insist that we don't have any time to lose aren't wrong, and the Liberals' willingness to take that risk indicates a real commitment to the issue that's above partisan politics. That's worthy of anyone's respect.

But as a New Democrat, I also have to say that I couldn't be prouder right now. When Ignatieff and the other Liberals were breathing down their necks for daring to even sit in the same room as the Conservatives, the NDP stuck to their guns. When it comes to an issue as crucial and as time-critical as climate change, they have proven to be the one party that can not only put aside blind partisanship, but convince the other parties to do the same. The ultimate result of all this is still up in the air, of course, but if the current parliament proves willing to pass this bill, this country could very well get some real emission reductions right away. How's that for "getting results for people"?

This is a real-world example for Canadians of how politics works in most of the democratic world, where laws nearly always get written through multiparty cooperation. Canada's a latecomer to that ballgame, but you know what they say--it's better late than never. And watching the way the parties are managing to turn lead into gold on this file, I can almost have faith that our toxic political culture could someday change.

[Update: My fellow oxymoron over at Accidental Deliberations rains on my parade by pointing out that the Liberals have introduced several last-minute amendments that are almost certain to slow down, if not outright stall, the committee's work. But I've managed to successfully resist the pull of cynicism so far today, so I'm going to chalk this up to poor planning instead of deliberate strategy. Here's hoping they don't prove me wrong by next week.]

[March 28th update: CanWest is now reporting that the opposition has, in fact, teamed up to force through major changes to the bill.]

7 comments:

janfromthebruce said...

IP, what a wonderful post. NDPers always have had to have tough skin to stick to their principles, whether it is attackes by the cons or libs.

Scott Tribe said...

The problem of course is that the Tories are rumoured to be contemplating letting the CAA Bill die by never bringing it back up for a formal vote - thus killing all amendments to it and the whole bill altogether.

They're rumoured to be contemplating to doing nothing more then to tack on some regulations or something to the current air regulations in place apparently; just enough so they can say its "tougher" then the 2005 Liberal Plan.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Scott,

Well, if that's what they end up doing, imagine how the electorate will hold it against them after a long, hot, scary summer?

Anonymous said...

Me again, but I'll be gone after this as I really don't have time for any webstuff. I just wanted to apologize if it seems I invaded your space with outside, vague statements on the May post. I really was just curious whether what I and a few friends feel is more widespread. Probably not. I've no doubt gone ballistic with Harper. The whole package: shift in foreign policy, divisivness on social issues like gays, US-style-tough-on-crime-stuff (I believe the US has the highest percapita incarceration rate and these types of laws in the US mean you have no choice but to build a prison rather than a school when budget is tight), his soft-on-terror, soft-on-crime, soft-on-porn, soft-on-Taliban, don't-support-the-troops garbage, who wants a central government anyway, just-fake-it-on-being-green, etc, etc, really gets to me. When Dion was first elected and used the "neocon" label (which admittedly carries certain baggage) I finally knew what some evangelical sites allude to feeling when Harper ends speeches with "God bless Canada". Dion had the code which told me he was as disgusted as I am. Not saying any of this is rational or good, just felt I should explain myself.
Anyway, sounds like the NDP did well for the environment. Best of luck with everything. And I mean that.

West End Bound said...

I can almost have faith that our toxic political culture could someday change.

Let's hope "someday" comes sooner than later for everyone's sake . . . .

Great post, IP.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

anon,

I didn't feel invaded--I try to run a blog here that invites polite disagreement, and you certainly offered that. Feel free to come back anytime, though I'd recommend clicking the "other" button when you comment instead of "anonymous" and giving yourself a handle to make it easier to refer to you! All the best to you as well.

west end bound,

Sigh. Yeah, there's the rub, eh? There are certainly days when I feel like I jumped from the fire into the frying pan, but luckily, today isn't one of them.

Candace said...

If the Liberals have turned it into a money bill, it's a confidence vote. Harper said HE wouldn't turn it into a confidence vote, but if the Liberals attached dollars to it, that goes out the window.

What, are they suicidal?

What part of:
"Budget 2007 includes new investments for 20 programs that total $4.5 billion. These include:

o $1.5 billion in new funding for the Canada ecoTrust for Clean Air and Climate Change

o $300 million to implement the Chemicals Management Plan

o $2 billion to support renewable fuel production

o $439 million to preserve Canada’s natural heritage and ecologically sensitive lands

o $110 million to strengthen the implementation of the Species At Risk Act

o $93 million for a new National Water Strategy

o A 50% increase in the number of environmental enforcement officers hired

o Rebates of up to $2,000 on fuel-efficient vehicles (and taxes of up to $4,000 on gas guzzling vehicles)"

constitutes "no plan, no money"?

The Liberal Party needs to wrap its head around the concept that they are no longer governing the country. And based on polls, if they are stupid enough to attach money to this bill, they won't be any time soon.