If the opposition parties want to debate the Paris Agreement on climate change, they now have their chance.
Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna tabled the United Nations treaty in the House of Commons Friday.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed it in New York on April 22, he said the agreement would be tabled in Parliament and would be formally ratified later this year.
It pledges Canada will do its bit to limit global temperatures from rising by no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
By tabling the agreement in the House of Commons, the government is essentially giving opposition MPs the chance to go over it in detail and, if they want to, trigger a debate.
That means if opposition Conservatives or the NDP want to debate it now, they will have to use up one of their opposition days. But a spokesperson for the minister’s office said in an email to CBC News Friday, that the government intends to bring the agreement forward for a vote by the fall.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says the Liberals are taking a surprisingly a “passive approach,” squandering a chance to shape the debate and help Canadians understand what the Paris deal is all about from Canada’s point of view. Instead she says they’re leaving it up to the opposition to craft the wording of a motion to call for a debate in the House when the Liberals should be doing it themselves.
“There are pitfalls,” said May in an interview with CBC. “I wonder if they have thought it through.”
May thinks the opposition parties could very well use a debate on the agreement for political purposes, confusing an issue that is a key platform initiative for the Liberal government.
Treaty could fall prey to political games
“And worst case, an opportunity that will be seized by the opposition party to frame a motion in such a way that is not helpful…or worded in such a way that the Liberals find themselves unable to vote for it,” said May.
“Then we could have a real weirdness occur where the Canadian public thinks ‘wait, the Paris Agreement didn’t get supported in Parliament but we’re ratifying it anyway?'”
Bottom line though, is even if political games do occur in the next two months over the treaty, a possible debate in the House of Commons is essentially only window dressing, a political courtesy if you will.
The real approval – ratification – can be made by the federal cabinet.
“In Canada, approval of treaties is an executive act. Approvals for both signature and ratification are obtained by a submission to the governor in council,” said Caitlin Workman, a spokesperson for McKenna, in an email.
Trudeau has promised his government will formally ratify the agreement by the end of the year. It’s expected to happen once Trudeau and the premiers meet in October to craft a national climate strategy for how Canada will meet the promises it made in the Paris deal.