Yesterday, opposition politicians in the Canadian parliament wrested control of global climate change policy from the government. A backbencher's bill mandating that Canada fulfil its Kyoto Protocol commitments was passed in parliament by a wide margin - 161 to 113 - by the combined votes of the Liberal, Bloc Québecois (separatist), and New Democratic (socialist) parties in the face of "opposition" from the governing Conservative Party.
Over the past few years, both the Liberals (in power until 2005) and the Conservatives (in power since then) have avoided strong commitments and specific actions on Kyoto, perhaps hoping for a politically painless exit strategy as the Protocol collapses in the face of opposition from the United States. However, since the election of Stéphane Dion as the new leader of the Liberal Party in 2006
, the Liberals have styled themselves champions of the environment, a political issue they hope will sweep themselves back into power at the next election.
Nobody knows what will happen next. The bill that Parliament passed gives the Conservative government a mere 60 days to propose a detailed plan for achieving Canada's Kyoto Protocol commitments: reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by the year 2012. However, the Conservative government may simply ignore the mandate. If so, political crisis may ensue, possibly sparking a new election, or the courts may get involved. Meanwhile, Canada's greenhouse gas emissions have skyrocketed to more than 26% above the 1990 baseline
. The jury is still out on whether the latest burst of political hot air will help Canada meet its commitments.