Nova Scotia

Fall sitting at Province House wraps with passage of environment bill

MLAs concluded the fall sitting at Province House by passing emissions reduction targets that are the stiffest in the country, although critics argue those targets don't go far enough. The sitting also included another fight between the government and a labour group.

Opposition members criticize government's unwillingness to consider and adopt amendments

The fall sitting at Province House included another fight between the government and a labour group. (Robert Short/CBC)

MLAs concluded the fall sitting at Province House by passing emissions reduction targets that are the stiffest in the country, although critics argue those targets don't go far enough.

Bill 213 requires Nova Scotia to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 53 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and for Nova Scotia to reach a net-zero carbon footprint by 2050.

Although dozens of members of the public who presented at a legislative committee and members of the opposition have called for those targets to be strengthened — reaching net zero by 2030 and reducing emissions by 58 per cent — the government did not amend the bill.

Premier Stephen McNeil said the targets will put the province at the front of the pack in Canada when it comes to fighting climate change, while also working to strengthen the economy.

"Leading our country and at the same time growing our economy is a positive thing," he told reporters at Province House.

"We have had a leading position and we'll continue to have that."

As debate closed on the bill, Environment Minister Gordon Wilson pledged substantive public consultation.

"I have open ears and I've been listening and I'll continue to listen."

A problem with the process

Meghan McMorris of the Ecology Action Centre welcomed the bill, although she said she and others would continue to push for stiffer targets.

"We're disappointed it wasn't amended, but this act is a good act," she said.

"It's a good foundation and it's much better than having nothing legislated and having [the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act] expire at the end of December and then having nothing in place."

McMorris said she hopes the act is reviewed in sooner than five years, as the bill requires, to make any necessary adjustments.

Opposition members took particular issue with the fact that most of the goals that were included in a previous version of the legislation are being moved to regulations, which have yet to be developed.

Tory Leader Tim Houston said the government's plan to do public consultation after the bill passes is emblematic of the general problem with the way the government brings much of its legislation through the House.

Crown attorneys are shown on strike on Oct. 23, 2019. (Dave Irish/CBC)

"The consultations should always start and be done and be respected before legislation gets to the floor of the House," he told reporters.

Houston didn't say whether he thinks the environmental targets should be higher, although his caucus did support a New Democrat amendment that would have increased them. Government MLAs defeated that amendment.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the government's legislation is missing out on the "tremendous opportunity" to grow and transform the economy by using a greener approach aimed at increasing sustainability.

"This is the economic opportunity of a generation," he said.

More fights with labour

Burrill said the only thing that matters when it comes to addressing climate change is whether the bill represents the province's fair share in the global effort to keep warming below 1.5 degrees. It's not about whether the new targets are the best in the country or better than what the province had before, he said.

"It is the consensus of expert opinion that it does not and that's why the government's initiative is a failure," he said.

As has become customary with the McNeil government's time in office, the sitting was punctuated by a fight with a labour group.

The Liberals passed, but did not proclaim Bill 203, which would strip Crown attorneys of their contractual right to arbitration. The government hit pause on proclamation after a last-minute agreement by the two sides to return to the bargaining table, ending a three-day strike by prosecutors. Debate on the bill led to some of the tensest times in recent memory at Province House.

Protected districts returned

Other legislation passed this sitting included updates to the province's electoral boundaries, which bring back protected districts to encourage Acadian and African-Nova Scotia representation and banning single-use plastic bags.

The government also passed a bill that requires MLAs to resign from office sooner if they seek office at a different level of government and a bill that creates automatic death review committees anytime a young person dies in the care of the province or when there is a domestic violence homicide.

Wednesday's debate at Province House also saw multiple members of the opposition call out the government for its unwillingness to consider what they saw as even the most reasoned and well-researched amendments. Several Tory and New Democrat MLAs called on the government to be more collaborative and engage with them more before legislation is introduced in the House.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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