Flipped votes, new additions, and no-shows — how the Senate rejected, then approved the fateful amendment that crashed Bill C-234

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If getting a bill through Parliament can be compared to a car race, you could say Bill C-234 was on the final lap in the Senate and within sight of the checkered flag before getting sideswiped by an amendment that leaves it with missing parts, nowhere close to the finish line, and without a clear path to even get back onto the track.

Many farmers and farm groups were disappointed to see the Senate approve a previously-defeated amendment to the bill that would have removed the federal carbon tax from natural gas and propane used on farms on Tuesday.

While amendments at Third Reading in the Senate are rare, Senator Pierre Dalphond’s re-introduction of an amendment that had been rejected just three weeks earlier at the last stage in the Parliamentary approval process and at the House of Commons’ committee level before that was seen as unprecedented.

It may have broken with normal procedure, but for critics of the bill, including Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, the unprecedented move in the Senate was a success, as the amendment passed by a 40-39 margin on Tuesday, removing any proposed carbon tax exemption for barns and farm buildings.

More significant than the details of Dalphond’s amendment is the fact the vote sends the bill back to the House of Commons where it can be delayed indefinitely rather than sent to the Governor General for Royal Assent, much to the disappointment of thousands of farmers who dry grain and heat barns.

So what changed from November 7th, when senators rejected the amendment by a 42 to 28 margin, to December 5th, when they voted in favour, with 40 yeas and 39 nays?

We compared senators’ voting records between the two votes, and here’s how it breaks down:

 

  • A total of three senators flipped sides in the same direction, voting against the amendment on Nov. 7 and in favour of it on Dec. 5. They were Sen. Boehm of Ontario, Sen. MacAdam of Prince Edward Island, and Sen. White of Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • Four new senators appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were sworn in between the two votes on Nov. 21. Three of the four — Sen. Aucoin of Nova Scotia, Sen. McNair of New Brunswick, and Sen. Kingston of New Brunswick — voted in favour of Dalphond’s amendment. The other new senator — Sen. Ross, also of New Brunswick — voted against the amendment on Dec. 5.
  • All three senators who for whatever reason abstained from voting the first time around voted in favour of the amendment this week. This trio consisted of Sen. Kutcher of Nova Scotia, Sen. Miville-Dechêne of Quebec, and Sen. Simons of Alberta.
  • Attendance is far from perfect in the Senate, which makes it difficult to predict outcomes. It’s often all about who shows up to vote.
    • There were five senators who voted against the amendment on Nov. 7 who did not show up to vote this week, including C-234 proponent and Senate ag committee chair, Sen. Black from Ontario, who was in Dubai at COP28.
    • In contrast, only two senators who voted in favour of the amendment did not show up to vote this week.
  • Perhaps the biggest surprise, given the Conservatives’ strong public stance in favour of C-234 — three of the 15 senators who are listed as members of the Conservative caucus were not present to vote on Tuesday. Sen. Boisvenu of Quebec, Sen. MacDonald of Nova Scotia, and Sen. Manning of Newfoundland and Labrador’s votes were missing from the tally.

As you can tell, there are many moving parts in the Senate. For those wanting to see C-234 become law, there were several places where the votes that would have led to a different outcome were lost or not counted.

Beneath the surface, math aside, there were certainly political forces at work, influencing so-called “independent” senators, and leading to the disappointing outcome for farm groups this week. While C-234 was in the works long before they announced the carbon tax exemption for heating oil this fall, both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault declared that there would be no more carve-outs from the carbon tax. While maintaining there are no longer any “Liberal” senators, Guilbeault admitted calling multiple senators about the bill.

Looking back, the majority of elected MPs voted in favour of this bill in the House of Commons. Over the last few weeks, thousands of farmers sent emails to senators calling on them to pass the bill unamended. Some even attended rallies in Ottawa and other cities across the country. More than half of Canada’s premiers also called for passage of C-234.

However, as the results were counted on Tuesday, all of this wasn’t enough to gain the critical Senate votes and counter the political capital that was invested in preventing the bill from getting across the finish line.

Related:

Farm groups disappointed with Senate amendment derailing C-234

Bill C-234 on life support after Senate approves amendment in 40-39 vote

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