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Polling emboldens environmental groups to pressure Tories 

[PoliticsWatch updated 2:15 p.m. January 9, 2007]

OTTAWA  —  Emboldened by polling showing the environment is now the top issue for Canadian voters, a coalition of environment groups held a press conference on Parliament Hill Tuesday to make demands on the Conservative minority government.  

Climate Action Network Canada, which represents 40 groups including Greenpeace and the Sierra Club of Canada, issued a seven-point strategy for the government to tackle climate change. 

"The prime minister has acknowledged that Canadians expect more from their government on the environment and he's absolutely right," said John Bennett, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada.

"Canadians know that we're facing a climate crisis and they want to see real action and they want to see a recommitment to the Kyoto targets." 

During the press conference the environmental groups repeatedly referred to this moment in Canadian politics as "historic."

For the first time in the country's history, the federal government made a major Cabinet shuffle largely centred around the environment. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has enlisted the skills of one of his most trusted and effective cabinet ministers, John Baird, to handle the Tory government's environmental policy. 

This came after the Tories spent most of their first year in power dismantling Liberal programs aimed at reducing greenhouse gases and introducing a climate change plan without any short-term targets.  

But the environment has suddenly catapulted to the top of a list of issues for Canadians ahead of health care, which is usually No. 1.  

A Decima Research poll for the Canadian Press released last week showed 19 per cent of respondents said the environment was the issue that concerned them most personally, followed by health care at 13 per cent.

The issue has jumped to the top in part due to mild winter weather in central Canada and the wild weather on Canada's west coast.  

"We have serious public pressure and we've had that missing for a very, very long time," said Louise Comeau of the Sage Centre.

"The historic moment we're at .. where we can look to see real potential change on climate change has been brought about by the Canadian public," said Clare Demerse, an analyst with the Pembina Institute.

"We feel that the Canadian government up to now has a deficit of credibility, but they are looking and speaking about changing that and we feel that is because of the concern Canadian public has shown in polls and in this time of strange weather."

The environmental groups' seven-point plan recommends: 

> Implement a climate change plan that re-commits meeting all of Canada's obligations under Kyoto.
> Introduce absolute emission targets for big industry that take effect in 2008
> Introduce automotive emission standards at least as stringent as California's
> Announce national objectives for low-impact renewable energy
> Restore the EnerGuide for Houses program
> Increase climate change research
> Invest in programs to educate Canadians about climate change

The recommendations will be presented to Baird later on Tuesday when he meets with representatives from 10 environmental groups in B.C. The meeting was arranged by Baird's office on Sunday evening. 

Of the seven recommendations, the biggest stumbling block appears to be Canada meeting its Kyoto targets.  

In a television interview over the weekend, the prime minister said Canada will be 50 per cent over its Kyoto targets come 2012 and suggested 
there's not much that will change that. 

"We can't tell the Canadian population to heat their home one-third less of the time ... so we've got a major challenge, and we are going to get on with it," Harper told CTV. 

At a press conference Tuesday, Liberal MP John Godfrey criticized the prime minister's comments on the weekend regarding the targets. 

"Now the prime minister says that Canada's emissions will be 50 per cent above the Kyoto target by 2012," Godfrey said. "This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you cancel existing programs and do not replace them, if you deny yourself the full range of domestic and international measures available then of course Canada will fail to meet its targets.

"By definition, targets are unattainable if you don't try to attain them."

Comeau also rejected the prime minister's comments and said Canada could meet its targets if it takes advantage of "all the flexibility" in the Kyoto protocol. 

She said this would include Canada purchasing international emission credits from other countries, something both Harper and former environment minister Rona Ambrose have said the Canadian government would not do.  

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