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Harper: Kyoto critic or "climate change denier" 

[PoliticsWatch updated 5:30 p.m., January 30, 2007]

Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

OTTAWA  — Earlier this month, a U.S. Weather Channel host created a bit of controversy when she wrote on her blog that the American Meteorological Society should strip certification of TV weather men and women who question the science of climate change.  

"If a meteorologist can't speak to the fundamental science of climate change, then maybe the AMS shouldn't give them a Seal of Approval,” Heidi Cullen wrote on her blog at the Weather Channel's Web site.

Right wing blogs and Web sites in the U.S. quickly accused Cullen and the Weather Channel of launching a McCarthy-like witch hunt against meteorologists who prefer to espouse cyclical weather patterns.

A similar situation is now occurring in Ottawa as Parliament begins the second day of what has become the Green Parliament. 

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion and his party now seem intent on decertifying Prime Minister Stephen Harper from his job on similar grounds. 

Dion has clashed with Harper a total of six times in the House of Commons over the last two days. And in most of those exchanges he has taken to calling Harper a "climate change denier." 

Harper and the PMO both deny Dion's allegation.  

"On the contrary," the PM said in response to Dion on Monday. "It is not sufficient to simply believe in something. One has to actually do something about it to prove that one is serious."

Nonetheless, Dion and the Liberals are now trying to personalize what at the moment is the issue of most concern for Canadians, according to polling. 

The strategy comes in the immediate aftermath of the Tories unveiling attack ads which openly question Dion's past efforts on the environment and his leadership ability. 

Dion's use of the "climate change denier" label in the House and countless times in scrums with reporters appears to be part of a orchestrated campaign by the Liberals. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the Liberals sent out a series of quotes Harper has made on climate change over the past three years. 

The quotes suggest that as recently as three years ago, Harper was a climate change skeptic. 

"I think these are subjects where we know a lot less than some claim we know," Harper told the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in May 2004. "Climate is always changing. My suspicion is that human activities have some impact upon that but I think the jury is out on a lot of the actual specific trends."

But the Liberals are attempting to take great liberties suggesting that as recently as last month the PM was in climate change denial.  
 
The Liberals point to comments Harper made at a year-end press conference on Parliament Hill in December when he said the opposition parties focus only on "so-called greenhouse gases."  

However, the Liberals ignore comments Harper made just days before that in an interview with the National Post when he said, "From what I've seen, the preponderance of evidence suggests (climate change) is a real and a serious problem. As you know, the science has evolved several times even in the last couple of decades, but all the evidence suggests that we should take the problem seriously and start to try and act on it."
 
While Harper's opinions on climate change have evolved over the past three years, they have not changed as a result of recent polling, as the Liberals and Dion allege. 

Harper's belief in climate change was clearly spelled out as recently as this summer when he spent several days in Canada's North promoting the government's Arctic sovereignty plans. 

In one speech, the PM gave the signal that climate change was a reality and actually cited climate change as a reason for the need for an increased military presence in the North. 

"The Northwest Passage is becoming more accessible every year," Harper said. "Some scientists even predict it will be open to year-round shipping within a decade."

NDP Leader Jack Layton has had a number of conversations with the prime minister where he raised the issue of climate change. 

In fact, in the first meeting the two men had weeks after last year's election, Layton gave Harper a copy of Tim Flannery's The Weathermakers, which is described as a global call to arms against climate change. 

When asked by PoliticsWatch Tuesday if he agreed with Dion's characterization of the prime minister as a climate change denier, Layton would not go that far. 

"What I have said is that I don’t believe that the prime minister understands the seriousness or the urgency of the issue," Layton said after question period. "There has been no indication of dramatic action. We have wasted 12 months."

Harper may have stopped questioning the science of climate change, but his criticism of the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions remains in place. 

Earlier this month, Harper said in a television 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. 

In addition, Harper threatened to topple the Martin government three times in 2005. 

While everyone remembers the non-confidence votes in November and May related to the sponsorship scandal, Harper's first threat came just days after the Tories held their policy convention in Montreal and before the Gomery inquiry became explosive. 

Harper threatened to topple the government in March of that year hours after the government tabled a budget implementation bill that contained a new provision to force companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as part of its commitment to meet targets under the Kyoto protocol.

"It is completely unacceptable," Harper said, adding that then prime minister Paul Martin would "have to decide whether this or any particular element of the budget is worth calling an election over."

The Liberals moved Tuesday to leave no doubt that Harper was a Kyoto critic when they released a copy of a 2002 fundraising letter Harper sent to Canadian Alliance supporters in which he launched what he described as "the biggest struggle our party has faced since you entrusted me with the leadership." 

"I'm talking about the battle of Kyoto," Harper wrote. 

In the letter, Harper questioned what he characterized as the "tentative and contradictory scientific evidence about climate trends." 

On Tuesday, Liberal environment critic David McGuinty called Harper's letter "the most outrageous document I have seen on climate change in my 20 years of work on climate change."

When a reporter pointed out the letter was written five years ago, McGuinty said in response, "Five years later it tells you that Mr. Harper has no principles on this, no convictions on this. 

"He still is a climate change denier."

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