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Committee calls Dion to testify about oil sands meeting 

[PoliticsWatch updated 5:50 p.m., January 29, 2007]

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion.

OTTAWA  — Liberal Leader Stephane Dion is being called to testify before a Commons committee about his knowledge of a meeting in Houston last year on expanding Canada's oil sands production.  

The Commons natural resources committee unanimously passed a Bloc motion to call Dion, who was environment minister at the time the Houston meeting was organized, former natural resources minister John McCallum, current Environment Minister John Baird and Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn.  

While current ministers are compelled to appear before committees former cabinet ministers do not have to. However, since the Liberals on the committee supported the motion it is expected that Dion will make an appearance. 

The committee had been in the final stage of completing its report on oil sands development when a Radio Canada report about the meeting prompted some committee members to want to learn more about it. 

The Prime Minister's Office has complained to the CBC's ombudsman about the report on the meeting for trying to link it to the current government. 

The meeting took place in late January of last year, days after the election, but a week before the Conservative government was sworn in. 

The meeting was organized by the oil sands working group of a trilateral body created by former prime minister Paul Martin, U.S. President George W. Bush and former Mexican president Vicente Fox in 2005 called the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America.  

Nearly 60 energy sector officials and officials from the Canadian, U.S. and Alberta governments participated in the expert group's workshop in Houston.   

The executive summary of the working group's report predicts a fivefold expansion for oil sands products in a "relatively short time span" and requests governments "streamline" regulatory approval for pipeline and energy projects. 
 
Greater public attention of the working group comes at a sensitive time for both the Tories and the Liberals as they battle to appear more environmentally friendlier than one another. Oil sands production is considered one of Canada's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. 

When questioned earlier this month about the meeting in Houston, Dion denied any knowledge of it.  

"I was unaware of any specific plan to increase the use of the oil sands," Dion said. "That is not a topic we were aware of."

Bloc Quebecois MP Claude DeBellefeuille, who tabled the motion, said the ministers and former ministers need to come before the committee given recent comments by Lunn about oil sands expansion. 

"I've read enough documents, there is enough indication that there is a willingness to speed up the development. How many million barrels a day? Well the witnesses will help us answer that question," she told the committee. 
 
The natural resources committee was just one of several fronts in the first day of Parliament where the parties sparred over green issues.  

In another committee room, members of a special legislative committee on the Clean Air Act met to lay out a witness schedule for their hearings. The hearings will be among the most closely watched developments on the Hill in the coming months. 
 
And on the floor of the House of Commons, Dion and Prime Minister Stephen Harper sparred over the environment issue. 

In their first encounter in the new session of Parliament, Dion accused Harper of being a "climate change denier" and asked if he believed in the science of climate change. 

Harper denied Dion's suggestion and said "it is not sufficient to simply believe in something. One has to actually do something about it to prove that one is serious." 

The PM repeated the theme now being televised in Conservative party attack ads which criticize the Liberal government and Dion's failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over their 13 years in power. 

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