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Canada defends climate deal as 'turning point'

Canada's Environment Minister is defending the Copenhagen Accord as an historic accomplishment for bringing the world's largest polluters - including China, India and the United States - into the global-warming battle.

Facing widespread disappointment and condemnation from the international environmental community, political leaders around the world spent the weekend putting a positive spin on the agreement. Canada bore a significant brunt of that criticism last week in Copenhagen and Environment Minister Jim Prentice says provinces such as Ontario and Quebec should not have piled on.

Mr. Prentice said the summit achieved a key Canadian goal of including all major emitters in an international agreement. He contrasted that with the predecessor Kyoto Protocol, which required no commitments from developing countries such as China, India and Brazil, and which the United States refused to ratify.

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"I think this Copenhagen Accord will turn out to be the turning point in history," Mr. Prentice said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. "For the first time, we have a firm commitment from all the major carbon emitters to put themselves into an international treaty."

Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper took office in 2006, the lack of targets from major emitters was his main criticism of the Kyoto Protocol. The new accord is not legally binding, but its signatories all agree to hold the increase in global temperatures below two degrees Celsius.

The countries also agreed to submit their domestic climate-change plans to the United Nations by Jan. 31, 2010 and to create a fund to help poor nations adapt to climate change that will grow to $100-billion (U.S.) annually by 2020.

But after Canada's domestic hostilities boiled over last week, the Harper government must now bring the provinces together if it is going to meet its own domestic targets for 2020. It won't be easy.

Talk of separation is returning to the public discourse in Alberta where weeks of being portrayed as the planet's climate-change villain - particularly by other Canadian provinces - is fostering strong resentment.

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach had more than 400 questions to choose from as he taped a year-end video for his government's website.

But sitting behind his desk, reading questions off of a laptop, the Premier chose to answer this one: "Question from Twitter, 'Can we separate from Canada?'" He let out a short, nervous laugh and smiled before responding that he believes in Canada,"I recognize though from the question and other comments that are being made, that there is some dissatisfaction in terms of Alberta's role in the country of Canada," he said, adding that Albertans feel the rest of Canada doesn't appreciate the financial contribution they make to the country.

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"This question is probably coming from the fact that the province, over the last couple of weeks, has been criticized by other premiers for our position on climate change and that has led, I believe, to a number of Albertans feeling that, for whatever reason … that we feel that we're just not being recognized."

While Mr. Stelmach stayed home last week, other provinces did not. Quebec Premier Jean Charest was a particularly vocal in criticizing the Canadian position. He spoke of a "tale of two Canadas," describing a federal government at odds with provinces such as Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia that want to go further.

Upon his return to Canada, Mr. Prentice said such talk was not helpful.

"There is no doubt that some of the comments that were made have been divisive," he told CTV's Question Period , in an interview broadcast Sunday. "I think wiser heads will prevail and we have a lot of work to do."

The minister's reaction suggests relationships may be poisoned at a time when goodwill is needed to deliver a plan that will balance the interests of Alberta and Saskatchewan, where economic growth depends on the continued expansion of the oil sands, and those of the other provinces.

"The most consequential provinces are on opposite sides here," said Gerald Butts, the president of World Wildlife Fund Canada and former principal secretary to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. "We need a process to bring them together. Unfortunately, the federal government isn't doing that."

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About the Authors
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More

Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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