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Green Party chief fears Tories will act as 'saboteurs' at climate talks

Greenpeace activists use LED lights to denounce the Harper government's environmental policy in Ottawa on Nov. 28, 2011, the opening day of the UN climate-change summit in Durban, South Africa.

Greenpeace/The Canadian Press

Elizabeth May believes Stephen Harper's government is only participating in the UN climate-change conference in South Africa so it can sabotage the talks.

The Green Party Leader said the Conservatives have "clearly made a decision" to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol that Canada and 190 other countries signed on to. Only the United States did not ratify the 1997 deal.

"If we are firm in our commitments" to pull out of Kyoto it is "really bad faith" to show up in Durban because we are "playing the role of saboteurs," she told The Globe on Wednesday. "We are negotiating in bad faith because we are using our role as a party to the Kyoto Protocol to negotiate in Durban in such a way that we would block progress to the world."

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Ms. May believes Environment Minister Peter Kent and his officials will play an obstructionist role in Durban because the Harper government has no plans to sign on to a second Kyoto commitment period.

Canada produces only 2 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. But Ms. May argues it must think about the other 98 per cent of the world's emissions. And she fears the government's strategy will be to try to persuade other countries not to sign on to a second commitment period.

Earlier this week, the Green Partly Leader appealed to House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer for an emergency debate on the issue. He did not agree to it.

CTV's Roger Smith broke the story Sunday that the government plans to get out of the Kyoto accord. He reported that this would be formally announced in late December when Canadians are busy with Christmas holidays and paying little attention.

When asked about the story this week, Mr. Kent appeared uncomfortable, saying that he could "neither confirm or deny" the report. His reaction was "very revealing" to Ms. May.

"Poor Peter Kent looks like he's twisting in the wind," she said, suggesting his marching orders on the file are coming right from the top.

Since taking office 2006, the Harper government has publicly repudiated the binding targets in Kyoto. And it has been working against the accord ever since, Ms. May said.

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Ms. May has spoken privately to Mr. Kent and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, urging them to play a positive role. She said Canada could sign on to a second phase, which would set down terms that bind China, India and Brazil to reasonable targets as well.

"We could negotiate any deal that suits our national circumstances, if we decided to negotiate," she said. "I think we could get what we wanted if we agreed to a second commitment period."

Tories defend rumour mongers

Journalists, who are generally loathed by Stephen Harper's Conservatives, were uncharacteristically defended by Government House Leader Peter Van Loan during an argument over free speech and democratic discourse.

It was bizarre – and the press gallery certainly took notice.

The House Leader's defence came Tuesday during debate over whether the privileges of Liberal MP Irwin Cotler have been breached by the Conservative Party's efforts to identify voters in his Montreal riding of Mount Royal.

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Mr. Cotler has appealed to the Speaker of the Commons, Andrew Scheer, arguing that he has been unable to properly do his job as a member of Parliament because his agenda is being overshadowed by rumours swirling around his constituency that he is stepping down and a by-election is imminent.

The speculation is fuelled by phone calls from a market research firm, engaged by the Conservatives, trying to identify voters. If asked why they are calling, constituents are told there are rumours that Mr. Cotler is planning to step down. The veteran Liberal MP, however, says these are false he is " alive, well and working."

Mr. Van Loan argued that Mr. Cotler's complaints – if accepted by the Speaker – would put a "chill" on free speech. It could, he said, lead to political pundits and journalists being punished for simply speculating on an MP or minister's future.

"Let us think of the logical outcome were you, Mr. Speaker, to find favour with the member for Mount Royal's suggestions," Mr. Van Loan told the Commons Tuesday. "A political pundit might go a panel on a television show and say, 'We have heard that [an MP]may want to return to the private sector soon. It is more lucrative anyhow. So there is going to be a by-election in that riding, maybe."

He went on: "All of a sudden, that pundit, having speculated on that, is going to be found to have offended the privileges of that member, subject to a contempt of Parliament ruling, subject to the fairly extreme potential consequences that are available to the Speaker in that case. That seems to be very unreasonable."

It didn't end there. Mr. Van Loan argued that the voices of journalists engaging in speculation would be quieted and suppressed. "That is the logical outcome of his request," he said.

There were raised eyebrows among journalists and some mocking tweets. Mr. Cotler was not buying the defence either.

"If we look at our whole constitutional law in this country, there is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech," the human-rights lawyer and veteran MP argued. "We have laws with respect to limitations on speech with regard to perjury, so people can have a right to a fair trial. We have limitations on false and misleading advertising, directly on point, so the consumer can be protected against false and misleading advertising

"This has nothing to do with free speech. This has everything to do with false, misleading, and prejudicial information held out in representation to constituents and held out as if it were a statement of fact."

Speaker Scheer is expected to rule on the matter soon.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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