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Canada: a climate change loser

Harper's government is content to follow the U.S. on climate change policy.

Protesters occupy the constituency office of Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Calgary, Alberta, Dec. 16, 2009. Over 20 protesters arrived and refused to leave until the Prime Minister signs an aggressive climate treaty this week at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

TORONTO, Canada — Canada has so far won seven “fossil awards” at the Copenhagen climate conference, given by environmentalists to countries deemed to be blocking progress at the United Nations summit. No country has won more.

Canadians have the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to thank for this dubious distinction. One leading pollster, Alan Gregg, put it this way: “You can throw a rock at the Conservative [government] caucus, and possibly the cabinet, and hit a climate change denier.”

Canadians are not used to being international renegades, particularly on issues with a moral imperative. But Harper has given the clear impression since coming to power in 2006 that he doesn’t buy talk of a planet imperiled by human-induced global warming.

His government was initially content with not having a climate change policy. It restricted itself to pronouncing the 1992 Kyoto Protocol a failure, noting the previous Liberal government signed the treaty and then watched Canada develop one of the worst carbon emission records in the world.

The election of U.S. President Barack Obama, who made dealing with global warming a top policy initiative, forced the Harper government to take note. It promptly responded with the least creative alternative possible: It would wait for the Obama administration to announce its plan to reduce carbon emissions, and then match it.

Harper has applied this "me too" approach at almost every turn. It was initially reported that he would not attend the Copenhagen conference, where a deal to succeed Kyoto is to be hammered out. It apparently wasn’t worth his time. But then Obama announced he would be going, and Harper suddenly declared that he, too, would attend.

Harper arrived Thursday, as Canada was being widely denounced by environmentalists and European allies as the laggards of the conference. Some were still snickering about an elaborate hoax played on Harper’s government by a group of American pranksters known as the Yes Men.

The hoax included a press release on Environment Canada letterhead announcing Canada would implement the toughest carbon emission cuts in the world, and give poor countries $13 billion to help deal with the ravages of climate change.

There was a time when that kind of stance would have been considered eminently Canadian. But times have changed. Harper’s spokesperson, Dimitri Soudas, angrily denounced the hoax Tuesday and demanded that a leading Canadian environmentalist — who had nothing to do with the hoax — apologize for criticizing Canada at the summit. Questioning the patriotism of opponents, on any issue, has become a favorite tactic of the Harper government.