Christine Stewart, who was the Liberal environment minister when Canada signed the Kyoto agreement in 1997, said none of her cabinet colleagues -- including current party leader Stéphane Dion -- supported her efforts to put a real plan in place to meet its ambitious targets.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail yesterday, Ms. Stewart said she told her colleagues that Kyoto would require tough action from the provinces because they control the main sources of greenhouse gases, such as power plants and natural resources. But the provinces objected and their opposition was reflected in cabinet by Mr. Dion, who was then intergovernmental affairs minister, she said.
"Stéphane Dion was the minister of intergovernmental affairs and the whole issue [of Kyoto]was creating horrible consternation among the provinces," she recalled. "Frankly, the environment wasn't an intergovernmental topic that our government wanted to expend their opportunity on. They had to worry more about getting a health agreement with the provinces or financial issues and we couldn't get [the provinces]angry and all upset about the environment.
"That was [Mr. Dion's]role. 'Let's let this one lay low.' It was never said in so many words. I think what I am saying is he wasn't against [Kyoto] but he was not a champion. But then he wasn't unique. If you can find a champion [in that Liberal cabinet] let me know," she said.
Ms. Stewart was environment minister from 1997 to 1999 and has kept a low profile since retiring from public life before the 2000 election.
Her comments are similar to those expressed recently by Eddie Goldenberg, who was the senior adviser to former prime minister Jean Chrétien. In a speech, Mr. Goldenberg said neither the public nor the government was ready for the tough measures Kyoto required.
Mr. Dion has made the Kyoto Protocol a central part of his political persona, naming his dog Kyoto and supporting a controversial private member's bill that would enforce the accord's targets on the Conservative government.
In an interview, Mr. Dion said he was not surprised by Ms. Stewart's comments because there is always a natural tension between environment ministers and their cabinet colleagues.
Mr. Dion said he was working hard to find a climate change plan that could be supported by the provinces and Ms. Stewart was likely frustrated by the time it took to find consensus. He said he ultimately got the provinces to agree to a joint climate fund to pay for climate-change projects. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is simply reannouncing the result of that work in the Liberal cabinet, Mr. Dion said.
"I was trying to find a way to keep [the provinces]in the tent and to work with them," he said. "I needed them to find a way to help Christine, and after, David [Anderson] to succeed in working with the provinces."
Environment Minister John Baird said there is a pattern of key Liberals saying there was a lack of commitment when the Liberals signed Kyoto.
"Dion has a huge credibility gap and he has created it himself," Mr. Baird said in a telephone interview. "If we had started back in 1997, do you know how easy it would have been to make Kyoto? The amount of megatonne reductions compared to what we're dealing with today? I mean, it's astounding."
Ms. Stewart is aware her comments will likely be used by Conservatives for political advantage, but she is no fan of the current government. Ms. Stewart said she is happy that her Liberal Party eventually made climate change a priority. She also fumes at comments from Conservatives, such as Mr. Baird, who say Canada's Kyoto targets are impossibly out of reach.
"It drives me crazy to hear that kind of language," she said. "The emphasis is always on what we can't do and the high cost and all the negatives, rather than, 'This is a serious issue. The costs and risks of not doing something about this issue are immense.' "