Canada is once again delaying emissions regulations in the oil and gas sector, despite major pipeline projects that continue to put intense scrutiny on the energy industry's environmental track record.
The long-promised federal regulations, most recently due this year, now need to be done "in concert with" the United States, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Global News in an interview. "So that's what I'm hoping we'll be able to do over the next couple of years," he said.
In a pair of year-end interviews aired Thursday, Mr. Harper echoed the government's support of recent Canada Post changes and opposition to an overhaul of the Canada Pension Plan (CPP); stuck by his story on the saga over Senator Mike Duffy's expenses; said he hadn't yet read a bill, tabled by one of his backbenchers, that would strip him of certain powers; and pledged he has no plans to resign or call a snap election.
He ended one interview on a personal note, speaking fondly of his wife, Laureen Harper, saying she "not only loves me as one hopes a wife would, but who puts so few demands on me and takes so much off my shoulders." He also cited his faith and belief in "higher powers and higher purposes," saying "one should never lose sight of those."
Mr. Harper rarely gives news conferences or interviews, even amid continuing questions about the Senate spending scandal, his office's role in the saga and an RCMP investigation. The year-end interviews granted to Global and the French-language TVA Nouvelles were, as such, a rare opportunity for the media to question him directly.
His energy comments revealed the most significant development in government policy. The regulations were first promised seven years ago, and Alberta has recently criticized the federal government for delays in introducing them.
Mr. Harper said his government was the only one that "actually had some success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions," though the government's own projections show emissions rising, due in large part to the oil and gas sector, leaving Canada off pace to hit its overall emissions-reductions targets.
The Canadian oil industry has lobbied to prevent any regulations that it fears would hurt its competitiveness or chase away investment, and Mr. Harper signalled Canada would work with Washington "on a regulatory regime that will bring our emissions down." He earlier said the energy sector's social licence for development has "more to it than the emissions issue."
In other comments, Mr. Harper insisted Ottawa will not hike transfer payments to provinces, telling TVA "the financial state of the provinces is their responsibility."
Mr. Harper said – in both English and French – that the Senate spending scandal left him feeling "betrayed, disappointed and angry."
He also had some praise for his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, whom he has frequently blamed for the Duffy ordeal.
"You ask yourself, how could a guy who's so smart and generally so respectful of the rules, so high performing, how could he do something that's so obviously wrong?" Mr. Harper told Global. "… I don't know the answer to that but that sometimes good people do bad things."
He reiterated his belief that the Senate must be reformed or abolished, saying "in the 21st century, one cannot justify an unelected legislative chamber."
He backed proposed changes to Canada Post, which is hiking prices and planning to end door-to-door delivery, saying the agency "must have a balanced budget over the long term."
He also shot down calls for an expanded CPP as a call for new taxes, saying government will instead aim to "get the people who actually need to save [for retirement] to do the saving they need to do."
Mr. Harper was also asked about the Reform Act, a proposed bill that would claw back the powers of party leaders, including Mr. Harper. He said he has not "actually looked at [the bill] in great detail yet," and had no "strong opinion."
Mr. Harper also shot down a question of whether he'd step aside or call an early election.
"We have an election scheduled in 2015 and I plan to lead the party in that," he said.