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Francois Hollande was here to do business, so he was careful to be positive when it came to the tricky matter of Canada's record on climate change. Wait till next year.

France's president is on his first state visit to Canada, one he started in Alberta. He went there because the French see the West as this country's growth engine, economically and demographically, and because that's where Stephen Harper wanted him to go. He wasn't going to raise a ruckus about climate.

Instead, we saw a choreographed dance. The two leaders hid the behind the process – there will be climate talks next year, and of course, both said, we hope to have a deal.

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On the surface, it's a tricky issue for Mr. Hollande. He will be the host of those UN climate change talks in Paris next year, and public opinion in France generally sees the oil sands as a blot upon the planet.

The French newspaper Le Monde, for example, called Canada the "bad student in the western class" on climate change, noting Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol and won't meet the emissions targets it agreed to in Copenhagen in 2009.

Mr. Hollande's special envoy on environmental issues, TV ecologist Nicholas Hulot, who took a more critical tone when he came to Ottawa last month, didn't get the meeting he wanted with Mr. Harper.

But on Monday, Mr. Hollande said in his address to the House of Commons that he expects Canada to be "fully engaged" in those climate talks next year.

Mr. Harper also said he wants an agreement, a binding treaty with the same obligations all major emitters. (That, however, is a tough sell, since big developing countries like India, with much lower per-person emissions, refuse to cut emissions by the same percentage.)

So far, in fact, there's little sign Canada intends to meet the calls of UN officials trying to prod the negotiations forward, who want countries to release new targets for emissions reductions by next March. Mr. Harper's government seems to be waiting to see if it can sit through the next round of talks, expecting them to fail.

In the meantime, the prime minister's defence of Canada's emissions record isn't likely to gain a lot of credibility abroad.

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When a French TV reporter asked Mr. Hollande if it's a conflict to urge French companies to invest in Alberta when it is home to the "very polluting" oil sands, Mr. Harper jumped in to say, "for information purposes" that Canada had reduced emissions from the oil sands by 40 per cent in recent years. But of course, that's not true.

According to Environment Canada, carbon dioxide emissions from the oil sands increased from 34 megatonnes in 2005 to 55 megatonnes in 2011 – and by 2020 it's expected to almost double, to 101 megatonnes. Even so-called "intensity" – the emissions produced per barrel of oil only declined by 28 per cent over the 22 years from 1990 to 2012. A spokesman for the prime minister said he was referring to a graph in an Environment Canada report that indicated a steeper reduction in one part of the process, upgrading. Quite a stretch.

That's all the same fun-with-statistics game that Canadians hear regularly on this issue, and the French president was happy to leave it alone. He was here with 50 French business leaders in tow, hoping to introduce them to new markets. French companies want to bid on Canadian defence procurements. Its oil company Total has investments in the oil sands, though just put its big $11-billion project on hold.

But it's not likely Mr. Harper will hear the same tone from European leaders as time goes on. Canada is regularly portrayed there as a place with dirty oil and no desire to clean it up. In France, press reports of Mr. Hollande's trip tended to suggest he was gently encouraging Mr. Harper to improve his behaviour. The French public wants a global treaty, as do people in Europe generally. There will be pressure to be tougher on nations that are deemed laggards.

Mr. Harper has survived that before, and he may well again, in Paris next year. But his government, and the Canadian oil industry, can expect a fairly sharp round of international disapproval. There'll be a preparatory conference in Lima in December, where UN officials hope to reach a draft agreement. And then will come the nitty-gritty where some will point fingers. Next year won't be as chummy.

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