Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on the verge of losing a key international ally in his criticisms of the Kyoto Protocol on the eve of major international climate-change talks.
Polls show Australian Prime Minister John Howard is likely to lose the Nov. 24 election to a pro-Kyoto Labor party dependent on support from Australia's Green Party. Any change in government would come just one week before a major international meeting in Bali, Indonesia, that would decide whether the Kyoto Protocol should be extended beyond 2012.
The Harper government regularly refers to Australia's rejection of Kyoto to deflect opposition attacks over the Conservatives' insistence that Canada's targets can't be met.
Canadian opposition MPs predict a victory by the front-running Labor Party will add momentum in Bali to extend Kyoto. They also warn that Canada will soon find itself isolated on the climate-change file as Mr. Howard exits the world stage and U.S. President George W. Bush's term expires next year.
Senior U.S. Democrats - including House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator John Kerry - are expected to attend the meetings in Bali, while in Washington, Republicans at the congressional level are debating a range of new climate-change laws.
"There's an exciting political dynamic going on," NDP Leader Jack Layton said. He also said the Canadian delegation in Bali will look like Neanderthals addicted to fossil fuels unless Conservatives reassess their position on Kyoto.
Liberal MP David McGuinty described Mr. Harper and Mr. Howard as "ideological soulmates" who worked closely with Washington on climate change. But Mr. Harper is on the verge of losing his key allies, he said.
"Canada, of course, will be isolated. And that's what's infuriating," Mr. McGuinty said.
The political dynamic on the world stage is shifting just as Environment Minister John Baird has been offering new hints as to Canada's position on a second round for Kyoto. The Conservatives had said they would reject any deal in which developing countries do not have targets. Mr. Baird, who will speak on Canada's behalf in Bali next month, has lately suggested softer goals for such countries may be acceptable. This edges Canada closer to the view of most Kyoto countries and away from its previous criticisms of the deal.
Gary Keller, a spokesman for Mr. Baird, said the election won't affect relations between the two countries.
"Australia will remain an important partner for Canada in both the [United Nations]process and the Asia-Pacific Partnership no matter who wins the upcoming election," he said.
Australia's Labor party has long supported Kyoto and its current climate-change critic, Peter Garrett, is the former lead singer of the rock group Midnight Oil. The international activist made an attention-grabbing appearance at an anti-logging blockade on Vancouver Island's Clayoquot Sound in 1993.
Mr. Harper and Mr. Howard have addressed each other's parliaments and Conservative strategists make no secret of the fact that they have adopted Mr. Howard's political tactics by targeting policy announcements toward "battlers." These people are frequently described as suburbanites who work hard, pay their taxes and struggle to make ends meet.
For Mr. Howard, it was a successful approach that won him four successive terms.
Though Australia signed the Kyoto protocol, Mr. Howard chose not to ratify the deal. Instead, he supported the United States in its criticisms of Kyoto and the two countries worked together to form a new forum called the Asia-Pacific Partnership, which Canada joined last month.