Canada: Parliament Backs Kyoto Ratification Plan

OTTAWA -- The Canadian Parliament voted Tuesday to support government plans to ratify the Kyoto protocol on cutting greenhouse gases, overriding opponents who say the treaty will hurt Canada's economy.

The 195-77 vote by the House of Commons lower chamber has no binding power on the government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien. But it reflects his government's determination to press ahead with speedy ratification, in stark contrast to the position in the United States, which opposes the pact. Chretien said Tuesday he intended to ratify the treaty by the end of the year.

The vote puts Canada squarely at odds with the United States, which walked away from the Kyoto treaty last year on the grounds it would damage the U.S. economy. Critics say it would be suicide for Canadian firms to commit to the costly process of cutting emissions when U.S. competitors did not.

The outcome of the vote was never in question since Chretien had ordered legislators from his ruling Liberal Party to support the government. Two of the four opposition parties also backed the idea.

"It's really excellent, a good indication of the wishes of the country and the Canadian people," a beaming Environment Minister David Anderson told reporters after the vote.

The Kyoto debate now moves to the government's plans to implement the accord, which obliges Canada to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 6 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. If no action is taken, Canadian emissions by 2010 are predicted to be 33 percent above the 1990 level.

Industry groups and several provinces, particularly energy-rich Alberta, say cutting greenhouse gases by the amount required under the accord would cause serious economic damage.

Ottawa, which has already softened its plan to implement Kyoto, said Monday it would cap the amount that businesses would have to pay to meet their targets. Opposition parties said this could cost billions of dollars and business groups complain the plan is too vague.

The opposition Canadian Alliance party, its heartland in Alberta, blasted the ratification plan as "a gross mistake for Canada" and said the cap could cost billions, given what it called Ottawa's appalling record of financial mismanagement.

"It's an incredibly stupid decision and without precedent to adopt an international accord with potentially enormous economic ramifications for this country and to do so without a plan," said Alliance leader Stephen Harper.

"Already with the rhetoric we have a significant investment chill in some parts of this economy."

Even some members of Chretien's cabinet are unhappy. Federal Health Minister Anne McLellan, who comes from Alberta, had criticized the government's handling of the debate but in the end she voted to support ratification. About a dozen Liberal legislators missed the vote.

Jennifer Morgan of the World Wildlife Fund said the vote had set an example for U.S. President George W. Bush.

"With a similar economy and resource base as the United States, it is clear that America's neighbor to the North is ready to act responsibly in tackling climate change. If Canada can do it, so can the United States," she said.

Chretien spokesman Jim Munson said the unelected upper chamber of Parliament, the Senate, would vote this week or early next week on Kyoto, and then the government would quickly do the formal ratification.

Passage in the Senate is assured because the chamber is dominated by Chretien's Liberal Party.

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