On a balcony at the Banff Seniors Centre Friday afternoon, David Anderson was backed against a wall by a scrum of media that easily doubled the number of youth protesters outside.
Other than the beefy security officer alongside him, the federal environment minister was left alone to defend his government.
Once flatly committed to the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, Canada is now accused of embarrassing itself by possibly backing away from its commitment to the international treaty.
At a meeting of G-8 environment ministers hosted by Canada this weekend, the prickly subject will be discussed unofficially at a breakfast meeting. A draft communique gives the topic scant mention, and this stuns environment groups.
Canada's procrastination looms as a "wrecking ball" on Kyoto's road to Johannesburg, where the World Summit for Sustainable Development is scheduled for Aug. 26 to Sept. 4.
"I think Canadians find themselves in an embarrassing situation," said Benedict Southworth, London-based director of climate policy for Greenpeace.
"The Europeans are still on track for ratification, the Russians have started, Japan is committed and coming into June, having already said they would ratify. Canada faces the possibility of being with the U.S. as the only countries that haven't ratified.
"Canadian officials are saying it's not on the agenda because the battle lines are already drawn. But the difficulty with the Canadian government's position is to determine which side of the battle line they are on."
The U.S. has rejected Kyoto, and Australia is following the American lead. That leaves Canada with possibly the swing vote.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Industry Minister Allan Rock qualified their support of Kyoto recently, and Finance Minister Paul Martin was reported hesitant.
"I've had two weeks of going from end to end of the country talking about the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions," Anderson said. "I don't quite know what (the critics) are talking about. There's a child that dies in the world every 10 seconds because of a water-borne disease. I think it's important for us to discuss at Johannesburg the relationship between children's health and environment. To do that, we have to get that on the agenda. I don't think we should assume because climate change is important, no other issue is important."
The Banff agenda instead is focused on environment and health, environment and development, and enforcement of treaties.
"I think if one cannot address the Kyoto issue after having made commitments around the world to do so, it certainly makes other commitments ring rather hollow, don't you think?" Jim Pissot, executive director of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservative Initiative, told reporters.
Adman Anin, a representative from the United Nations, subtly encouraged more action and less talk.
"We want to see some clarity on what kind of themes the G-8 gives importance to, and how they can be reflected in a new consensus internationally," he said.
Anderson said the meetings are being held behind closed doors to encourage frank discussion. Media and interest groups alike are banned.
Canada lobbied successfully last year to be credited against gas emissions with carbon sinks, or forests and agricultural land.
Canada's efforts to water down the commitment comes even as Robert Schad, president of Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd., and financier Stephen Bronfman attempt to rally business support for Kyoto. They have founded E-mission 55 Canada, part of an international collection of corporations aiming to have 55 countries ratify Kyoto.
Schad believes climate change to be the "most important environmental issue facing humanity." He insists his company in Bolton, Ont., isn't concerned about competing with companies operating in countries unaffected by Kyoto.
Schad was offended by the public stance of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters Association against Kyoto.
A member of the association, Schad wrote a searing letter to CME president and chief executive officer Perrin Beatty, president and chief executive officer of the association.
The CME is among several business groups complaining it is folly to be Kyoto-bound when the country's largest trading partner, the U.S., has exempted itself.
Perhaps illustrating that point, Environment Canada purchased emission credits from an energy efficiency housing project in South Africa, to compensate for the greenhouse gases created by delegates travelling to the G-8 meeting. Cost of the purchase was not disclosed.
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