By Michael Oliveira
TORONTO (CP) - A consumer show for so-called green living proved hostile territory Friday for Environment Minister John Baird as he and his plan for combating greenhouse gases came under fire from environmentalists and an old political foe.
It was a smiling Baird who stood alongside Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty as they kicked off the show by blessing a tree. The pleasantries, however, ended with the photo op and Baird quickly found himself surrounded by critics.
"John Baird had the nerve to come to an environmental show today after ... introducing the most disastrous and shameful climate plan," Dave Martin of Greenpeace Canada said after Baird walked off the stage.
The first to confront Baird was environmentalist David Suzuki, who cut a path through the crowd at the Green Living consumer show and got in the minister's face to share his two cents.
"It's a disappointment, John," Suzuki said.
A swarm of reporters eavesdropped as Baird countered: "This is more action than any government in Canadian history has ever taken."
Suzuki was unmoved by the minister's words and replied, "It's not enough John, you know there's a lot of opportunity. Please come and see us."
Baird replied, "we're very happy to," before walking away.
Suzuki went on to call the federal government's plan a national embarrassment and proof the Conservatives are out of touch with Canadians.
"This plan is a terrible disappointment to me. No, I would say it's more than that. It's a sham, it sets weak targets that will fall far short of the Kyoto Protocol," Suzuki said.
A promising meeting with Baird last week raised expectations, he added.
"He promised all kinds of great things and it's been a big disappointment to see what it is. It's all smoke and mirrors," Suzuki said. "And I think it's really shameful."
Baird and McGuinty then traded barbs through duelling press conferences, with the Ontario premier promising to trump the federal plan with his own climate change strategy to be released this spring.
"It falls short of Canadian expectations. I think we can reach further and we intend to do that here in Ontario," McGuinty said.
Baird, who was a Tory member of the Ontario legislature before moving to federal politics in 2006, countered that people should be skeptical of the Liberal premier's promises.
"I was minister of energy in Ontario four years ago when (McGuinty, then in opposition) promised to close all the coal-fired electricity plants - but it couldn't be done," Baird said.
"And four years later, we still have more than 6,000 megawatts of electricity capacity in Ontario from the coal-fired (generation)."
Baird said he's confident his plan will be executed - unlike McGuinty's coal promise - and called on the premier to make some specific commitments for the environment.
"If the premier thinks these figures aren't tough enough, I challenge him to bring in legislation today to be tougher," Baird said.
But it's Baird and the Conservatives who need to toughen up their approach on the environment or risk losing the next election, said Julia Langer of World Wildlife Fund Canada.
"They should go back and take the pulse of public opinion a little more carefully and come back with a better plan," she said.
Suzuki agreed, and said Prime Minister Stephen Harper's new focus on green issues shows that he recognizes its importance with voters.
"This is going to be a major political issue, you can bet on that ... and this is the only reason the Harper government has brought this onto the agenda in the first place," Suzuki said.
"The public has put it on the agenda. (Harper's) a very smart politician, he knows very well that this is not an issue that's going to disappear."
Baird insisted that the government has full confidence in the plan and that the standards are as stringent as any other in the world.
"We'll be a model of the world for regulation of greenhouse gases (and) smog and pollution," he said. "We're the only government around the world who's regulating both, in a mandatory fashion, for all our large industries."
Dubbed "Turning the Corner," the Conservative government strategy focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality.
Everything from the efficiency of household dishwashers to the carbon dioxide emissions of Alberta's oil sands will fall under new regulations over the next several years.
Still, the plan failed to spell out precisely what many of those regulations will look like.
Copyright © 2007 Canadian Press