Canada’s two largest provinces say they are confident the federal government will commit to stronger emission cuts before a global climate change conference comes to a close this week.

If that doesn’t occur, the environment ministers from Ontario and Quebec say the normally harmonious relationship between Canada’s 13 provinces and territories is headed down a rocky path.

Their grievance is long-standing and well-known. They fear the federal Conservatives are planning to cut Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions on the backs of the provinces that have taken early action in the fight against global warming so Alberta and Saskatchewan will have room to further develop their vast oilsands resources trapped beneath the ground.

“I don’t think it takes a genius to figure out that … they want to continue to develop those and obviously if they are developed there may have to be larger greenhouse gas emission (reductions) elsewhere in the country in order to meet our targets,” Ontario Environment Minister John Gerretsen told reporters yesterday in Ottawa.

But it will be hard to remain chummy with the oil-rich provinces if the governments in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Manitoba feel they’re taking the hit for a boom on the Prairies.

“Whether or not it’s going to be the next national unity issue, I’ll leave that to the columnists and the journalists and other politicians to discuss in the future,” Gerretsen said.

This week, Gerretsen and Quebec Environment Minister Line Beauchamp are joining forces to promote the work they are doing in their neighbouring provinces and to do whatever they can to push Ottawa into a more ambitious stance.

Canada has pledged to cut national emissions by 20 per cent from 2006 levels by 2020, a target that is less onerous than the Kyoto commitments the federal government signed up for in 1997.

Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice says his government’s target is close to that of the United States, and it can’t change because the two governments plan to harmonize their climate policies and create a North American carbon cap and emissions trading system.

Prentice brushed off the persistent criticism Canada has been facing from environmentalists as well as Toronto Mayor David Miller, who called Canada’s stance at these talks “an embarrassment.”

“I’m not going to comment on what other people here are doing, what they’re saying about their country,” the minister said yesterday.

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