OTTAWA - The Conservative government is punting long-awaited environmental regulations for the oil and gas sector into the indefinite future.
Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq is refusing to provide a deadline for rules that will force the emissions-heavy sector to clean up its act, although the regulations have been years in the making.
"It is at this time premature for me to say when they will be ready," Aglukkaq told a Commons committee Thursday.
"There has been good progress in that area the last few years, so once they are ready I will share that with the committee."
Her Conservative predecessor in the environment portfolio, Peter Kent, once predicted the regulations would be released last January, then revised the date to this past summer.
"I can't give you a timeline," Aglukkaq said under questioning from NDP and Liberal MPs. "Work continues. When we're ready we'll release them."
The Conservatives have moved on auto-sector emissions — in lock-step with the United States — and on regulating the electricity sector. But the government's own numbers show Canada is not on track to meet its 2020 international pledges on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, even with oil and gas regulations.
NDP environment critic Megan Leslie asked Aglukkaq whether the other sector targets will have to be re-adjusted in order to meet Canada's Copenhagen emissions pledge, or whether the future oil and gas regulations will do the trick.
Aglukkaq appeared not to understand the question.
"We're going to take a sector-by-sector approach," the minister responded. "If you look at Canada from the global stage, we produce less than two per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions."
Aglukkaq repeatedly stressed to the committee that she is negotiating with the provinces and territories, although she later bridled when reporters asked whether provincial objections are causing the delay.
"I'm not suggesting that at all," said Aglukkaq.
The minister initially avoided characterizing the oil and gas industry's attitude toward emissions regulations but after being asked three times she offered a response.
"They have their views and there's a process in place that we'll examine their feedback as well," said Aglukkaq.
"My take on it is that industry wants to do the right thing. They want to do their part to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They want to be good environmental stewards as well. So this is a partnership and we'll move forward when we're ready."
Liberal environment critic John McKay says the government needs to bring in emissions regulations for the sector in order to give U.S. President Barack Obama an excuse to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
"Let's face it, Keystone is a proxy fight for GHGs (greenhouse gas emissions)," McKay told reporters.
"And as long as we have no GHG regulations in this country, Obama is in a very, very awkward position."