09/02/2015 04:09 EDT | Updated 09/02/2015 06:59 EDT

Canada Skips Climate Summit, Obama Disses Politicians Who Think Issue Is A 'Joke'

Waitaminute. Was that a swipe at Canada?

United States President Barack Obama delivered a scathing rebuke to world politicians this week telling them if they aren’t prepared to act on climate change then they’re not fit to be leaders.

“Any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that, any leader who refuses to take this issue seriously or treats it like a joke is not fit to lead,” Obama said Tuesday.

While on a three-day visit to Alaska, he urged foreign ministers at the GLACIER conference to action — a meeting Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson skipped.

“The time to heed the critics and the cynics and the deniers is past,” Obama said. He elaborated on “ambitious investments” his government has made in reducing carbon emissions and referenced strict climate measures the U.S. passed earlier this summer.

But on a global level, time is running out, he said.

“On this issue — of all issues — there is such a thing as being too late.”

The dig came amid the noticeable absence of senior Canadian government representatives at the summit. The country's official delegation was represented by a civil servant.

Nicholson explained his decision to skip the conference citing campaign work, “due to the ongoing federal election.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry didn’t seem too pleased with the excuse.

"And I think anybody running for any high office in any nation in the world should come to Alaska or to any other place where it is happening and inform themselves about this,” he said. “It is a seismic challenge that is affecting millions of people today."

The Alaskan summit comes months ahead of the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference slated to kick off in Paris on Nov. 30.

If Obama was taking a shot at Canada, it would not be the first time this country's environmental record has been criticized on the international stage.

In June, former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan labelled Canada a climate laggard when it comes to its greenhouse-gas reduction policies.

At home, the Conservative government’s stance on the environment has also made it a prime target for campaign attacks, despite Harper pledging to make the issue a priority on the first day of the election.

Harper has the balance between the economy and environment “wrong,” accused NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair at the first leaders’ debate hosted by Maclean’s magazine on Aug. 6.

“He’s gutted our environmental legislation, and he knows that that’s hurting jobs in our resource sector, it’s hurting our economy, and frankly, it’s hurting Canada’s international reputation,” he said.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on Wednesday said Canada has squandered opportunities to work with Obama to create a North American energy strategy.

“That has fallen by the wayside because we have a prime minister that doesn't work well with others,” he said in Trois-Rivières, Que.

With files from Althia Raj, The Canadian Press

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