Opposition barred from Canadian delegation to Bali climate change talks

The Conservative government has broken a long-standing tradition by deciding not to invite opposition MPs to the United Nations' major climate change meeting next month in Bali, Indonesia.

The Conservative government has broken a long-standing tradition by deciding not to invite opposition MPs to the United Nations' major climate change meeting next month in Bali, Indonesia.

The Environment Ministry told the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Québécois on Wednesday that they will not be part of the official Canadian delegation at the Climate Change Conference, which will include talks about a new agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.

Environment Minister John Baird told the House of Commons on Thursday that he didn't want a partisan political debate to take place at the forum.

But Liberal MP David McGuinty called the move censorship. Canadian governments have for years invited opposition critics and MPs to major international meetings.

"I thought I had a responsibility as the official Opposition critic for the environment, who ran elected to work in this field. I kind of thought I had a special responsibility to represent millions of Canadians who have a competing point of view," McGuinty said Wednesday.

On Thursday, McGuinty accused the government ofwanting to "hide the facts" that they have noclimate change plans for Canada

But Bairdshot back at McGuinty, sayingthat it has been 160 days since he asked him a question in the House of Commons about the environment.

"Andyou know what his question is? Why can'tIcome on that nice trip with you."

The Environment Ministry has said opposition MPs could still pay their own way and attend public discussions, although they would not be awarded any of the privileges that come with being part of an official delegation, which includes access to briefings and some of the talks.

The Conservatives invited opposition MPs tothe 2006UN environmental conference in Nairobiand during the event, the opposition lambasted then environment minister Rona Ambrose on her government's environmental policies. Others joined in the attack, including France's environment minister.

Nathan Cullen, the NDP's environment critic, said Baird brought up Nairobi when he stoppedhim in the House of Commons on Wednesday to tell him about the Bali decision.

"He said he looked at what happened in Africa and Nairobi at the last meeting and he said he is worried about criticism," Cullen said. "And his government has a lot to be criticized for."

Opposition leaders have criticized the Conservatives for their environmental plan, which does not see Canada meeting its Kyotoemissions targets in time. The plan, laid out in April,has Canada reaching its targets by 2020or 2025, instead of 2012, the year laid out in the international treaty to curb climate change.

Opposition had chance to give input: Baird

Baird said the opposition has already had its opportunity to give its advice and opinions on the environment during debates and votes in the House of Commons.

"The House of Commons did vote just over a month ago on the speech from the throne where we set out the agenda of the environment and that speech and that direction was endorsed by the House of Commons."

But the Bloc said the opposition still has to have its chance to participate in the climate conference.

"Excluding the opposition members is essentially rejecting the majority's views," Bloc MP Bernard Bigras said.

Combined, the opposition parties and independent candidates hold a majority of seats (178) in the House. The Conservatives have 126, while four seats are vacant.

Other Canadians will be invited

The Conservatives said they will bring a number of Canadians to the conference with them to advise during the talks, but they have not said who these Canadians will be.

The David Suzuki Foundation has confirmed the organization did not get an invitation, but plans tosend members as official conference observers. The Sierra Club of Canada plans to do the same.

"To me this is just another example of this government trying to control the message on climate change," said Emily Moorehouse of the Sierra Club.

With files from the Canadian Press