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Updated: Sat, 01 Mar 2014 09:08:26 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

High-profile conservatives urge government action on environment



Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall speaks in a Sept. 9, 2013 photo in Regina. Wall is telling the Harper government it needs to bring in long-delayed regulations on the oil and gas industry to burnish Canada's environmental credentials and win pipeline approvals. Michael Bell/The Canadian Press

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall speaks in a Sept. 9, 2013 photo in Regina. Wall is telling the Harper government it needs to bring in long-delayed regulations on the oil and gas industry to burnish Canada's environmental credentials and win pipeline approvals. Michael Bell/The Canadian Press

Some high-profile conservatives are urging the Harper government to improve its green credentials with Canadians and the rest of the world.

Former environment minister Jim Prentice and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall told a conference of conservative political thinkers the government needs to move on environmental action and regulations.

In a speech Friday in Ottawa, Prentice said there's new wave of concern over the environment coming and Canada is in a precarious position because its economy relies so heavily on resources such as Alberta's oilsands.

"Our position as a country will be amongst the most precarious since we are an industry democracy, with a solid record of environment achievement — but also with a developing economy that relies heavily on resource extraction," he told an Ottawa audience Friday.

Prentice served as both Indian affairs minister and environment minister in the Harper government before leaving to become a senior vice-president at CIBC.

He said Canada is in danger of falling out of step with the rest of the world, which is increasingly moving toward more sustainable development.

"Focusing on environmental policy isn't exclusively a question of morality, he said. "Increasingly, it's an economic imperative."

And he added that the current government needs to change its approach. 

"As conservatives we can't be in the position of providing our political rivals with the opportunity to portray us as out of touch with the values of Canadians and the prevailing sentiment of the global community," he said.

No pipeline without First Nations, Prentice says

Prentice veered off his prepared script to make the point that big projects, such as the Northern Gateway pipeline, are dead in the water without real efforts to involve First Nations.

"There will be no oil pipelines to the West Coast without economic partnerships with First Nations." 

Both Prentice and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall agree that Canada should harmonize its environmental regulations with the U.S.

Wall urged the Harper government to bring in long-delayed regulations on the oil and gas industry.

"We need those regulations to come forward.... it would be a signal that would help," Wall told reporters at the annual Manning Centre Networking Conference.

Wall said those rules would give the Obama administration in Washington more environmental elbow room.

The federal Conservatives have said since 2007 that they would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by imposing regulations on industrial sectors. 

But the federal government has so far avoided the fastest-growing and most contentious sector: oil and gas.

Wall said oil and gas regulations could give Canada environmental leverage in arguing for pipeline approvals such as the long delayed Keystone XL pipeline.

The Saskatchewan premier said he doesn't know why it has taken eight years to regulate such an important sector, but Ottawa needs to get it right.

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