TORONTO – Canada’s main opposition Conservative Party members on Saturday voted down a proposal to recognize climate change as real, in a blow to the new party leader’s efforts to embrace environment-friendly policies ahead of a likely federal election this year.

The rejected motion included the willingness to act against climate risks and to make highly polluting Canadian businesses take more responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole had urged party members on Friday to rally around an ambitious climate agenda to avoid a defeat at the hands of Liberals. He asked members to be open to new ideas if they were serious about toppling Liberals in the next election, even if that goes against party’s conventional thinking and said he doesn’t want Conservative candidates to be branded as “climate change deniers.”

Yet, the Conservative delegates rejected the policy shift by 54% to 46%.

Climate change has been a polarizing issue in the last election campaign. While Trudeau stresses that the environment is a priority, Canada has failed to meet any of its climate pledges amid resistance from politicians who say the targets threaten the oil industry’s future.

Canada is the world’s fourth-largest oil producer and one of the highest emitters of green house gases on a per capita basis and Prime Minister Trudeau’s Liberal Party supporters rank it among their top concerns. U.S. President Joe Biden’s aggressive climate policies are expected to galvanize Canada to march in step with Washington’s tough measures to avoid being disadvantaged. – Reuters