OTTAWA - A brazen protest, a sobering poll and a massive petition turned up the heat on the Harper government Monday over its climate-change position as a major United Nations conference began in Copenhagen.
Climate negotiators sounded each other out as the 12-day summit opened in the Danish capital, with hopes high and obstacles lingering for a new global-warming deal.
Delegates from 192 countries sought common ground on an international treaty to curb the planet's pollution.
"The clock has ticked down to zero," Yvo de Boer, the UN climate chief, said as he opened the conference. "After two years of negotiations, the time has come to deliver."
But back in Ottawa, authorities investigated how protesters in blue jumpsuits could scale two Parliament Hill buildings in broad daylight and unfurl huge banners.
Police arrested 20 people after the morning protest in which activists rappelled from the roof of the West Block building and unrolled banners targeting both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff for their climate-change policies.
Environment Minister Jim Prentice sought to play down the stunt.
"The issue at Copenhagen isn't people climbing on the Parliament Building in Ottawa," he said.
"The issue at Copenhagen is how we're going to arrive at a binding international treaty that applies to all of the principal emitters of carbon so that we can reduce carbon emissions.
"And Canada is prepared to be a responsible party in all that."
The protest came as a new poll suggested most Canadians want a deal done in Copenhagen.
The federal Tories say they won't sign any agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol unless developing countries also adopt tough targets.
But 64 per cent of respondents to a Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey said rich nations have a responsibility to commit to higher and harder targets than developing countries.
Most also want to see a binding agreement come out of Copenhagen, and 81 per cent said Canada should act independently of the United States.
The Conservatives insist Canada must tie its policy to that of the U.S. because of the countries' extensive economic relationship.
The Harper government says it's waiting for the Obama administration to come out with a suite of policies to which Canada can synchronize its own.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took a big step Monday toward regulating greenhouses gases, concluding that pollution from burning fossil fuels should be regulated.
The action, which lets the U.S. government control greenhouse gases without having to push legislation through Congress, appears timed to give a boost to the Copenhagen talks.
"This is a clear message to Copenhagen of the Obama administration's commitments to address global climate change," said Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat and lead author of a climate bill before the Senate. "The message to Congress is crystal clear: get moving."
Canadians had a similar message for the Harper government. The Harris-Decima survey shows that 46 per cent of respondents would like to see Canada play a lead role in Copenhagen.
"The number of people in society who feel like this is something that requires action is high," said Doug Anderson, senior vice-president of Harris-Decima.
"But most Canadians are still not at that emotional, 'I'm willing to step out of my house and go to a protest' kind of a situation on this. Yet that's not to say that they are not interested in seeing a pragmatic solution.
"It's no longer a situation where people say for the most part that this isn't something that's a concern, or this isn't something that requires action. It's both of those for most Canadians."
The telephone poll of just over 1,000 Canadians was conducted Nov. 26-29 and is considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20.
Also Monday, environmental groups released a petition signed by more than 150,000 Canadians calling for urgent action on climate change.
"Canadians are sending a clear message to the Harper government - we want climate action, we want to be part of the solution," Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians said in a statement.
"This government, stuck in the tar sands, is not listening - this must change."
Canada also had the dubious honour of being the third runner-up for the Fossil of the Day Award, presented by non-governmental groups at the Copenhagen conference to countries they deem laggards on the environment.
But Canada's top climate envoy denied facing any fuzzy eyeballs around the negotiating table.
"I've never been sneered at here," Michael Martin, the chief climate-change negotiator, told reporters during a conference call from Copenhagen.
"I don't think we can get a fair and accurate perception of the conference of the parties based on the press release that is issued by the non-governmental organizations."
All this led Ignatieff to charge that the Harper government has no firm policy for fighting climate change.
"This is a government that for four years has had three plans, has had three environment ministers. We still don't know what their targets are," the Liberal leader told reporters.