Environmentalists are nervous about NDP Leader Jack Layton's deal with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to have a Commons committee rewrite the Clean Air Act.
Many activists are reluctant to criticize Layton, who they see as an ally, but they fear his initiative could shatter what had been a unified opposition strategy to bury the bill.
They also fear Layton's move will distract attention from a rival bill put forward by Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez that would require the government to respect the emissions-cutting targets of the Kyoto Protocol.
"Some people are apprehensive," Dale Marshall of the David Suzuki Foundation said Wednesday.
"The opposition was united around Kyoto and the Rodriguez bill and the government was clear it was only interested in delay.
"It was very clear where things were going. Now there's a lot more balls in the air and it makes people antsy..."
But one veteran activist said Layton's move will allow the Conservatives to escape a humiliating defeat in the Commons, since all opposition parties had vowed to vote against the Clean Air Act, and create new opportunities for delay.
"We had beaten them (the Conservatives) into a corner and now Jack has let them out," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said that bringing the Clean Air Act into committee would give the government bill undeserved legitimacy.
"Saying that there's any hope of breathing life into this really appallingly bad legislation is confusing, and does appear to have given Harper new legs to say this bill is acceptable."
May suggested the New Democrats don't like to be seen as having the same policies as the Liberals, and Layton's move is intended to steal some of the limelight from the Rodriguez bill.
I agree that the government was backed into a corner, but I don't agree that the pressure is now off. We need to see how this whole process fleshes itself out, but if the opposition comes up with effective amendments that largely gut and rebuild the legislation, then Harper is forced to respond. If the government rejects the new approaches, they look worse than they do now. If the government accepts substantial changes that really tackle the issues, then this process has clearly been a positive development.
There are two choices, defeat the legislation and have nothing until after the next election, or try and craft something with teeth immediately. There are many unknowns, but I don't agree that this is merely a "stunt", it has a real chance to be relevant. Much will depend on how much the opposition compromises, to which I hope they remain firm. The true test will come after the committee process, to see if Layton wants to play politics and accept half-measures, or remains true to the NDP environmental plan. If this process is a mirage, then the opposition can simply walk away and defeat the legislation. Important to remember, Layton must live up to his environmental platform through this process. If politics look to trump the substance, then any support comes with great risk for the NDP, and I doubt they are willing to cede ground to the upstart Greens. In other words, the political dynamics may keep everyone honest and prevent spin and bad framing to score points. Let's hope so.