The Canadian government canceled an appearance yesterday before a U.S. congressional subcommittee hearing on acid rain after receiving "hints" of possible economic retaliation from Reagan administration officials, according to Canadian government sources.
The appearance was rescheduled for next Tuesday, however, when the Canadian opposition Conservative Party called the action "gross capitulation to the bullying tactics" of U.S. business.
John Roberts, minister of the environment for Canada, and a U.S. State Department specialist on Canada denied categorically that any pressure tactics had been used.
Canada blames sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from industry in the Ohio Valley for acidic precipitation that it says has killed most fish and other life in thousands of lakes in eastern Canada and the United States. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau has called the issue the most pressing, other than energy, in relations between the two countries.
The Canadian government and the Ontario provincial ministry had been scheduled to provide a "technical briefing" making those points yesterday to the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health and the environment, which is considering amendments to the Clean Air Act.
Canada wants the act changed to tighten control on industrial emissions, but the administration has called only for further research on the problem.
The Canadian Embassy canceled the appearance, explaining Wednesday that the subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), was dealing not with technical matters but policy. An embassy spokesman noted that Canadian and U.S. negotiators are trying to work out agreement on dealing with acid rain. Talks resume Oct. 29 in Ottawa.
Former Canadian Conservative environment minister John Frazier said he understood the government "is afraid of full-scale debate . . .which will include linkage of American concerns about the Canadian government National Energy Program and possibly other matters which the Americans feel are unfair."
The Reagan administration, in other words, would tie acid rain relief to changes in the energy plan, he said.
"If this is true, the Canadian government is committing an act of gross capitulation to the bullying tactics of special interests in the United States who are prepared to do nearly anything to gut the American Clean Air Act and to ensure that control over acid rain is delayed as long as possible," Frazier charged.
Canada's National Energy Plan would use tax weapons and other incentives against American-owned oil companies there in order to reduce the U.S. presence in the Canadian oil industry from 66 percent to 50 percent.
Other Canadian officials said they had understood in conversations with U.S. officials that two State Department speeches last week should be seen as "hints" that the energy and acid rain issues might be linked.
The speeches, by Assistant Secretary Robert D. Hormats and Undersecretary Myer Rashish, said Canada's energy plan discriminated unfairly against U.S. business, but neither mentioned acid rain.
Both were attacked by Canadian media and the public. The Ottawa Citizen headlined an editorial "On The Bullying of Canada," and Energy Minister Marc Lalonde said it would be "scandalous" to change the energy policy "because someone in Washington coughed."
Roberts said that the Canadian Embassy here had canceled the subcommittee appearance without his consent and that he had reversed the decision upon learning of it.
"There is no linkage with the energy program," he said. "We're not asking for a favor; we're asking them members of the Reagan administration to do themselves a favor as well as one for us."