Waiting for Barack Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline is getting on my nerves. I’ve never been as enthusiastic about any other President in my life. He’s exceptional; I trust him and I’m a conservative Canadian. Yet, he hugs the power to say no.
"Obama Faces Risks in Pipeline Decision," the New York Times acknowledges. Then the article attempts to lighten his responsibilities by treating the matter as just another psychological and partisan drama.
“The Keystone pipeline is treated mainly as a domestic issue in Washington. But for Canada’s Conservative government, which has its power base in the oil-rich province of Alberta, it represents a crucial moment in Canada’s relationship with its most vital foreign partner even if the oil sands are also a divisive issue within Canada. Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are not close, and the two make a portrait of contrasts in style and substance. While Mr. Obama comes from the liberal wing of his party and is known for stirring speeches, Mr. Harper is conservative even by the standards of his own Conservative Party and can be stiff in public. His political base, the province of Alberta, is the heart of the Canadian oil patch.
“Mr. Obama’s recent expressions of concern about climate change contrast starkly with Mr. Harper’s stated priorities.”
This is disingenuous.
Keystone isn’t a domestic issue at all, nor is it merely a liberal President’s best chance since Jack Kennedy to humiliate a Conservative Prime Minister. Obama has no record on climate change that puts him in front of Canada and has no known score to settle with his northern ally.
The President’s fine rhetoric on climate change no more beggars the Prime Minister’s policies than it does his own.
No matter how far apart they are temperamentally, Obama has had no surer an ally in the West. On going into Libya, staying out of Syria, not subsidizing European governments, applying sanctions on Iran, and fighting recession in North America, Harper has stood firmly with Washington. (Okay, Harper hasn’t publicly criticized Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for expanding settlements, but then again, neither has Obama.)
The importance of the Keystone decision is inspired by a global problem, and how it’s resolved will enhance—or shatter—Obama’s reputation as a steady President and trustworthy ally in addressing global problems.
Except for the cynics and Daryl Hannah, and their fans, everyone recognizes that attacking capitalism and pipelines and singling out one mining operation in the fossil fuel supply chain won’t save the planet or elect liberals. Nevertheless, rejecting a pipeline over mining practices in Canada would hurt Canada’s economy severely, be a roaring hypocrisy, and, as likely, be a breach of Canada-US and GATT trade covenants.
Over the two precious years Barack Obama has left to launch something big on climate change and North American renewal, Stephen Harper will be Canada’s majority Prime Minister.
With the Keystone decision, the President can decide whether he wants to fashion a credible North American policy or simply issue environmental regulations that will make Republicans angry without solving the problem.