We love Barack Obama up here. And we still think he’ll not impose “sustainable development” restraints on us now that we’re debating quite nicely on our own. However, he’s granted us plenty of time to fix on whom to blame if he blocks the Keystone XL Project this summer.
The usually sure-footed Stephen Harper looks vulnerable.
It’s a steel-hard assumption amongst Canadian opinion-makers that President Obama mustn’t like him. Obama cares more, and delivers better speeches, about climate change, and—deep down—he'd like Washington to be as liberal as Ottawa sounded before Harper was elected.
More importantly, Harper’s government has managed the Keystone lobby in Washington and decided that a wave of Canadian supplicants should highlight Canada’s most boring and least persuasive argument: environmental stewardship.
To the great unwashed in America, Canada’s brand is as clean as those saccharine clichés about maple syrup, Mounties and Lake Louise. To climate change media warriors, images of Canadian “tar sands” and black oil belching across the border will remain pure gold, whatever Canada says and does to reduce CO2 emissions.
(Additionally, Canada’s Leader of the Opposition, Thomas Mulcair, has given American pipeline opponents a devastating sound-bite: the oil sands will continue to grow as a global menace if Harper gets his way on Keystone and goes on to win the next election.)
Still, my choice for the most counterproductive advocacy goes to Allison Redford, Premier of Alberta.
Rather than double down as Canada’s pre-eminent continental energy market defender and advocate, Redford has led a cross-Canada campaign to build a “pan Canadian” energy market. The campaign’s aim is to get Alberta’s oil to the Atlantic and the Pacific without requiring US co-operation.
Imagine, assured world prices for landlocked Alberta producers, while, somehow, providing lower prices for Eastern Canadian oil consumers. Also, construction jobs across Canada and—certainly—massive, triple-A lending opportunities for Canadian banks.
It’s a nationalist alternative to Keystone and the Americans. It’s a vision no smart Albertan premier has ever bet on in the past. Nevertheless, it has wormed its way into the heads of Canadian spokespersons working on the Keystone file.
Diplomatic strategists quickly endorsed Redford’s 19th-century Canada-first vision as a sophisticated and dignified threat that would get Washington’s attention. Effectively: “If you block the Keystone pipeline, we’ll simply build around you."
Well, Washington received the message and is using it both for and against the pipeline. Fatalists shrug, “Those Canadians will keep polluting anyway.” Environmentalists, however, are free now to take a more purely ethical position: “Canada has options and it will do what it wants—and so should we. Stop Keystone.”
Nancy Pelosi the most powerful Democrat in Washington up for re-election next year, put that position baldy and, it’s alleged, the President mused along the same line in a private meeting with Republicans.
The argument predates the North American energy market: “We don’t need Keystone to secure US Energy Independence. The benefits of this project and Alberta oil sands development will accrue to Canadians. We’re buy-America-build-America Democrats.”
Redford’s vision legitimizes a reactionary shift in US and Canadian thinking. A dated vision that is economically and environmentally self-defeating. If this pipeline project is rejected, two conservative leaders in Canada will deserve much of the blame.