by Lorne Gunter
Why is Brad Wall the most visible premier in efforts to get the Obama White House to approve the Keystone XL pipeline? Why is the Saskatchewan leader more publicly active than Alberta’s own Alison Redford?
Last month it was Wall, not Redford, who joined together with 10 U.S. governors to send a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to approve the pipeline from Alberta’s and Saskatchewan’s bitumen deposits, across six states to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Last week it was Wall, not Redford, who wrote the American ambassador in Ottawa, David Jacobson, asking Jacobson to explain Obama’s remarks about climate change in last Tuesday’s State of the Union address and what they mean for the approval or rejection of Keystone.
Federal Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, too, has been very vocal in his support of Keystone and in explaining what Canada is already doing to prevent climate change, the fear of which is a big reason American leftists oppose Keystone.
Admittedly, Redford’s staff insist she is working hard behind the scenes to get the U.S. State department and the White House to sign off on the project. They point out that since becoming premier nearly a year-and-a-half ago, Redford has visited both Washington and Chicago (Obama’s hometown) to promote the pipeline. They insist she is “pursuing other avenues,” meaning that she continues to advocate for Keystone away from the media spotlight.
But, like justice, advocacy must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. If Redford will not be Keystone’s most vocal political advocate, it could be possible for White House advisers to wonder why the president should risk his own political support when even Alberta won’t stand up for the line.
I remain confident that ultimately Keystone will get approved. American electoral politics now are different than they were before the 2012 presidential election.
Then, Obama needed the votes of environmentalists (who are disproportionately young) to ensure his own re-election. Now, his goal and that of his Democratic Party are to re-win control of the House of Representatives in the 2014 midterm elections.
Local issues are much more important in Congressional races than in presidential ones, and Keystone and the jobs it will create are more important locally than the theory of global warming and climate change. From now until 2014, Democratic objectives favour pro-Keystone forces more than anti.
For instance, while environmentalists may have helped Obama get re-elected, they will have less to offer towards recapturing the House of Representatives. There, unions will have more impact and the major construction unions are all in favour of Keystone. (So too are two-thirds of Americans.)
I believe the White House will impose one or two more hurdles on Alberta and Canada before giving the go-ahead, maybe a new set of emissions targets or a carbon tax or agreeing to re-enter UN climate control treaties after Canada pulled out of the Kyoto accord at the end of 2012.
But like Kyoto, I also suspect whatever new regime the White House may come up with will be more symbolic than real. Under Kyoto, more than three dozen countries agreed to binding cuts in their carbon emission, but by the end of last month few had achieved them.
Alberta (perhaps surprisingly to most Canadians) already imposes a carbon tax on the province’s 700 largest emitters, which includes the oilsands. At $15/tonne for emissions over government-set maximums, the tax seems to have encouraged more carbon-lite practices by industry without having driven up retail gasoline prices or inflation.
President Obama could choose to reject the pro-pipeline to the advice of his cabinet and departments, but it seems unlikely his will stand with environmentalists and against voters.