Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Pipeline Politics: the Canadian Angle


The protests against the Keystone XL pipeline have already focused a great deal of attention on the Conservatives’ terrible environmental record and if Obama rejects the project it would deliver a major blow to their tar sands oriented economic policy. It could also precipitate a sort of existential crisis within the ardently pro-US Conservative party.

Opposition to Keystone XL is increasingly portrayed as a challenge to the Conservatives environmental policies. “Canada defends climate record amidst U.S. Keystone XL protests‏,” noted a recent headline while a Globe and Mail business article explained: “Ottawa, meanwhile, is guilty of its own folly. It’s cultivated a reputation as an international global warming villain at just about every recent climate conference. The federal government now has no capital in the bank with which to fight off environmental attacks on the Keystone XL pipeline.”

When Obama talked about climate disturbances in his inauguration speech it was seen as a rebuke of the Canadian Conservative government. Afterwards the front-page of the Globe and Mail read: “U.S. ambassador warns Ottawa to heed Obama on energy.” Alluding to Keystone XL, the paper noted, “the ambassador’s remarks send a message that Canada’s action on greenhouse-gas emissions are a factor in the country’s trade interests, especially in oil.”

Prior to the recent Keystone protests the Conservatives had been responding to questions on all different topics in the House of Commons by denouncing the NDP’s “job-killing carbon tax”. But their aggressiveness on this front may have come back to bite them. In an Ottawa Citizen article titled “Conservatives have only themselves to blame if Keystone XL goes awry” Michael Den Tandt notes: “These past six months, believing they were crafting a lethal [“job-killing carbon tax”] narrative for the NDP, the Conservatives were shaping one about themselves. With the country’s economic future hanging in the balance, they now belatedly see their mistake. They can do little but eat crow, shut up about the ‘job-killing carbon tax’ already, and hope U.S. economic self-interest prevails.”

While one may take issue with Den Tandt’s views on Keystone XL, the protests in the US have definitely forced the Conservatives to shift (rhetorical) gears on climate policy. (A similar groundswell of popular opposition in BC to the Northern Gateway pipeline prompted the Conservatives, who want to preserve a number of seats in that province, to back away from their claims that “foreign financed” environmental “radicals” were sabotaging Canada’s economy by participating in the pipeline permit process.)

The Conservatives are worried that if Keystone XL, Northern Gateway and other export pipelines are not approved, Alberta’s oil will continue to sell at a steep discount from international market prices. This might imperil the industry’s plan to triple tar sands output over the next two decades.

Opposition to the pipelines is already weighing on stock prices, according to a recent Globe and Mail Report on Business article that tied the drop to the industry becoming “a global symbol of environmental destruction.”

“This year, nearly every company with major oil sands exposure is down by double digits and some investors may regard them as bargains. However, oil sands equities don’t yet seem cheap enough to compensate for all the risks. Even an optimist has to believe it’s now going to take years to build the pipelines the industry so desperately needs.”

The Conservatives have put a lot of their economic eggs in the tar sands basket and they are pulling out all the stops to convince Obama to grant TransCanada the pipeline permit. “Canada gives full-court press to Keystone approval” noted a recent Globe and Mail headline. A slew of Conservative ministers and provincial premiers have flown to Washington to push the pipeline while Canada’s ambassador has taken an increasingly belligerent tone. Gary Doer recently bemoaned the Hollywood stars opposed to the project and the media’s coverage of the issue. He’s also repeatedly slurred Venezuela’s elected, saying “If you ask the question: Do you want your oil from (Venezuelan President) Hugo Chavez or (Alberta Premier) Alison Redford, I think I know the answer.”

Privately, leading Conservative officials, reports the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson, say that if Obama rejects Keystone XL “relations between Canada and the United States will enter a deep freeze the likes of which have never been seen.”

Of course that is hogwash. The Conservatives have limited room to maneuver. The Obama administration knows full well that a large portion of Canadians dislike the Prime Minister and oppose tar sands expansion (they are desperate to get Keystone approved partly because they are having difficulty building pipelines through BC).

A recent New York Times business article speculated that Ottawa was threatening to pull back from purchasing Lockheed Martin’s F35 fighter jets if Obama doesn’t approve KXL. While many would rejoice at such a development, from the government’s perspective this would be like cutting off its nose to spite its face. Their friends among the military leadership and Canadian military industry would not be pleased.

More generally, militarism is a bedrock of the Conservative ideology. And being pro-military in today’s world means supporting the US, the leading global military power.

Alongside that pro-American outlook, the Conservatives have pushed to deepen continental integration on a host of security and economic issues. Are they going to back away from these efforts?

It’s doubtful. The Conservatives have angered so much of the Canadian public with their wedge politics and belligerence that they are limited to their core 35% slice of the political pie. And that core is precisely the pro-military and pro-continental integration segment of Canadians.

Stephen Harper’s government is locked in an unprecedented battle with the largest climate movement in US history. If the environmentalists win, the Conservatives may not fully recover.

Yves Engler’s latest book is The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s foreign policy. For more

Yves Engler’s latest book is ‪Canada in Africa: 300 years of Aid and Exploitation.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”