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General · 16th May 2014
Barry Saxifrage
Sudden role reversal leaves Obama watching and Harper in the lose-lose hot seat. Maybe that was the plan all along…

(NOTE: This article originally published April 22, 2014 on the

You first, Stephen.

Yet another procedural delay means US President Barack Obama won't have to decide on the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline until sometime next year. Before then, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper must decide on one - - and possibly two - - bitterly-fought and politically-toxic tar sands pipelines in his own nation:

by June 2014, Enbridge Northern Gateway to Kitimat BC.
by March 2015, Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain to Port of Vancouver, BC.

Back when Obama had to decide first, Harper famously chided the US President for delaying his own politically-toxic tar sands pipeline decision by calling it a "complete no-brainer". One has to wonder if Harper still feels that way now that he has to lead off?

The sudden role reversal leaves Harper in a much more difficult position. If Obama had decided on Keystone XL (KXL) first, Harper could have gained some welcome cover no matter which way the decision went.

"NO" TO KXL - - If Obama had said "no" first, then Harper could declare a "crisis" and argue that Canadians can't rely on Americans anymore now that they turned their back on us … that Canadians must take their destiny into their own hands … that all Canadians must make now sacrifices for the greater good. That storyline of national rejection could have helped him override some of the fierce objections towards Northern Gateway.

"YES" TO KXL - - If, on the other hand, Obama had said "yes" first, then Harper could avoid trying to force Northern Gateway onto a currently hostile BC. He could point out that KXL approval gives the tar sands industry enough new pipe capacity that Enbridge could have more time to work to gain the needed social license for Northern Gateway.

Any such hope of political cover or advantage for Harper seems to have slipped away with the KXL delay.

Now it is Obama's turn to sit back and watch from the sidelines. Obama, not Harper, will get to triangulate and gain political cover from the other's decision. Maybe this was Obama's plan all along.

"Better to delay..."

For Harper, being forced to lead off with a decision on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline to the BC coast is an absolutely miserable scenario. The bitterly-opposed pipeline clearly lacks the required "social license" in BC at this point. And the rapidly approaching June deadline leaves Harper too little time to change the disastrous politics surrounding this pipeline before he has to decide.

The list of people in BC who are outraged by this proposed pipeline is long and daunting. It includes dozens of fiercely opposed First Nations whose unceded traditional territory covers big swaths of the pipeline route. Even the tidewater town, Kitimat, that would reap large economic benefits by being the terminal city defied expectations and voted to reject the pipeline.

Sensing an epic disaster in the making, the normally pro-tar-sands Vancouver Sun just penned an editorial titled: "It’s time for sober second thought on megaproject." It is a plea for Harper to delay the decision...

Click here to continue reading the full article at the Vancouver Observer