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Canada’s Prime Minister Reminds Hillary Clinton That Americans Support Keystone

"This is not a debate between Canada and the US. We know the American people support the project," Stephen Lecce, a spokesperson for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said.
Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has come out against Keystone XL, calling the controversial pipeline that would carry crude oil from Alberta to American refineries on the Gulf Coast "a distraction from the important work we have to do on climate change."

But despite the staunch opposition — including from President Barack Obama and Alberta's premier, Rachel Notley — Canada's Conservative government continues to express optimism about the 1,179-mile pipeline proposal that has been a flashpoint on both sides of the border, and in the lead up to the US presidential race in 2016.


"This is not a debate between Canada and the US. We know the American people support the project," Stephen Lecce, a spokesman for Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, told the Globe and Mail in response to Clinton's statement.

"Keystone XL will create jobs for Canadian and American workers and strengthen energy security in North America," he said, and declined to comment further on Clinton. "We will not engage in presidential primary debates."

In August, Clinton refused to pick sides on the pipeline until she was elected.

But on Tuesday, in at a community forum in Des Moines, Iowa, she said "it is imperative that we look at the Keystone pipeline as what I believe it is — a distraction from important work we have to do on climate change.

"And unfortunately from my perspective, one that interferes with our ability to move forward with all the other issues. Therefore I oppose it."

Time to invest in a clean energy future—not build a pipeline to carry our continent's dirtiest fuel across the US. I oppose Keystone XL. -H

— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton)September 23, 2015

When asked about Clinton's comments Tuesday, Alberta premier Rachel Notley said, "I do think we need to get our product to tidewater. I'm just not convinced that getting our product down to the gulf where there's a whole bunch of cheap refining is absolutely the best strategy for an industry in Alberta when Albertans want to see focus more on upgrading and refining." Notley has previously stated her opposition to Keystone XL.


It's a decidedly different tone than the one struck by the governing Conservative party of Canada.

In January, Minister for Natural Resources Greg Rickford said the project was a matter of when and not if. And in July, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the project will "ultimately go ahead under a subsequent [American] administration."

A CNN poll in January found that 57 percent of Americans support Keystone XL versus only 28 percent who oppose it. Fifteen percent said they were undecided.

But a political science professor at the University of Alberta, Ian Urqhart, says the Conservatives have no reason to be optimistic.

"The only scenario right now under which there's a reason to be optimistic that a presidential permit will be issued would be if one of the Republican contenders for the president wins in the presidential election," Urqhart told VICE News Wednesday. "So I don't see really any basis for that optimism."

He also called Clinton's stance on Keystone XL from a climate change perspective "hypocritical," since she supported another pipeline in 2009, when scientific opinion was already aligned on the reality of climate change.

In August 2009, as part of the Obama administration, Clinton delivered the presidential permit for the Alberta Clipper project, he argued, allowing the pipeline, also known as Line 67, to carry 450,000 barrels a day.

"What's hypocritical about it is the fact that climate change is no less important of an issue now than it was in 2009 when she approved that pipeline," Urqhart said, referring to her reasoning against Keystone XL. "She could have made that same remark about the Alberta Clipper in 2009."

"Unless she's Rip Van Winkle, and has been asleep for the last 20 years and has just realized now that oh my god, there's an issue called climate change out there, and we have to do something about it," he added.

Urqhart suggested Clinton's true motive in coming out against Keystone XL was geared at stealing potential votes from Bernie Sanders ahead of the New Hampshire primary.

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont