Pipeline-altering lessons – by Jeffrey Simpson (Globe and Mail – November 16, 2011)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

A year ago, with an election in the offing, Stephen Harper’s government nixed BHP Billiton’s bid for Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan. Public opinion had turned against the Australian giant’s offer in the wake of Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall’s objections. The Harperites, reading the political mood and fearful of losing seats, swallowed their free-enterprise ideology and blocked the takeover.

So it’s a bit rich to listen to certain voices in the Harper government and among the chorus of lobbyists for the $7-billion Keystone XL pipeline decrying the Obama administration’s 11th-hour decision to further study the route through Nebraska. All politics, they claim, and thus all bad.

Of course, the delay was about Barack Obama’s precarious relationship with part of his party’s base. Environmentalists are disappointed in the President’s timid policies; postponing a decision on Keystone might assuage their disappointment.

But there was more to the decision than just Democratic presidential politics. Nebraska’s Republican Governor didn’t like the pipeline route, nor did many state legislators, to say nothing of a chunk of Nebraskans. The state’s politicians and voters were acting, if you like, as did the people of Saskatchewan in the Potash Corp. affair. A whole lot of them said: Whoa there. And the President listened.

The narrow point at issue – the one the White House used to justify the delay – is the proposed routing through an environmentally sensitive part of Nebraska. On Tuesday, the state’s two federal senators and the Governor said they would support Keystone if the pipeline went through another part of the state. Whether that support means approval before the next presidential election remains to be seen.

Whatever happens, Keystone hasn’t turned out to be a “slam dunk,” as Mr. Harper suggested – just as the BHP bid that looked so promising at the start died a political death at the Prime Minister’s hands.

But there are broader lessons from the Keystone affair that the Canadian and Alberta governments, and the oil industry, appear to have ignored.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/jeffrey-simpson/pipeline-altering-lessons/article2237344/