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The advertisement by Natural Resources Canada

Canada's Keystone campaign is all about influencing the "opinion makers and decision makers," as one Canadian official put it.

That means the people who help shape public policy: lawmakers, lobbyists, thousands of Congressional staffers, lawyers, union representatives and environmental groups.

No one expects a decision in the long-delayed, much-studied, $6.5-billion project before late summer. Some expect further delay as U.S. President Barack Obama weighs a decision that has become far larger than a 36-inch-diameter pipeline capable of delivering upwards of one million barrels a day to refineries – or perhaps tankers destined overseas – in Texas and Louisiana ports.

Story continues below advertisement

Ardent Keystone XL opponents, including a slew of environmental groups, and the pipeline's backers, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have turned TransCanada's pipeline into something far larger.

For the Canadian government, Keystone XL has become a litmus test of whether Washington – and in particular, the Obama administration – is willing to show it's a reliable friend and good neighbour. The not-so-subtle message delivered by a parade of premiers and federal cabinet ministers – and to be delivered again later this week when Mr. Harper speaks in New York City – is that saying 'No' to Keystone XL would be a slap in Canada's face that would carry repercussions and damage the entire bilateral relationship.

Ottawa doesn't expect to convert anti-Keystone activists, but it does hope to blunt their force, and perhaps even win some middle-of-the-road Democrats.

Anti-Keystone XL activists have raised the stakes – turning the pipeline project into a test of Mr. Obama's integrity and credibility on what they regard as the gravest, potentially catastrophic, public-policy issue of the 21st century: climate change. They want Keystone XL rejected as a signal that the President was serious about curbing greenhouse gas emissions and – more importantly – as a means of wrecking the economics of developing the vast, carbon-heavy, Alberta oil reserves.

"Approving Keystone would be another nail in the coffin for the climate," said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, a group opposed to the pipeline. She said a rejection would make Mr. Obama "the first world leader to say no to a major fossil fuel infrastructure project."

If he buys the Canadian case, she said, "he'll alienate the very base that he needs to achieve his green agenda."

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