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.
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."