Politics Insider delivers premium analysis and access to Canada's policymakers and politicians. Visit the Politics Insider homepage for insight available only to subscribers.
Every time Barack Obama says anything about the Keystone XL pipeline, people rush to opposing conclusions about what he meant.
They were doing it again after the President discussed the issue with the New York Times on the weekend. What was the significance of the chuckle, after he discounted Republican claims that the pipeline would create tens of thousands of jobs? What was he signalling when he said Canada should do more to mitigate the climate-change impact of the oil sands?
"He is headed toward yes, and he's looking for defensible ways to support yes," opined Kevin Book, a policy expert at ClearView Energy Partners, in a Politco article.
"It looks highly probable that he will kill Keystone in exchange for securing his place beside fellow Democrat Al Gore in the pantheon of climate change crusaders," Tasha Kheiriddin concluded at iPolitics.
One interview; two polar-opposite interpretations. Were those remarks nuanced, or what?
Yet for all these mixed signals and conflicting analyses the facts remain the facts, and the facts favour a yes on Keystone. Consider four of them:
First, to most politicians–even liberal Democrats in the United States–the economy matters more than the environment. Yes, Mr. Obama wants to leave an environmental legacy; yes he is heavily funded by Hollywood types and others with deep pockets and deep concern over global warming.
But Democrats also have historical memory. The remember when the Republican Party succeeded in branding them as economically incompetent in the early 1970s. It took 20 years and Bill Clinton before they lost that label.
Mr. Obama vowed last week in a major address to make the economy the number one priority in the remainder of his term–even over the environment, immigration and other concerns–because "if we don't have a growing, thriving middle class, we won't have the resources or the resolve, the optimism or sense of unity that we need to solve these other issues."
Tuesday, at the Amazon warehouse is Chattanooga, Tennessee, he promoted job creation and renewable energy–more ammunition for both sides. But the bottom line is that this President will have a hard time explaining why the economy is his greatest concern, even as he vetoes a new oil pipeline that would promote economic growth.
Second, Gary Doer is right. As the Canadian ambassador to the United States observed after Mr. Obama's Times interview, oil is going to be exported, and in increasing amounts, from Canada to the United States. There is no credible analysis available anywhere from anyone that suggests the U.S. will not need petroleum to drive its economy for decades to come, and some of that petroleum will have to be imported.
If the oil doesn't flow by pipeline, it will be delivered by train and truck. The tragedy at Lac Megantic offers a stark reminder of what that can mean in lives lost and property destroyed.
Third, rupturing the relationship between Canada and the United States would not be a good thing. Granted, the U.S. spends very little time worrying about that relationship. But Canada is a valued ally, and the Harper government has made it abundantly clear in Washington that a no on Keystone would create a major breach in relations between the two countries. All things being equal, the State Department and the White House would rather avoid such a breach.
Finally, Canada might soon answer an ask. In the Times interview, Mr. Obama repeated that the United States is looking for action from Canada to combat the global-warming consequences of oil sands development. The Harper government has been promising new emissions regulations on oil and gas production for years. A July 1 deadline has come and gone. But there is still time to release those new regs, and point to them as concrete steps that the Harper government is taking to reduce emissions.
The other side of this argument–that Mr. Obama will veto Keystone to cement his legacy as an environmentally conscious president–can and will martial its own facts. Arguments are like that.
But for those whom this writer has talked to who have a real stake in the outcome, political or economic, the betting remains that Mr. Obama will eventually say yes, however nuanced his remarks might be between now and then.