The New Democrats are sending two of their critics to Washington to tell U.S. legislators that some Canadians are concerned about the environmental impacts of oil-sands development.
At a time when the Conservative government and TransCanada Corp. are attempting to salvage a plan to run the Keystone pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast to carry oil-sands crude for processing, Megan Leslie and Claude Gravelle are heading to the U.S. capital to let American politicians know that feelings are mixed on this side of the border.
The New Democrats do not want to put a permanent halt to oil-sands development but say the federal government and Alberta should take a timeout to determine how the oil can be extracted with the smallest amount of damage to the environment and to develop a plan to deal with climate change.
Ms. Leslie, the NDP environment critic, and Mr. Gravelle, the party's natural resources critic, leave Tuesday and return Wednesday night.
"I am meeting with senators and congressmen. I am meeting with legislators who have an interest in hearing a different side of the story on Keystone, who have an interest in talking to Canadian legislators who represent a different point of view," Ms. Leslie said.
"The Prime Minister has been down there and he's sent lobbyists down there and he's sent other elected officials down there. But I don't think that's necessarily the whole story when that comes to what Canadians are thinking."
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has been to Washington a couple of times to argue that the pipeline presents no real environmental risk. He has also travelled to Europe to protest the EU decision to label Canadian oil as dirty.
The U.S. State department has concluded that the Keystone project should be studied for its environmental and social impacts, delaying the decision to approve the pipeline – which could have been politically problematic for Barack Obama – until after next year's presidential election.
The main complaint from the American critics of the pipeline is that it was to have been constructed through environmentally sensitive lands. TransCanada said Monday that is was prepared to reroute it.
But Ms. Leslie says the potential contamination of soil and water was not the only consideration.
"Some folks have pushed back, rightly so maybe, that this decision wasn't about greenhouse gases," she said. "But, if you look at the State Department statement, it says that they are going to do a review that includes environmental impacts and it says specifically, 'including climate change.' So it is about where this oil is coming from, what it can do, what states it's going to go through. It is about the whole big picture."
NDP signs up thousands of Quebeckers
Not long ago, the federal New Democrats were a party that had a lot of MPs in Quebec and not many members.
It was a problem that gave leadership hopeful Thomas Mulcair some pause in the days before he decided to enter the race to succeed Jack Layton.
But, according to the Toronto Star, Quebeckers are joining the NDP in significant numbers.
The Star says the federal New Democrats have tripled their membership numbers in Quebec since the leadership race began.
The party is expected to release its latest membership numbers on Wednesday and NDP sources have told the paper that the numbers in Quebec have climbed from 1,695 members in September to more than 5,000.
That could help Mr. Mulcair – through Brian Topp, another leading candidate, is also from Quebec.
But more than a third of the party members still reside in British Columbia.
It's hard to say what the distribution of members will mean in the party's one-member, one-vote system for selecting its leader. But, so far, MP Nathan Cullen is the only candidate from B.C.
And if New Democrats go local, that could certainly improve his chances.