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interview gary doer

Gary Doer, Canadian Ambassador to the U.S., speaks at the World Affairs Council 2011 Global Education Gala, Wednesday, March 9, 2011, in Washington.Luis Alvarez/The Canadian Press

Gary Doer has served as Canada's ambassador to the United States for more than three years, but 2013 promises to be especially busy for our man in Washington: There are already three presidential permits awaiting approval by Barack Obama's administration that are of tremendous importance to Canadian businesses and workers.

The decisions Mr. Obama renders on these files will have a huge impact on investment, trade and employment for Canadians. Tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of economic benefits lie in the balance.

The highest-profile decision is TransCanada's controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, which on Jan. 21 cleared a hurdle when Nebraska's governor said the state had approved a new route that would avoid a fragile ecological zone, the Sandhills region, that had become a political obstacle in 2011. The project would convey Canadian oil-sands crude to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.

A second presidential permit is required to give Washington's final blessing for an additional bridge crossing at the Windsor-Detroit border, a span Canada eagerly wants built in order to broaden the single most important trade conduit to the United States.

Third, finally, is Enbridge's request to ship higher volumes through its Alberta Clipper pipeline, which carries oil from northern Alberta to the United States.

The Globe and Mail spoke to Mr. Doer last week.

Now that the state of Nebraska has approved Keystone's revised route – one that avoids the Sandhills region – where does that leave Canada and the Keystone XL pipeline?

It's not just Canada. Between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of the oil would come from the Bakken oilfields of North Dakota and Montana. So this is not just Canadian. It's actually been branded that way by opponents, but it helps also move oil from Bakken – U.S. domestic oil – onto a pipeline which by any definition is safer than the ways it's moving now, which is by trucks and trains.

You've said that the debate over Keystone is sometimes wrongly portrayed as jobs versus the environment. You seem to be saying the fight against climate change should focus on reducing demand for coal and oil – such as Mr. Obama's 2011 deal to toughen emission standards for autos – instead of debating where it's sourced in North America.

I think the President has the ability in this second term to get very close to energy independence for the United States. He talked about oil from Canada and the United States and Mexico as being part of it. And he has the ability, through light-vehicle emission standards which we have joined, to fulfill his commitment to greenhouse-gas reductions. The President doesn't get as much credit as he should for this – nor do we get as much credit in Canada – but actually it will [achieve] more of a reduction in greenhouses gases than anything else that's happened in the last 20 years in this, in this neighbourhood, i.e. North America.

Are you more optimistic about Keystone getting approval today than in 2012?

Getting Nebraska approved moves this [forward]. This is progress for Keystone. But you know it's not over by any means. It's moving along well. I just talked to a member of the Hill from Michigan who thought it was moving along very positively. But you know it was moving along pretty well until the Sandhills portion of the aquifer happened in Nebraska. So the bottom line is, "Don't put your hands in the air till the puck's in the net." I've overused that term, but it's the same deal.

Concern over passing through the Sandhills region was the reason cited by the U.S. State Department when it delayed a decision in November 2011. Now that's been resolved to Nebraska's satisfaction. Do you believe the path forward is clear now?

This is hopefully not a Charlie Brown exercise. You know – don't move the football, don't move the goalpost.

On the Detroit-Windsor bridge, the Moroun family that owns the existing Ambassador Bridge has mounted a well-financed fight to stop this second span. The bridge has survived a referendum challenge last November and a key remaining hurdle is the presidential permit. Do you still expect the Morouns to mount a campaign in Washington against a presidential permit for the bridge?

We expect that behind every cherry blossom will be a Moroun lawyer. So that's how we're planning it.

This interview has been edited and condensed from the original.