Harper Wants Northern Gateway With or Without Keystone XL, He Tells U.S. Audience

Prime Minister Stephen Harper plans to pursue oil sales to Asia regardless of whether the U.S. passes the Keystone XL pipeline, he says in Washington; meanwhile, protests are growing at home

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is bent on marketing Athabasca oil sands crude to Asia, he told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC after his meeting with U.S. and Mexico Presidents Barack Obama and Felipe Calderón.

Harper said it made “no sense” economically for Canada not to diversify to Asia and that the Keystone XL decision—to put off a final decision until at least after the 2012 election—was something of a wakeup call, reminding Canada that it should not depend on one customer alone.

"Would approval of [Keystone] change our mind?" replied Harper in answer to an audience question, according to Postmedia News. "The answer is no. We cannot be, as a country, in a situation where really our one, and in many cases, almost only energy partner could say no to our energy products. We just cannot be in that kind of position.”

This may be easier said than done, of course, given the substantial opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline, a dual affair that would wind through some of the country’s most pristine aboriginal territory and is opposed by more than 130 First Nations in British Columbia and Alberta.

After the Keystone XL rejection, Harper traveled first to China and then took a separate trip to Japan, Thailand and other Asian nations a few weeks later. Stops included Japan, where he started free trade talks, and South Korea.

Back home, though, protests continue. In February, 600 protesters took over tiny Prince Rupert, British Columbia, to protest. They were led by Hartley Bay First Nation, which sits at the end of the Douglas Channel, which tankers would travel through from the Pacific Ocean to Kitimat, where they would collect the oil sands crude and bring it to Asia. Prince Rupert officials also favored the move, CBC News reported.

Late March saw a similar wave, this one in Vancouver, where 2,000 people protested led by Heiltsuk First Nation, among other aboriginal groups, and environmentalist Bill McKibben. On March 26. They marched through the business district beating drums and chanting anti-pipeline slogans, the Vancouver Observer reported. The First Nations were in “full ceremonial regalia,” the newspaper said.

The 11-year-old singer Ta’Kaiya Blaney performed as well.