I’m taking some perverse pleasure in watching NDP leader Thomas Mulcair try to finesse the Keystone XL pipeline issue.

Not too long ago — in fact, anytime before the 2011 breakthrough election — the NDP would have had no problem staking out a position on the pipeline. Mulcair would have been loudly opposed to the pipeline based on the environmental concerns alone. The no-pipeline position would have appealed to the NDP’s, base, the broad coalition of the disaffected and the sanctimonious.  And it wouldn’t have mattered what the NDP had to say, really, since nobody really cared about a party that had no chance of being government.

But thanks to the freakish results of 2011, Mulcair and his New Democrats have drunk the Kool-Aid and have convinced themselves that they can actually win the next election. For the first time in the party’s history what the New Democrats say now actually matters. And therein lies the conundrum.

Mulcair has to be opposed to the pipeline to keep the base happy. But opposing a project that has long-term implications for the Canadian economy is political suicide. All Canadians, not just Albertans, need to get that glop out of the ground and shipped out. So, Mulcair has had to come up with a way to oppose the pipeline, but in a way that satisfies potential voters and long-time supporters. His solution is to oppose the pipeline based not on environmental concerns, but on the basis that bitumen should be refined here, to supply Canadians with jobs and long-term energy future.

I agree with Mulcair on this issue. We should be refining here, and not shipping jobs down a pipeline. I’ve never understood why we don’t do this; I can only assume the economic case for shipping bitumen to the U.S is stronger than refining it all here. But Mulcair is slinging it when he uses economics as the reason for opposing Keystone. Keystone is not an all-or-nothing proposition; Keystone can be built, as can the proposed west-east pipeline. Arguing against Keystone based solely on Canadian energy concerns is utterly bogus, and Mulcair certainly knows it.

After Mulcair met with Nancy Pelosi, the ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Pelosi said: “Canadians don’t want the pipeline in their own country.” On CTV’s Question Period, Mulcair denied that he gave Pelosi that impression (apparently, she came up with that idea all by herself), but when asked where he stands on the pipeline, he ducked and weaved and dodged the question (Watch the interview at http://www.ctvnews.ca/qp/).  But what kind of message would Mulcair has brought to the Americans? That the New Democrats were opposed to the pipeline because Canadians want to refine the bitumen for themselves? Why would Pelosi give a rat’s ass about Canadian energy needs?

Mulcair’s position on Keystone is purely political, and not based on the real reason for opposition to the pipeline, which is almost entirely environmental. I’m sure he would love to take the environmental stand, but he can’t if he wants to become prime minister.

Yes, the little New Democrats are all grown up now, compromising their core beliefs in hopes of attaining power, just like the big boys.



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