Canadian candidates battle over Keystone pipeline, climate

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended Thursday his work on approving the Keystone XL Pipeline and predicted the next United States president will support the project. 

“As you know, that’s a situation under the control of the United States,” Harper said of Keystone during Canada's first pre-election debate Thursday night.

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“I’ve had many conversations with President Obama. … He is simply saying he will make a decision that is in the American best interest, but as you know there’s overwhelming public support on both sides, and I’m very optimistic, in the long run, about the future of that project.”

Harper said it “may be the case” that the next president will approve the project even if Obama opposes it during his term. 

“I’m actually very confident, looking at the field, that whoever is the next president, I think, will approve that project very soon in their mandate,” he said. 

The Obama administration is currently reviewing the Keystone project and could decide soon on its prospects. 

Republicans support the project, though Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has refused to give a position on it. Other Democratic candidates oppose Keystone.

Harper and the leaders of three other major Canadian parties sparred Thursday in the first debate ahead of the country’s October elections. Energy and climate issues were a key topic in the debate, with Harper taking credit for more energy exports, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and his work on the Keystone project.

His opponents hit him at every turn, saying he hasn’t instituted the climate policies he promised earlier in his term as prime minister and crediting an economic downturn, not government action, with reducing emissions. 

They also fought over the future of Keystone. Thomas Mulcair, the leader of the New Democratic Party, the top opposition to Harper’s Conservative Party government, implied that he opposes the project and would institute harder regulations on the energy sector, including a carbon tax.

“I would enforce that type of legislation, make polluters pay for the pollution they create, and these types of projects would get looked at with a thorough and credible environmental process,” he said.

“Part of sustainable development is creating those value-added jobs in your own country. You don’t export them to another country. … I want to create those 40,000 jobs [from Keystone] here in Canada.”

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau accused Harper of making the Alberta oil sands region the “scapegoat” for climate change and said he would work with the U.S. and Mexican governments on continental energy regulations if he were prime minister.  

The Green Party’s Elizabeth May said her party is opposed to every major proposed pipeline project in the country, and called for more work to combat climate change.