I'll generally concur with Paul Wells' take on Barack Obama's reference to Keystone XL yesterday. But it's worth taking a slightly closer look at both the broad issue framed by Obama, and the Cons' narrow means of avoiding it.
The point of greatest significance in Obama's speech was indeed the mention that as a general rule, any project which exacerbates climate change isn't in the U.S.' national interest. But it's hard to see how that standard could be applied to Keystone XL and not to a wide range of regulatory and trade arrangements - meaning that a single pipeline approval process shouldn't be the only area where Harper faces significant pressure to actually do something about climate change generally.
That said, Harper still looks to be grasping at any opportunity to claim interest in addressing climate change without laying a finger on an industry whose emissions are projected to more than double over a ten-year period and lay wreck to Canada's nominal emission targets.
Which means that the short-term play to get Keystone XL approved figures to look far more like the actual response from Joe Oliver and TransCanada than Wells' mooted one: the Cons will assume for the purposes of a "net emissions" comparison that every possible tar sands project will go ahead whether or not the pipeline is finished, and threaten that if Keystone XL isn't available to supply U.S. refineries, the resulting diluted bitumen will instead be sent to Bangladesh by ox cart to be used to set fire to collapsed factories, livestock and orphans.
The resulting comparison might well make the net effect of Keystone XL alone look like a slam dunk. But it would also serve as a glaring signal that Harper's Cons don't take the larger issue of climate change seriously. And the greatest hope for Wells' alternate proposal (that the Keystone approval process might trigger actual emission regulations for the tar sands) likely lies in the possibly that Obama might decide his country's national interest requires that he avoid encouraging Harper's typical irresponsibility.