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Keystone XL key issue in U.S. election

Keystone XL key issue in U.S. election

By Yadullah Hussain, Financial Post February 10, 2012

The last time David H. Wilkins came to the National Post office for an editorial board meeting was in 2005. He was then U.S. Ambassador to Canada and President George W. Bush's key man in Ottawa.

Summing up the U.S.-Canada relationship at the time, Mr. Wilkins recalled a meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mr. Bush: "The President said: 'I will tell you what my policy is on Canada. My policy is to help Canada.' "

Fast forward to 2012 and another editiorial board meeting this week. Mr. Wilkins is no longer the U.S. ambassador and President Barack Obama has given the impression that he is not helping Canada by turning down the Keystone XL pipeline - at least for now.

That will not happen on the watch of any of the current Republican Presidential candidates, the former ambassador said. Mr. Wilkins, who sits on the board of a few Canadian companies, is a partner at the Nelson Mullins law firm specializing in Canadian-based work and visits the country once a month from his home base of South Carolina.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

FP What will be the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline, in your opinion?

DW It will absolutely be approved if a Republican gets elected president. I am hopeful it will be approved [under Obama]. There are two schools of thought on this: If Mr. Obama gets reelected, he will listen to his base and never approve it. The other school of thought believes Mr. Obama will approve it as he no longer has to rely on his environment base - I don't know which one it is.

FP The Canadian Prime Minister is in China looking to sell oil and attract Chinese investment in our energy sector. How concerned is Washington about Ottawa cozying up to Beijing?

DW Well, we obviously have no right to tell Canada what to do with their resources. But we should be concerned that we are not facilitating Canadian energy flowing into the U.S. and we have put up roadblocks. ... It makes no sense to do what the Obama administration has done, which is to placate the environmental base of the party and say no to Canada.

FP Some argue that the Republicans' decision to politicize Keystone XL left Mr. Obama with no choice but to decide against it.

DW I think if the Republicans hadn't brought it up, Mr. Obama would have quietly rejected it. I don't buy that argument that Republicans used it. I have been quite impressed with the effort made by the Canadian government. People are now saying that the [Canadian] message was not right. I think the message was right on.

FP How would you characterise the U.S.-Canadian relationship now and when you were ambassador?

DW I think our relationship will always be strong - it will have its ups and downs. When I first came here, the border was closed because of Mad Cow disease, the Iraq war was raging and Canadians felt strongly about it and the softwood lumber issue was at fever pitch - y'all went to the WTO! But I believe when I left [in 2009] the relationship was extremely good. I don't claim credit for it, but Mr. Bush enjoyed a closer relationship with Mr. Harper - they were friends.

FP Do you expect KXL to be a major election issue in the November elections?

DW Absolutely, it's going to be continually talked about in Washington. All four of the Republican candidates are talking about it, as it addresses two issues important to Americans: jobs and energy security. And they will rightly say the government turned its back on 20,000 shovel-ready jobs - we need jobs. We also need energy security.

- Read the full interview and Ambassador Wilkins' views on the Republican candidates on financialpost. com/energy


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