Canadian oil likely an early item on the agenda for the new U.S. Congress

Alberta’s stalled Keystone XL pipeline project appears poised to become one of the first orders of business in the new U.S. Congress, where Tuesday’s Republican romp could end up impacting several Canadian industries.

WASHINGTON — Alberta’s stalled Keystone XL pipeline project appears poised to become one of the first orders of business in the new U.S. Congress, where Tuesday’s Republican romp could end up impacting several Canadian industries.

For months, virtually every Republican asked about post-election plans has mentioned Keystone XL as a top priority for the next Congress — a development that would be as detested by the environmental movement as it would be celebrated by oil industry supporters.

One Canadian cabinet minister wasted no time toasting the results.

“Good news for Canadian jobs & economy,” Employment Minister Jason Kenney tweeted as the election results rolled in. “It looks like the new U.S. Senate will have the 60+ votes needed to ensure that Keystone XL is approved.”

There are other implications for Canada, following the Republican rebound that saw the Republicans complete a gradual, eight-year-comeback from legislative opposition to claim control of both chambers of Congress, including a historically big majority in the House of Representatives.

There could be an impact on free-trade negotiations toward a new 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, said Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. A Republican-controlled Senate is likelier to give U.S. President Barack Obama fast-track authority to negotiate than did his own Democrats, who were divided on the issue.

Doer said he is also hopeful that the next Congress might reconsider country-of-origin meat labelling, which has raised the prospect of a tariff war pitting Canada and Mexico against the U.S.

With a Democrat holding veto power in the White House, and Democrats holding enough seats in Congress to filibuster most types of bills, the parties will need to co-operate, Doer said in an interview.

“The biggest issue here is not just the seat count and control of the Senate, but the will of the American public to get on with it. And I think that would be useful for all Canadian issues,” he said.

“Gridlock is not good for Canada — and it’s not good for the United States.”

Gridlock has been the norm lately.

A historically unproductive Congress has struggled to produce even routine legislation, to maintain highways and make payments on the national debt. The Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate blocked each other at every turn.

The Republican party now has real power, for the first time in years. It must now decide how to use it: try governing with President Barack Obama, or seek to destroy what’s left of his presidency.

The Republicans can now hope to get bills through Congress, and to the president’s desk. They could also use their power in other, more aggressive ways.

The Senate majority party can block nominees to the courts, to cabinet, and to ambassadorships. It can compel witnesses to testify at hearings. It can pack poison pills into legislation and try force-feeding them to the president — a major budget bill, perhaps, laced with a little toxin that might weaken Obama’s signature health reform.

The grassroots will press its leaders to fight. In his victory speech Tuesday, the new Senate leader promised to be constructive.

“We do have an obligation to work together on issues where we can agree. I think we have a duty to do that,” Mitch McConnell said at a party in Kentucky, where he easily defeated a Democratic challenge to his seat.

“Just because we have a two-party system doesn’t mean we have to be in perpetual conflict. I think I’ve shown that to be true at critical times in the past. I hope the president gives me the chance to show it again.

“There’s so much we can — and should — do for all Americans.”

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