Daryl Hannah hasn’t had this much face time in Canada since she sported an eye patch and spent her time trying to slice and dice Uma Thurman.
Since Kill Bill, the 50-year-old Hannah has been much more activist than actor. But she can still do the full thespian.
So there she was this week, cringing, recoiling in horror and shock, burying her head in her hands in grief, rolling her eyes in disgust and tossing out quips from stage right as she debated the concept of ethical oil with former Conservative aide Alykhan Velshi.
She was playing to type, this time assuming the lead role in opposition to a proposed $7 billion Alberta-to-Texas pipeline that would bring more than 500,000 barrels per day of oil to Gulf coast refineries.
Opponents of Trans-Canada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline have been a daily feature of life in a park across from the White House where they are happily arrested, as Hannah was earlier this week.
But such is the media’s obsession with celebrity that it took the pictures of an actor in handcuffs to bring the issue north of the border.
“You need celebrities to punch a hole in the mainstream media,’’ says Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network, a protest organizer.
Proponents of the pipeline have big oil, the White House, the U.S. State Department, the province of Alberta and the government of Canada behind the bid, he says, so it sometimes takes someone with profile to help level the playing field.
Indeed, Hannah did elevate the environmental fight south of the border.
“I want to add my body and my voice to the thousands of others who are laying themselves on the line and saying, ‘No, we do not want to be party to this incredibly destructive path,’’’ she told her Canadian audience.
But by relying on a fading Hollywood star, Canadian advocates may be obscuring their own message. Friday, the focus of the protest shifts to the concerns of Canada’s First Nations and aboriginal leaders who have journeyed to Washington and who have never played alongside Tom Hanks or Steve Martin, so their voice will not be as loud.
Bill Erasmus, regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations in the Northwest Territories, will be there to press the Obama administration on his concern that aboriginal communities downstream from the oil sands cannot eat the fish or drink the water because of tailings from the oil sands in their water supply. “The quantity of water and the quality of water has been affected,” he says.
Keystone XL has become a rallying cause for a frustrated environmental movement in the U.S.
The U.S. State Department cleared the pipeline in a report released last Friday, saying it would have no adverse effects on water or air in the five states it will traverse and rejecting any argument that it will ramp up greenhouse gas emissions in the oil sands. As it is, the entire continent is criss-crossed with thousands of kilometers of pipelines of every kind — adding the Keystone line will hardly bump the total.
But it will bump employment and economic vigor in the U.S., which could badly use a project like this to nudge a frail economy back into activity.
The State Department nod cleared a major hurdle for the pipeline. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu nudged the deal closer to fruition Thursday, saying Canada’s role as a close ally may help win approval for the pipeline and Environment Minister Peter Kent became the first Canadian minister to predict approval.
But also Thursday, the Republican governor of Nebraska urged Obama to deny a federal permit for the pipeline because of its threat to a crucial water source for his state’s farmers and ranchers.
Erasmus sees that as progress for Keystone opponents and he appreciates the support and attendant publicity that Hannah brings.
But he’s not planning to get arrested. He prides himself on being an elected official who works through other channels.
Hannah got Entertainment Tonight. Erasmus gets an assistant secretary in the department of the interior.
It will be a crucial test of celebrity advocacy versus calm diplomacy.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer for the Toronto Star.