When star power outshines the message

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.

Actress Daryl Hannah is arrested by U.S. Park Police in front of the White House in Washington

Actress Daryl Hannah is arrested by U.S. Park Police in front of the White House in Washington

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Arshdeep Bains eyes a loose puck in front of the Medicine Hat Tigers net Saturday night in WHL action at the Centrium. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Rebels fall short in 12th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 (Saturday) Tigers 3 Rebels 2 (Monday) The Red… Continue reading

Red Deer property owners will receive their 2019 property assessment notices in the next few days.  (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer awaiting more details on how federal budget impacts city

The City of Red Deer is awaiting more information on how much… Continue reading

With a ban on sit-in dining once again in place, Las Palmeras owner Andre Lemus is gearing up for more takeout and delivery business. He has also applied to set up an outdoor patio, where dining is allowed under new restrictions. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Big interest in outdoor patios in Red Deer as sit-down dining banned again

City of Red Deer has tweaked its patio regulations to make it easier to get a permit

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

Ottawa Senators' Connor Brown, right, scores on Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom during second-period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Alta., Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Connor Brown scores twice for Ottawa Senators in 4-2 win over Calgary Flames

Connor Brown scores twice for Ottawa Senators in 4-2 win over Calgary Flames

Canada head coach Bev Priestman reacts during the women's international friendly soccer match between England and Canada at Bet365 stadium in Stoke on Trent, England, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. Priestman says her goal is to help Canada move up the Olympic podium after back-to-back bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Rui Vieira
Olympic soccer draw will allow Canadians to start planning on and off the pitch

Olympic soccer draw will allow Canadians to start planning on and off the pitch

Federal government’s extension of CEWS in budget is some good news for CFL franchises

Federal government’s extension of CEWS in budget is some good news for CFL franchises

Canada's Brendan Bottcher dropped a 6-3 decision to Scotland's Bruce Mouat in the men's final of the Humpty's Champions Cup. Bottcher makes a shot against Scotland at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Friday, April 9, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Mixed results for Canadian teams at Champions Cup as Homan wins, Bottcher loses

Mixed results for Canadian teams at Champions Cup as Homan wins, Bottcher loses

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. The University of Victoria says Williams has resigned effective immediately. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
University of Victoria women’s rowing coach resigns by mutual agreement

University of Victoria women’s rowing coach resigns by mutual agreement

Stewart Cink watches his drive down the second fairway during the final round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament in Hilton Head Island, S.C., Sunday, April 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Cink coasts to win at Hilton Head for 2nd title of season

Cink coasts to win at Hilton Head for 2nd title of season

The Official UEFA Champions League match balls are on display ahead of the Champions League quarter final second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Threats of expulsion as UEFA confronts Super League rebel 12

Threats of expulsion as UEFA confronts Super League rebel 12

San Jose Sharks center Patrick Marleau (12) motions to the crowd during a break to mark his passing Gordie Howe for most NHL games played in the first period of an NHL hockey game Monday, April 19, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Sharks’ Marleau breaks Howe’s NHL games played record

Sharks’ Marleau breaks Howe’s NHL games played record

Most Read