by Carol Linnitt

Photo Credit: Catherine Sebastian
Photo Credit: Catherine Sebastian

A Sunday report from the Globe and Mail gives a rather undersized account of what prominent environmental organizations are calling the largest climate rally in American history, suggesting Canadian media might be trying to downplay the extent of public opposition to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline planned to cut across the U.S. to reach refineries and export markets.

In the wake of the massively successful display of North American opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington DC on Sunday, February 17th, perhaps some Canadians are refusing to receive the message, or admit the significance of Canada’s contentious, bituminous role in the whole ordeal.

Organizers for the event estimate 35,000 or more individuals attended Sunday’s event, with some accounts citing figures as high as 50,000.

But as Paul Koring and his co-authors present the rally in the Globe and Mail, organizers only claimed 35,000 participants attended the protest, but “turnout seemed significantly smaller.”

Some protesters even “voiced disappointment at the numbers” after traveling across the country to be in Washington for the monumental day. An unofficial policeman’s estimate, the article states, said the turnout amounted to perhaps 10,000, a meagre total evidenced by the unused portable toilets and protesters who skipped out early to leave nothing but a “straggling column” to march on the White House a mere two hours into the rally.

Sounds rather unimpressive. I suppose Canadians can rest easy, knowing rumours of growing tar sands opposition south of the boarder are exaggerated. Right?

An anticipatory article by Koring in the Globe had already set the tone on Friday with misgivings about organizer ambitions to deliver “tens of thousands” of “people to decry efforts to build a pipeline.” And in a follow-up article Koring claimed “the raucous Keystone XL pipeline argument is drowning out serious discussions about bigger, broader and far more important choices.”

Sunday’s article, co-authored by Koring, Barrie McKenna and Carrie Tait, runs with the headline “U.S. Protest Paints Keystone as Emissions Villain.” The overarching message is this: the opposition may have drawn their line in the sand, but it’s the wrong line. Protesters who “vilified Keystone” on Sunday, need a reality check: the pipeline itself isn’t the issue – climate change is the rallying cry.


What Koring and other commentators have failed to grasp is the intentionally principled nature of the protest. The Keystone XL protest isn’t just about the pipeline itself – which Koring meaninglessly states “would produce virtually no emissions” – it’s about the fossil fuel empire; it’s about the tar sands; it’s about manmade climate disruption.

The event itself was called “Forward on Climate.”

And given the pipeline’s direct link to Canada’s climate quagmire, the Alberta tar sands, it isn’t at all surprising that Americans have seized the Keystone question as an opportunity to call out Canadian shortcomings. And it also isn’t surprising that some might try to dismiss the importance of that altogether.

Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., also downplayed the rally, claiming the protesters lack “logic.” Speaking on Energy Week TV Doer referred to a number of high-profile arrests in the leadup to Sunday’s rally, including that of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and actress Daryl Hannah, saying “twenty people protesting do get more attention in the media than the 65 percent of Americans that prefer to get their oil from Canada rather than Venezuela or the Middle East,” an argument seeming to emerge from out of the Canadian ‘Ethical Oil‘ playbook.

“So am I concerned with the fact that the media will go with the picture as opposed to sometimes logic? That’s just part of how issues are covered. But when you look at it, public opinion supports .”

Doer might be somewhat behind the times, however. As the recent post-State of the Union poll demonstrated, the majority – 65 percent – of Americans feel climate change is a serious problem and support President Obama’s use of authority to curb carbon pollution. Keystone XL presents Obama with the opportunity to do just that, whether or not Canadians are on board, and whether or not Canadians keep apprised of American popular sentiment.

Doer suggests the Obama administration ignore “the 20 people who are out there” and choose instead to “proceed with logic.”

But whose logic would that be?

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