Pipeline to 2015: energy, deficit fight expected themes for PM's fall agenda

OTTAWA – While Barack Obama unveils a major new climate-change strategy in the United States, Stephen Harper is expected to make natural resources one of his key agenda items this fall.

Both Obama and Harper have faced difficult springs politically — Obama with the controversy over federal spying and the taxman targeting right-wing groups, and Harper with a Senate spending scandal.

But the two leaders appear to be taking contrasting approaches to turning the page.

Obama unveiled a strategy for combating climate change Tuesday. He pointedly said the Keystone XL pipeline from the Alberta “tarsands” to the southern U.S. would not go ahead if it increased greenhouse-gas emissions.

Government sources say Harper will emphasize major energy projects, including pipelines to take Alberta’s oil to tidewater, as the source of more economic stability for Canada.

That would include the Keystone XL pipeline through the United States, the Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia, and a west-east line that would bring oil to refineries in Eastern Canada.

“I do believe that diversifying Canada’s export markets is the fight of our time,” said one government source.

“These are defining issues, because we’re taking one side on these issues, and the opposition’s taking the other side of them. Canadians will have a very clear choice before them.”

The goal of eliminating the deficit — and finally fulfilling such promises as income-splitting for families — is another familiar theme that Tories say they expect to figure prominently.

Further belt-tightening in the federal public service could potentially be part of that deficit fight. A trade deal with the European Union is another win that the Conservatives are counting on this fall.

“We can look back at our record with pride and look ahead with confidence, because we have made good decisions,” Harper said at an announcement in Dolbeau, Que., Monday.

“Few countries in the world can brag they have an economy as dynamic as Canada’s.”

But when exactly the prime minister and his team will begin to unveil elements of their much anticipated policy strategy remains in limbo.

Flooding in Alberta pushed the Conservatives off their calendar. Harper was scheduled to deliver a major speech at the party’s convention in Calgary this week, but the event was cancelled because of the emergency.

That leaves the Conservative caucus and the rank-and-file without the high-profile pep rally a major convention promised.

With a cabinet shuffle still widely expected in mid-July, the opportunity to build some new momentum and distract public attention away from the Senate spending scandal is still at least two weeks away.

Harper has been putting the pieces together for a major shuffle since early this year, including conversations with individual ministers. But who is going where is still a major question — and source of speculation — around Parliament Hill.

“He has to show momentum,” said one Conservative. “If we wait until later in July to take action, there’s a risk it will go unnoticed.”