Alberta tar sands claim the soul of Conservative MP Rob Merrifield

by: Obert Madondo  | Published Friday, Sep. 19, 2014

Rob Merrifield. (Photo: International Transport Forum/FLICKR)

Rob Merrifield. (Photo: International Transport Forum/FLICKR)

Earlier this week, I blogged about 20 Conservative MPs jumping Harper’s sinking ship before the 2015 federal election. Yet another, Rob Merrifield, resigned this week, bring the number of quitters to 21.

But the Alberta MP is abandoning his $163,700 per year elected seat for a completely different reason – to work as Alberta Premier Jim Prentice’s leading tar sands lobbyist in Washington. Merrifield’s new pay cheque: $243,000 per year.

As the CBC News reported, Merrifield’s “appointment is one of three announcements Prentice made today in an effort to get Alberta’s resources to key markets.” The Globe and Mail says the appointment makes Merrifield “Alberta’s point-man in pressing for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.”

In subsequent media interviews, Merrifield confirmed that his immediate priority is to get President Barack Obama to approve TransCanada’s discredited pipeline.

Merrifield, who once said the issue of over 330 female Mounties alleging harassment in the RCMP was “not a gender issue,” believes he’s what it takes to make U.S. President Barack Obama “feel the pressure and understand” that approving the 1,900 Keystone XL pipeline “is in the best interest of America.”

I don’t see how he’ll succeed where Big Oil’s own man in Washington failed. Alberta’s outgoing envoy to the U.S. capital, David Manning, a former president of Calgary-based Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), Big Oil’s biggest lobby group in Canada. He failed to convince the Americans to approved the pipeline. In fact, Merrifield can best be described as an incompetent tar sands salesperson. He’s served as the chairperson of the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on International Trade, and the Harper government’s tar sands-focused congressional liaison. In February, 2013, the Globe characterized him as “the man selling Canada’s oil sands to Washington.”

So far, both men have nothing to show for their efforts to arm-twist the Americans into approving Keystone.

Six years ago today, TransCanada applied with the U.S. State Department to build Keystone XL. If built, the pipeline would ship up to 830,000 barrels of Canada‘s dirty tar sands oil per day from Alberta to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. Thanks to unrelenting opposition from environmentalists backed by leading research and high-profile voices, North America’s most polarizing energy project is still in limbo.

A new study, released in August, strongly suggests that the State Department grossly underestimated the pipeline’s negative environmental impact, when it released its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Assessment earlier this year. As I pointed out earlier, the State Department concluded that XL “wouldn’t be a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, estimating that the carbon impact would be 27 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.” The new study, conducted at the Stockholm Environment Institute by Peter Erickson and co-author Michael Lazarus, and published in the journal Nature Climate Change, estimates that Keystone XL would produce four times that amount: 110 million tonnes.

Last year, Oil Change International said the full cost of Keystone “to society could be upwards of $100 Billion per year in damages to health, property, ecosystems, and the climate.” Also last year, Mark Jaccard, a former Harper-appointee to the now-nuked National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, said Keystone was turning Canada into a “rogue state.”

RELATED: Ex-US president Jimmy Carter urges Obama to reject Keystone XL Pipeline

Opposition to the Keystone XL has also forced the project to the centre of the U.S. debate on climate and energy policy; it’s forced the project to become a key determinant of Obama’s legacy.

To show leadership on climate change and leave a lasting legacy, US President Barack Obama must reject Keystone XL pipeline, declared former president Jimmy Carter, South African anti-apartheid icon Bishop Desmond Tutu and other Nobel Peace Prize laureates in a strongly-worded open letter earlier this year.


You stand on the brink of making a choice that will define your legacy on one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced – climate change. As you deliberate the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, you are poised to make a decision that will signal either a dangerous commitment to the status quo, or bold leadership that will inspire millions counting on you to do the right thing for our shared climate.

Obama has said he would only approve Keystone “if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” Speaking at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., in June, 2013, Obama said:

Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan MLA Tim McMillan announced Thursday he’s ditching elected office to become the president of CAPP. McMillan is a former minister of energy and natural resources.

Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on

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Obert Madondo

Publisher and editor
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, activist, photographer, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. He's the founder and editor of these independent publications: The Canadian Progressive, a political blog dedicated to progressive Canadian journalism; The Zimbabwean Progressive, a political blog dedicated to producing fearless, progressive, adversarial, unapologetic, and activism-oriented Zimbabwean journalism; and Charity Files, a publication dedicated to journalism in the charitable public's interest. Follow Obert on Twitter: @Obiemad