POLITICS: PennAve

Could Canadian foreign officers' strike affect Keystone XL?

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Could the Keystone XL pipeline process be delayed or derailed by a strike of Canadian diplomats? That’s what the union representing Canadian foreign service officers is arguing.

The Canadian diplomats, including those based in Washington, have been in a legal strike position since early April.

With the collapse of talks in June, diplomats at the Canadian embassy and across the world have been involved in job actions targeting top-level priorities of the Canadian government — including the Keystone XL pipeline initiative.

The diplomats have so far engaged largely in service withdrawals, staggered walkouts and pickets. But the union warns that this is affecting Canada’s lobbying on the controversial pipeline, which if approved would run from the Canadian oilsands to refineries in the Gulf Coast.

“The effects of job action on Keystone XL are that, with the Canadian government’s advocacy and timeline, instead of a full court press, it will only be applying a half-court press,” argues Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers President Tim Edwards.

Edwards said that the point of the job action is to have a “cumulative effect over time” on the pipeline lobbying process, and in so doing draw attention to the services that foreign service officers provide.

Most of the Canadian ambassador’s key advisors on Keystone XL are foreign service officers who are taking part in the limited job action, one Washington embassy diplomat told the Washington Examiner.

And striking diplomats walked off the job during two recent visits by Canadian cabinet officials: the minister of defense and the minister of international trade. But some outside observers minimize the effect that this kind of job action will have on high-level political decisions like Keystone XL.

“It’s a cry for relevance. … When you strike, you really want people to say, ‘Oh gosh, what are going to do without those services,’” said Chris Sands, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who specializes in U.S.-Canada relations. “It makes life a little more difficult, but I don’t think it makes a huge difference. Keystone is stuck in a process wrapped in politics, and none of those things can be shifted by diplomacy.”

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