Canadians should know by now that it takes our political system about a year to elect a new president.

Until that happens, our federal government’s small capacity for rational decision-making evaporates entirely.

All that became painfully apparent last week when the Canadian government’s desire to run an oil pipeline across the U.S. was rejected by the Obama administration.

The proposed Keystone pipeline extension would move crude oil and diluted bitumen from the Athabasca Oil Sands in northern Alberta to refineries in Illinois and along the Gulf Coast. Along the way, American crude oil would also enter the pipeline.

This project was first proposed in 2005, so it’s not as if U.S. regulators have not had time to think about its environmental and economic implications.

But it does pit two groups within President Barack Obama’s base against each other, environmentalists, who would like to kill the project entirely, and unions, which would like to see it begin as soon as possible.

So, like a savvy politician, Obama decided this decision would best be made after the 2012 election to avoid angering either group of supporters.

Republicans, meanwhile, sought to force the issue, voting to give Obama 60 days to decide.

Obama decided all right, rejecting the pipeline project application and blaming Republicans for creating an unrealistically short time frame for consideration.

The company behind the line, TransCanada, immediately said it would apply for a new permit.

So a good project became the victim of election-year politics. In this case, Obama made the wrong decision.

The Canadian oil will find its way to market, in Asia if not in the U.S.

And every drop of Canadian oil means the world is one drop less dependent on oil from unstable and often unfriendly Mideast oil states.

While the project would have created 1,300 miles of new pipeline in the U.S., there are already 200,000 miles of pipeline here. TransCanada, meanwhile, had proposed eight routes to avoid important natural features and underground aquifers.

If the pipeline is not built, it simply means the same quantity of oil will reach the same refineries via oil tankers, and the tar-sands oil will reach Asian refineries by the same means.

While pipelines do not have a perfect record, moving millions of gallons of crude oil by ship is more costly and creates even more environmental risks.

In the short run, the pipeline would have provided about two years of work for several thousand construction workers, providing some badly needed jobs.

Unfortunately, none of that will happen for at least two years.

This project seems nearly certain to move forward. Unfortunately, it won’t be until after the next election and until our government regains its senses.

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The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.


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