This week the U.S. Senate failed to pass a motion that would have allowed a vote on a bill, already passed by the House, to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The procedural vote to invoke cloture and end otherwise endless debate on the issue failed to gain the 60 vote super-majority needed to pass such motions in the Senate, killing the measure, at least for the remaining weeks in the 113th Congress.
However, by bringing the measure up and failing to pass it, the Senate not only may have driven the final nail in the senior Louisiana senator's political coffin, but also put a small, but noticeable, dent in Canada-U.S. relations.
In fact, the move to bring the measure up for a Senate vote so quickly after the election was a bit of cynical political exhibitionism in the first place. The only reason the current Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), decided to allow a Senate vote was to give a legislative shot-in-the-arm to Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-LA) struggling reelection bid.
Even if the measure had passed, President Obama made it clear that he would dust off his veto pen and use it to nix the measure. In fact, the President took time out from his schedule to describe the pipeline project to connect a major Canadian oil production region with the U.S. Gulf Coast by saying Canada wanted to, "pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else." Such sentiments cannot be considered an endorsement.
That statement, and others by senior U.S. government officials including senators involved in this week's debate, have at least jostled, if not jolted, Canada-U.S. relations. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Foreign Minister John Baird, and others have been privately insistent, but publicly respectful of the long, drawn-out, intensely political U.S. decision-making process concerning a pipeline which is important to the U.S., but critical to Canada's ability to access international markets.
The good news for Canada is that this week's vote and the current Congress will be but a faint memory in just a few weeks. By the beginning of January, the 114th Congress will have convened and the Republican majority in both houses of Congress will work on a strategy to gain legislative approval of the pipeline and try to drive a bargain with the President to gain his signature on the bill.
Its is more true than ever that Canada and the United States rely on each other to cooperate on matters of economics, environmental protection, war, peace and security. Whether the issue involves the NATO alliance, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System or the Keystone XL pipeline, both nations would be well-served to take extra care not to let the domestic politics of the moment overshadow the long-term impact on each nation's most important neighbor and friend.
According to figures recently released by the Lakes Carriers' Association (LCA), U.S. flagged Great Lakes vessels carried 11.3 million tons of cargo during the month of October, some 14.7 percent more than they moved in October of 2013 and almost 20 percent more than the long-term average for the month.
The LCA said iron ore tonnage is up 21.3 percent compared to last year, as U.S. flag Great Lakes shipping continues to post improving figures for the 2014 navigation season.
In addition to gains made in iron ore tonnage, limestone tonnage increased by 4 percent to 2.8 million tons.
The 2014 navigation season got off to a late and difficult start due to heavy ice lasting through the entire Spring, this year's shipping season is nearly on pace to meet last year's totals.
Through the end of October, U.S. flag cargo tonnage on the Great Lakes has totaled 71.3 million tons, just 2.8 percent less than the figures posted at the same time in 2013.
The Lake Carriers' Association represents 17 American companies that operate 56 U.S.-flag vessels.