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Pipeline protesters head to Parliament

After feds press on project's benefits

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OTTAWA -- Protesters were already filing into Ottawa on Sunday for a showdown with the federal government over its support for the oilsands and a plan to build a giant pipeline from Alberta to Texas.

After the high-profile arrest of celebrities, including actors Daryl Hannah and Margot Kidder, and about a thousand activists in Washington last month for their attempts to stop approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, Greenpeace and other groups hope to gain similar notoriety in Canada with a civil-disobedience protest on Parliament Hill this morning.

"What we see ahead is a catastrophe -- a catastrophe for our grandchildren and their grandchildren," said Rosemarie Whalley, a senior citizen who came from Montreal for a day of training before the protest. "We can't just let this situation continue and let the environment be wrecked."

She joined about 150 others at a hall at the University of Ottawa for tips on how to handle confrontation with authorities. They hope Ottawa will also draw its share of celebrity attention, with stars such as Gordon Pinsent, musician David Bidini and indigenous celebrity Tantoo Cardinal expected to be on hand.

Already the plans for a sit-in have had a polarizing effect, with both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver making a point of defending the pipeline late last week.

Harper told reporters in New York U.S. approval of TransCanada Corp.'s pipeline was a "no-brainer" since the project would bring thousands and thousands of jobs, and also ensure the U.S. would have a secure source of oil.

And Oliver hammered a Toronto audience with fact after fact about the benefits of the oilsands, saying he needs to set the record straight on the pipeline.

"Criticism of the oilsands -- and now the proposed Keystone XL pipeline -- is a major concern for us, with implications for our energy industry, our economy and our energy security," he said.

The federal government is also courting legislators in Nebraska who could further delay the $7-billion project even if it is approved by the State Department.

Gary Doer, Canada's ambassador to the U.S., will travel to Nebraska today to meet privately with Gov. Dave Heineman, who has declared his opposition to the controversial pipeline.

Doer's meeting with the Republican governor follows separate trips to Lincoln, Nebraska's capital, in the past week by senior TransCanada executives who sought to allay Heineman's safety concerns.

Environmentalists, as well as First Nations who live in areas where the pipeline would travel, fear spills would lead to irreversible damage.

Final approval from U.S. authorities is expected to be in place by the end of this year.

But since the pipeline is already approved in Canada, the Ottawa protest will focus more broadly on the need for the federal government to turn away from oilsands energy and invest instead in renewable energy, said Greenpeace organizer Mike Hudema.

The aim, he said, is "to get the government to turn away from the very devastating and very toxic tarsands industry, and to start addressing one of the greatest crises of our time, which is the climate crisis that is currently affecting and displacing millions of people around the world."

-- The Canadian Press, with files from Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 26, 2011 A8

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