With the fate of the $7-billion Keystone XL pipeline project in the hands of the United States president, Canadian MPs are saying the waiting game gives Ottawa an opportunity to look at diversifying Canada’s energy sector.

Ottawa has approved the pipeline, which would see oilsands products shipped from Alberta to refineries along the U.S. Gulf coast, cutting through a number of states along a 3,000-kilometre stretch.

Canada’s Conservative government has said the country’s economy, employment and national security stands to benefit from the Keystone project, but it has been widely protested by environmental groups.

On Monday, a day after thousands of people descended on Washington to protest the project, NDP MP and party environment critic Megan Leslie said there is a danger in getting “locked in” if the project goes ahead.

“From the perspective of Canada, we can’t possibly win when you put all of your energy eggs in one economic basket,” Leslie told CTV’s Power Play.

“Instead of just talking about, ‘Let’s diversify our energy purchasers if the U.S. won’t take our bitumen and let’s go to China,’ why isn’t this government actually thinking about how to diversify our energy sector? Why aren’t we actually using the oilsands strategically to help us towards a just transition to a green-energy economy?”

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, parliamentary secretary to the environment minister, said any overhaul of the energy sector should be less about moving away from oilsands production and instead focus on more environmentally sound development.

“Something that we cannot forget in this debate is that this sector does provide hundreds of thousands of jobs across this country for all sectors of Canadians, it creates billions of dollars of revenue for the GDP, for government coffers to run social programs, including investments in R&D for clean technology,” Rempel told Power Play.

“So I think what we should be talking about here is can we get that balance right, the environmental stewardship component with the development of the oilsands, of our energy sector, and I think that that answer is yes.”

After Sunday’s protest, which was dubbed the largest climate change rally in the United States’ history, environment advocates said they were confident the pipeline project won’t move forward.

The protest came on the heels of U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he called for strong action on climate change.

“It really feels like things are going to change,” said Gillian McEachern, a campaign director with Environmental Defence. “We’re optimistic.”

McEachern told CTV News Channel on Monday that rather than pressuring the president to approve the megaproject, the Canadian government should look to work with the U.S. on clean, carbon-free transportation.

“We don’t need to look at doubling down and locking into more oil use for several decades, and that’s what Keystone XL would do,” she said.

McEachern added that the debate between jobs versus the environment, which has been used to frame the Keystone project, is “outdated.”

“What we really in Canada is a real conversation on what our energy future looks like. There are abundant jobs available in the solution to climate change, so we don’t need to make this an either or decision.”

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said Monday that the environmental movements on both sides of the border are hoping to not only quash the pipeline, but to also reduce emissions from polluters such as coal-fired power plants.

“The XL pipeline, coal-fired power plants, when you look at the climate crisis, it’s not just one measure that’s needed, it’s to start saying very seriously that we’ve got to reduce our carbon emissions,” May told Power Play.

“We really need a full-court press to move to a more diversified economy, where we create more jobs.”

Over the weekend, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall responded to Obama’s climate change comments, both insisting that Canada has adopted new regulations to curb carbon emissions.

Pipeline decision could define Obama's legacy

Environmentalists peg Obama’s decision as one that will define the president’s legacy.

“It’s the one decision that President Obama alone will make about climate as opposed to, for example, a climate bill that will have to go through Congress,” Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin told CTV’s Canada AM earlier Monday. “People will see it as a decision that they can hold President Obama accountable to in a way they can’t with a number of the other issues on his agenda.”

Both Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have said climate change is an issue that must be dealt with swiftly.

In last week’s State of the Union address, Obama challenged Congress to agree to market-based solutions on climate change, or the president would use his executive powers to achieve the same result.

“Certainly looking at his legacy, environmentalists are saying that this is one of the biggest decisions he can make about climate change during his second term,” said Eilperin, a national environmental reporter in the U.S.

Eilperin said Obama has received tremendous pressure from the business community, the oil and gas industry and Canada to approve the pipeline.

“It’s very clear that Canada is a neighbour and ally that the United States broadly values,” she said. “And certainly seeing that as a source of oil, in many ways, is more appealing than some of the other places we get oil from abroad, including the Middle East. On that level, it’s an asset.”

Eilperin said pipeline opponents have made it clear that there’s no room for compromise on the decision.

“This is really non-negotiable.”

“It’s the first time there’s been a concrete issue that people can focus on in the context of climate change,” she continued. “The Keystone pipeline really embodies global warming in a way that few other public policy issues can.”