With Keystone in limbo, VFW helps vets get work on Canada's section

U.S. veterans looking for jobs have a new employment opportunity -- in Canada, working on that country’s section of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Though the push to start building the Canada-to-Texas oil route has been delayed in the United States amid political and environmental disputes, the Veterans of Foreign Wars is part of a deal that would send veterans and transitional active-duty soldiers across the border to fill as many as 114,000 skilled-labor jobs. The jobs include work on the crude-oil pipeline as well as work on infrastructure and even skyscrapers.

The deal is being negotiated by the Edmonton Economic Development Corp. and VetJobs, a job-placement company in which the VFW has a stake.

VetJobs CEO Ted Daywalt said Tuesday he “jumped at the opportunity” to send workers across the border.

“I want to get the best jobs for veterans. If that means going to Canada, we will,” he said. “And it’s a lot safer than Iraq.”

Daywalt said he was “very upset” about delays on the U.S. section of the 1,700-mile-long pipeline, which nixed corporate commitments he had secured to hire 8,000 veterans. He hopes veterans can now find gainful employment in Canada.

Veterans have an overall unemployment rate that is lower than the national average – 7.8 percent, compared to 8.2 percent, according to the federal government’s May report. However, the rate for those returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is 12.7 percent, which the federal government says is related more to high unemployment among younger Americans.

Daywalt said the rate is even higher among military reservists and National Guardsmen because frequent calls to duty result in difficulty holding down a steady job.

The Edmonton development corporation said the jobs are long term and will allow veterans to work several weeks in Canada, then one week back home, which might help the guardsmen and reservists.

Mike Wo, a director with the Edmonton corporation, said Canada has a labor shortage and that he was fortunate to find VetJobs because many of the skills that veterans learned in the U.S. military matched the needs of his country’s employers.

“It’s a great win-win opportunity,” he said.

The jobs – from pipefitters to ironworkers to cost estimators -- will pay at least 30 percent more than comparable ones in the United States, Wo added.

The Obama administration's hold-up of the U.S. section of the pipeline has divided his own base over the jobs issue. While environmentalists lobbied for federal intervention, unions were clamoring for the extra employment opportunities the massive pipeline promised to bring.

Though some are now looking to Canada for work, the project could eventually get back on track in the states.

In January, President Obama put a hold on the application by TransCanada Corp., saying the State Department needed more time to review the process.

The company has submitted another application to avoid Nebraska’s environmentally sensitive Sandhills region, which prompted the State Department last month to call for a supplemental study that could decrease the likelihood a decision will be reached before the November election.

The president in March approved the southern leg of the project. But Senate Republicans failed to get a provision in the transportation bill passed by Congress last month that attempted to accelerate the entire project.

Still, Richard L. DeNoyer, a national commander for VFW, a 113-year-old nonprofit service organization, called Canada jobs "a fantastic opportunity."

"I’m proud of our affiliation with VetJobs,” he added.

Despite uncertainty in the U.S. about the pipeline, optimism remains high in Canada.

"I'm confident that the Keystone XL pipeline is going to get built,” said Russ Girling, the CEO of TransCanada, whose U.S. construction permit was denied by the Obama administration. “The U.S. imports some 10 million barrels a day of oil. It only makes sense for them to get as much as they can from their friendly northern neighbor."

To be sure, Canada has been the leading exporter of oil into this country for many years.

The proposed pipeline would bring in an additional 700,000 barrels a day from Canada’s Hardisty terminal and help at least another 100,000 barrels from oil fields in Montana and western North Dakota reach Gulf Coast refineries.

TransCanada await a decision on the permit, but officials also know there is a strong demand for oil in China and other Asia markets.

"Our job is to build pipelines," Girling recently told Fox News.