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Will Hillary Clinton ignore the elephant in the room in Canada?

Hillary Clinton returns to Canada Wednesday for two speeches sponsored by a Canadian bank, but don’t expect her to say too much on the Keystone pipeline.
Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks on Dec. 16, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty)
Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks on Dec. 16, 2014 in New York City.

Hillary Clinton returns to Canada Wednesday for two speeches sponsored by a Canadian bank, but don’t expect her to say too much on the Keystone pipeline, the elephant in the room when it comes to relations between the U.S. and our neighbors to the north.

Clinton will speak to an expected crowd of about 2,000 at the Winnipeg Convention Centre at 1 p.m., before heading to Saskatoon to give a similar speech.

Both speeches are part of the Global Perspectives series, sponsored by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, whose head will interview Clinton on stage in Winnipeg. The bank is perhaps best known in the U.S. for its role in the Enron scandal.

RELATED: Keystone backers point to energy independence

The local press has focused on whether Clinton will address Keystone, which would bring tar sands oil from neighboring Alberta through the middle of the U.S. to ports and refineries on the Gulf Coast.

The former secretary of state has thus far steered clear of the issue, so as not to prejudice the ongoing review process at the State Department. There’s also little political upside in coming down either way on the controversial issue while she considers running for president in 2016.

But she can expect to asked about it Wednesday, as the issue is almost unavoidable when it comes it come to relations between the two North American countries. 

And as with many things in the Clintons’ vast network of friends spanning business and politics, she has a personal connection to the issue.

Gordon Giffin, a longtime Clinton donor who served as ambassador to Canada under Bill Clinton, is on the board of directors of the CIBC, the bank sponsoring Clinton’s appearance, and has lobbied for the company hoping to build the Keystone pipeline.

RELATED: Bluffer’s guide: Keystone pipeline edition

Giffin, who as a “Hillraiser” bundler for Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and has donated $1,000 to the pro-Clinton super PAC Ready for Hillary, is a lawyer specializing in international energy issues. His firm was a registered lobbyist for Transcanada for several years, and Giffin personally lobbied for the company trying to build Keystone pipeline in 2007 and 2008, according to Senate ethics records. Transcanada did not fully takeover the Keystone pipeline until 2009.

Giffin is also on the board of Canadian Natural Resources, an energy company pushing for Keystone to be built. Also on that board with him is his former counterpart, Frank McKenna, a former Canadian ambassador to the U.S. who has moderated discussions with Clinton on previous visits to Canada.  

While conservatives are likely to make hay of the connections, liberal environmentalists who oppose Keystone have also raised concern.

A Clinton spokesperson declined to comment for the record.

The visit comes at a critical time for the pipeline project. Republicans, who took control of both chambers of Congress this month, made it a priority to push the project to completion. But President Obama has been increasingly bold in knocking down attempts to force his hand on the pipeline, saying he'll veto any bill to approve the pipeline before the State Department’s review process is finished.

However, he has yet to say what he’ll do after that process is complete. Clinton too is remaining mum, and will likely remain so until Obama acts.

Update: Predictably, Clinton took a pass. “You won’t get me to talk about Keystone because I have steadily made clear that I will not express an opinion,” she said while being questioned by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce CEO Victor Dodig during the Q&A portion of her appearance. The former secretary of state has said she will not weigh in on the controversial pipeline until the Obama administration’s review of the project is complete.