WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Stephen Harper will make a cameo appearance on an international stage Tuesday night — though it's hardly one he would have chosen.

The prime minister will be cast in the villain's role in an anti-Keystone XL pipeline ad airing during the broadcast of President Barack Obama's state of the union address.

The ad is designed to build pressure from elements of Obama's political base who want him to reject the pipeline, and it will be broadcast to the mostly left-leaning audience of the MSNBC network before and after the president's speech.

Harper's image appears at the beginning and the end of the ad.

It shows him shaking hands with the ex-premier of China, Wen Jiabao. The message of the spot is that the proposed pipeline would benefit Chinese companies heavily invested in the oil sands far more than it would help ordinary American consumers.

"It's a sucker-punch to America's heartland," says the narrator, while the Chinese and Canadian leaders are seen pressing palms.

"(The Chinese are) counting on the U.S. to approve TransCanada's pipeline to ship oil through America's heartland and out to foreign countries like theirs. ...

"Keystone's a sucker's deal for America. Just say no to Keystone."

The ad is being paid for by NextGen Climate Group, led by the deep-pocketed Obama donor and bitter oilsands foe Tom Steyer.

The message is in direct opposition to the one the Canadian government has spent millions to promote in the United States.

The Maple Leaf is visible at numerous points in the Washington transit system, in the subway and at the airport, alongside slogans stressing that Canada is a "friend" and "neighbour" and its oilsands are a benefit to U.S. security.

The Prime Minister's Office repeated that theme Monday.

"The Keystone project will create thousands of jobs and economic growth for people on both sides of the border," said spokesman Jason MacDonald.

"The project is in the interest of both of our countries, which is a point that even the U.S. State Department has made. Fear-mongering isn't in anyone's interest, we'd rather let the project's benefits to Canadians and Americans speak for themselves."

The ad is airing amid anticipation that a crucial State Department review of the project could be released within days, with a final decision coming from Obama sometime after.

There's been no signal from the White House that the pipeline will come up in the president's speech.

His friends and foes, however, will raise it Tuesday.

While he's being squeezed by his friends on the left, his opponents on the right have consistently used Keystone to bash him. It would be surprising if the Republicans didn't refer to Keystone in their reply to the speech, given that they raise the issue at virtually every discussion on economic issues as the illustration par excellence of the president's job-killing, big-government regulatory zealousness.

The Republicans mentioned Keystone in their weekly address looking ahead to the state of the union speech.

"The president's own State Department acknowledged that the Keystone XL pipeline — as just one example — would create tens of thousands of jobs at no cost to taxpayers," said Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri.

"Now, this project has been stalled for more than five years. It's time for President Obama to approve truly shovel-ready projects like Keystone to encourage private-sector job creation."

The president and his advisers have repeatedly telegraphed that income inequality is their chosen issue for 2014 — a year of midterm elections that will determine whether Democrats exercise any control of Congress for the rest of Obama's presidency.

They point to studies suggesting that economic growth, once shared more equally, now creates spectacular gains for some and crumbs or even losses for the rest.

There are also polls suggesting the theme might have some political resonance with swing voters.

Obama appears poised to push for a minimum-wage increase, and preschool for all four-year-olds as part of his broader program. And if Congress doesn't make it happen, he plans to use the power of the presidency to ram that agenda through.

He has told his cabinet that 2014 will be a "year of action" — this is after what's widely seen as a wasted year, marked by a succession of scandals, nosediving popularity, and a rocky launch of the Obamacare insurance exchanges.

And he's made it clear he's willing to unleash a barrage of executive orders to make it happen.

House Speaker John Boehner decried the president's approach, especially after the Republican caucus had begun recently signalling a greater willingness to actually work with the administration.

The top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, offered two ideas to kick-start the economy this week. "He could approve the Keystone pipeline," the Kentucky senator told Fox News Sunday.

"He could work with us on trade agreements. My party is much more interested in global trade than the Democrats are.

"If he would convince his own members, we can do some business on trade. And he ought to stop things like the war on coal in my state, which have cost us 5,000 jobs during his administration."

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  • Syncrude's Mildred Lake Upgrader, part of The Syncrude Project complex for oil sands processing, is pictured Monday, March 8, 2006 in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.

  • The Syncrude oil sands extraction facility is reflected in a lake reclaimed from an old mine near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada on October 22, 2009.

  • A disused mining machine on display in front of the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta on October 22, 2009.

  • The Suncor oilsands operation uses trucks that are 3 stories tall, weigh one million pounds, and cost 7 million dollars each.

  • Oil sits on the surface at a Suncor Energy Inc. oilsands mining operation near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. Photographer:

  • A large oil refinery along the Athabasca River in Alberta's Oilsands. Fort McMurray, Alberta.

  • Oils mixes with water at a tailings pond at a Suncor Energy Inc. oilsands mining operation near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013.

  • Fort McMurray is in the heart of the world's biggest single oil deposit - the Athabasca Oil Sands, and the oil is extracted by surface mining and refined in the region. The oil production is at the heart of the economy.

  • In this Aug. 5, 2005 file photo, the Syncrude upgrader spreads out towards the horizon at the company's oil sands project in Ft. McMurray, Alberta, Canada.

  • This Tuesday, July 10, 2012 aerial photo shows a Nexen oil sands facility near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.

  • This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows an oilsands facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada.

  • This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows an oilsands tailings pond at a mine facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada.

  • This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows an oilsands tailings pond at a mine facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada.

  • The Syncrude extraction facility in the northern Alberta oil sand fields is reflected in the pool of water being recycled for re-use.

  • A night view of the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta Province, Canada on October 22, 2009.

  • Aerial view of a lake and forests in the vicinity of oil sands extraction facilities near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada on October 23, 2009.

  • Workers use heavy machinery in the tailings pond at the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta , Canada on October 25, 2009.

  • Fort McMurray is in the heart of the world's biggest single oil deposit - the Athabasca Oil Sands, and the oil is extracted by surface mining and refined in the region. The oil production is at the heart of the economy.

  • A large oil refinery in Alberta's Oilsands project. Fort McMurray, Alberta.

  • Next: Alberta Oil Spills

  • CFB Cold Lake, CNRL

    A bitumen leak was reported at a Canadian Natural Resources oilsands operation in the weapons range part of the RCAF base in June 2013.

  • CFB Cold Lake, CNRL

    Company officials said the leak - at what it calls its Primrose operation - was caused by faulty machinery at one of the wells, affected an area of approximately 13.5 hectares and released as much as 3,200 litres of bitumen each day.

  • CFB Cold Lake, CNRL

    Preliminary tallies put the death toll from the leak at 16 birds, seven small mammals and 38 amphibians. Dozen were rescued and taken to an Edmonton centre for rehabilitation.

  • CFB Cold Lake

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  • <em>Click through for other recent spill in Alberta</em>

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  • Plains Midstream Canada

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  • Plains Midstream Canada

    A boom stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.

  • Plains Midstream

    A boom stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    A photographer snaps a boom stretching out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    A boom stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    A worker slows traffic while a boom stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    A no swimming sign along the banks of the Gleniffer reservoir while a boom stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the lake near Innisfail, Alta., Friday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    Oil from a pipeline leak coats a pond near Sundre, Alta., Friday, June 8, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipeline leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of oil.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    Oil from a pipeline leak coats a pond near Sundre, Alta., Friday, June 8, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipeline leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of oil.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    Oil from a pipeline leak coats a pond near Sundre, Alta., Friday, June 8, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipeline leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of oil.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    Tracks pass through oil on the banks of the Gleniffer reservoir after a pipeline leak near Sundre, Alta., on Friday, June 8, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of oil.

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  • Lake Wabamun

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  • Lake Wabamun

    Wreckage and black oil from the August 3rd train derailment and subsequent oil spill are seen lining the shore and waters of Lake Wabamun on Monday, August 8, 2005, as clean-up continues.

  • Lake Wabamun

    Wreckage and black oil from the August 3rd train derailment and subsequent oil spill are seen lining the shore and waters of Lake Wabamun on Monday, August 8, 2005, as clean-up continues. Lake Wabamun was severely polluted when a train carrying heavy oil derailed on August 3, 2005, spilling much of it's load into the lake.

  • Lake Wabamun

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