WASHINGTON — North America’s perennial pipeline debate erupted anew Monday as president-elect Joe Biden’s Day 1 plan to kill off the Keystone XL project cast a pall over hopes for a fresh start to the Canada-U.S. relationship.
Critics cheered and champions fumed at word Biden’s first day in the White House would likely end — for now — a politically fraught plan to send more than 800,000 added barrels a day of Canadian bitumen to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Those in Washington who cultivate and monitor the at-times-fragile ties between the two countries wondered, publicly and privately, about what the decision might portend.
If nothing else, it likely points to the return of a more familiar cross-border dynamic, said Eric Miller, a Canada-U.S. expert and president of the D.C.-based Rideau Potomac Strategy Group.
“We can take from it that, as a going-in proposition, the Biden administration is probably not going to be inclined to work with Canada on things that Canada wants, but it will be happy to work with Canada on things that it wants,” Miller said.
“To some extent, this is a return to form, where Canada often finds itself in a position where it has to fight hard to get changes made.”
A hard fight, including in court should it come to that, is exactly what Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is promising.
“The United States government owes Canada the respect to at least sit down with us and talk about this vital project in the broader context,” said Kenney, whose government gave the project a $1.5-billion infusion last year.
“Surely the relationship between Canada and the United States is worth at least having that discussion.”
Biden’s plan is outlined in transition documents seen by The Canadian Press. They suggest he intends to sign an executive order on inauguration day to rescind the presidential permit for the pipeline issued in 2019 by President Donald Trump.
The decision is less surprising than the timing. Biden’s campaign had already promised to block the project, but making it a symbolic Day 1 move — an effort to satisfy the combative progressive wing of the Democrats — stings.
Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, urged the incoming administration to think twice.
Such a decision “would strain relations between our two countries and waste an opportunity to work together on a shared U.S.-Canada strategy to fight climate change,” Beatty said in a statement.
“We ask President Biden to take time to analyze this innovative project and its role in spurring a green transition to a healthier economy.”
The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters also voiced concern about the looming threat of Buy American, Biden’s promise to prioritize U.S.-based workers, manufacturers and suppliers in the coming effort to rebuild the U.S. economy.
“Excluding each other from our respective government procurement markets could seriously hurt our precarious economic recovery,” said CME president and CEO Dennis Darby.
Kenney and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe say halting construction on the controversial project will be disastrous for both the Canadian and U.S. economies.
In hopes of winning favour with Biden, pipeline owner TC Energy Corp. confirmed Sunday an ambitious plan to spend $1.7 billion US on a solar, wind and battery-powered operating system for the pipeline to ensure it is zero-emission by 2030.
Moe, meanwhile, is mobilizing his government’s Washington network and urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to meet with Biden as soon as possible.
Trudeau has stayed mum so far, leaving it to Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., Kirsten Hillman, to sing the project’s praises in the most diplomatic way possible.
Trudeau’s political critics, meanwhile, have pounced.
Federal Green Leader Annamie Paul accused the Liberals of hypocrisy, paying lip service to climate change while they go ahead with three drilling projects off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The three projects, about 350 kilometres east of St. John’s, were approved following an extensive environmental assessment, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said last week.
“Please do not allow them to to fool you into thinking that these are the only jobs that are possible for you,” Paul said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, meanwhile, warned the federal government away from backing Kenney’s legal fight.
“I don’t think that’s a good use of our time. That’s not a good use of our resources,” Singh said. “We should be finding ways to create good jobs for these workers that are long-lasting and help us fight the climate crisis.”