OTTAWA — Barack Obama’s former envoy to Ottawa has pulled back the veil on how the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper froze him out over the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
Bruce Heyman, who was the U.S. ambassador to Canada from 2014 to 2017, offers an on-the-record insider account of one of the worst-kept secrets in Ottawa diplomatic circles in a new book penned with his wife, Vicki.
Harper had staked a lot of his government’s reputation on getting U.S. approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, which he saw as critical to getting Alberta oilsands crude to foreign markets through the United States.
But Heyman made it clear there was little he could do push the project during his initial April 2014 meetings with John Baird, then the foreign-affairs minister, and Harper and his wife, Laureen, because of internal U.S. reviews.
Heyman writes that began an “ice age in relations” between his office and Conservative cabinet ministers until he, Harper and their spouses were able to build new bridges in a long delayed dinner in July 2015.
TransCanada Corp. wanted to build a pipeline through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, to connect with lines carrying oil to Gulf Coast refineries, but it faced widespread opposition over concerns about possible spills and environmental damage.
The plan languished for years in the purgatory of U.S. government and legal reviews before Barack Obama killed it two days after Justin Trudeau was sworn in as prime minister in November 2015. President Donald Trump has since revived the $8-billion project.
Keystone set the stage for a pair of grim get-to-know-you meetings with Baird and Harper, as well as a firm but polite dressing-down from the top-ranking foreign ministry bureaucrat days after the Heymans arrived in Ottawa.
Heyman’s book fills in the narrative gaps on the breakdown in relations between Conservative Harper government and the Obama Democrats.
A Harper spokeswoman had no immediate comment because she had yet to read the book.
Baird asked to meet Heyman before he’d formally presented his credentials to the Governor General and pushed the envoy on Keystone. Baird also asked if the U.S. was prepared to pay for a new bridge at the busy Detroit-Windsor crossing.
“I’m afraid we are not,” Heyman told Baird, but added that perhaps their “people” could meet later to find creative solutions.
“The meeting never happened,” Heyman writes.
An awkward meeting in Harper’s Parliament Hill office followed in which the prime minister “did not so much as crack a smile” as small talk among them and their wives went nowhere.
Days later, on Good Friday, a Nebraska court ruling further delayed Keystone’s approval, so Heyman was “summoned” to Foreign Affairs headquarters in Ottawa for a meeting with deputy minister Daniel Jean. Embassy staff told Heyman they couldn’t recall a time when an ambassador had been “called in” like that.