Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Trudeau vows to keep up the fight to sway U.S. on merits of Keystone XL pipeline

WASHINGTON — Canada won’t stop trying to convince U.S. president-elect Joe Biden of the merits of the Keystone XL pipeline expansion, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted Tuesday.

But even Trudeau’s full-throated defence of the controversial cross-border project, which Biden appears poised to cancel on Wednesday, betrayed a note of resignation.

Asked pointedly what he planned to do to rescue the US$8-billion project, the prime minister lingered instead on what he’d done already, including his November phone call with the president-elect.

He said it would be Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s envoy in Washington, pressing Ottawa’s case with what he described as the “highest levels” of the Biden team.

And he acknowledged the elephant in the room: that Biden’s campaign team promised back in May that it would do precisely what transition documents suggest will happen Wednesday.

“We understand, of course, that it is a commitment that … the candidate Joe Biden made to cancel this pipeline,” Trudeau said.

“At the same time, we continue to demonstrate the leadership that Canada has shown on fighting climate change and on ensuring energy security as a priority for North America.”

Those documents, reviewed by The Canadian Press, suggest an executive order rescinding the presidential permit issued by Donald Trump is among the items on Biden’s Day 1 to-do list.

Environmental groups briefed on the incoming administration’s plan also say they have been told it would come on Biden’s first day in the White House.

Advocates for the project, however, are clinging to hope that the ensuing outcry — the Alberta government is already threatening legal action — will prompt the Biden team to give them a chance to change the president-elect’s mind.

The politically fraught project, originally proposed in 2008, aims to deliver more than 800,000 additional barrels a day of diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

It has long been a linchpin in Canada’s strategy for boosting fossil-fuel exports by delivering Alberta’s landlocked underground energy resources to tidewater.

It has also become a lightning rod in both countries for the perennial debate over climate change, economic growth and society’s long-standing dependence on fossil fuels.

As a result, it never found favour among the Democrats in Barack Obama’s White House, which included Biden as vice-president. That administration slow-walked the approval process for the better part of eight years, much to the frustration of then-prime minister Stephen Harper, until outright rejecting it in 2015.

Canada’s pitch to the Biden team has for months framed Keystone XL as a vastly different, more environmentally friendly project than the original.

In a late bid to win favour with Biden, pipeline owner TC Energy Corp. confirmed Sunday an ambitious plan to spend US$1.7 billion on a solar, wind and battery-powered operating system for the pipeline to ensure it is zero-emission by 2030.

Canada’s approach to climate change more broadly has also evolved since then, Trudeau said.

“Canada has, in the intervening few years, become a global leader in the fight against climate change and moving forward in transforming our economy in important ways towards reducing emissions,” Trudeau said.

“I trust that we will be heard, that our arguments will be considered.”

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