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Opinion Cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline starts Biden and Canada on the wrong foot

Deer gather at a depot used to store pipes for the planned Keystone XL oil pipeline in Gascoyne, N.D., in 2017. (Terray Sylvester/Reuters)

Michael Taube, a columnist for Troy Media and Loonie Politics, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

Canada-U.S. relations faced some shaky moments during former President Donald Trump’s tenure. Our two nations engaged in several disputes over trade, tariffs, Arctic policy and keeping the Canada-U.S. border closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

When Joe Biden became the 46th U.S. president on Wednesday, many Canadians watched with interest. They hoped the historical ties with our closest friend, ally and trading partner would bind once more.

Unfortunately, this once-powerful bond remains unbound.

Biden carried out a campaign promise to left-leaning Democrats and environmental activists and revoked the permit for the $9 billion Keystone XL pipeline project. An opportunity to develop Alberta’s oil sands, create thousands of new, well-paying jobs and increase economic opportunities for businesses on both sides of the border disappeared into thin air.

Would Prime Minister Justin Trudeau push back against Biden’s executive order? Would his Liberal government’s “unwavering” support for Keystone XL in the past remain “top of the agenda?”


“While we welcome the president’s commitment to fight climate change,” Trudeau’s statement read, “we are disappointed but acknowledge the president’s decision to fulfil his election campaign promise on Keystone XL.”

In other words, the Canadian government simply rolled over and played dead. Thousands of Canadian jobs will surely be lost. It wouldn’t be surprising if Keystone XL’s co-owners, TC Energy and the government of Alberta, filed a lawsuit over breach of contract and lost revenue.

What a mess.

I’m not completely surprised. In October I wrote that Trump would have been a better choice for Canada than Biden. Why? He was a “stronger supporter in principle of free markets and private enterprise than Biden. Like most Republicans, he respects the need for tax cuts, economic growth, profitability and ensuring North America remains successful and competitive.”

The negative reaction from some Canadians on social media was predictable, since the dislike of Trump in my country was rather intense. Some of them may be having second thoughts.

President Biden on Jan. 20 signed a number of executive orders on his coronavirus, immigration and climate policies. (Video: The Washington Post)

Yes, Biden isn’t a socialist or far-left radical. While not necessarily an enthusiastic cheerleader of the free-market economy, he fits into the “Washington Consensus” that agrees with deregulation and increased foreign trade and investment opportunities. He’s supported significant trade deals in his long political career, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and North American Free Trade Agreement.

Hence, more focus on free trade with Canada rather than tariffs, one of Trump’s favorite tools, seemed likely. Less fighting about the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement that replaced NAFTA, and more agreement on mutually beneficial policies in North America related to economic investment, energy policy, border security and the environment seemed to be in the cards.

On the surface, Biden’s presidency should resemble those of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and should not represent the positions of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). His relationship with Canada should also be fundamentally different from Trump’s, since Biden and Trudeau have more political similarities than differences.

But what if this isn’t the case?

Left-wing progressives form a significant chunk of the current Democratic caucus in both Houses. They’re itching for political and economic influence during a Biden presidency, which could cause enormous long-term damage to Canada-U.S. relations.

Many young Democratic politicians, like younger Americans, tend to be more critical of capitalism’s historical and influential role, and less critical of socialism. They’re more willing to support protectionism and economic nationalism as a rule of thumb. (While some Republicans, including Trump, have leaned toward the latter, their overall numbers are much smaller.) The Green New Deal, which would be costly and devastating to the U.S. economy, is mostly supported by fringe groups and small political parties in Canada — and wouldn’t necessarily appeal to the Trudeau Liberals.

Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez once floated the idea of eliminating the Department of Homeland Security. What if she and other like-minded Democratic colleagues attempt to reduce or eliminate border security? This would make things less safe between our two countries when it comes to guns, gangs, drugs, illegal immigration and the threat of terrorism.

This huge misstep with Keystone XL could be the tip of the iceberg. If Biden and his team are unable or unwilling to push these left-wing elements in their party aside, it could potentially create a worse atmosphere than anything we witnessed during Trump’s unconventional presidency.

Biden’s first foreign leader call, as it happens, will be with Trudeau on Friday. Make it count, gentlemen.

Read more:

David Moscrop: Trump was exhausting for Canada. Biden will be a more welcome challenge.

J.J. McCullough: Could a refusal to transfer power happen in Canada? There are reasons to worry.

David Moscrop: Canada’s entitled politicians think they’re above the rules during the pandemic

J.J. McCullough: If you think the U.S. Supreme Court is undemocratic, just look at Canada’s