Trudeau, Biden to Talk Today as Death of Keystone XL Reverberates in Canada

January 22, 2021 Updated: January 25, 2021

WASHINGTON—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will speak with U.S. President Joe Biden today amid continuing fallout from the death of the Keystone XL pipeline project.

The phone call, Biden’s first with a foreign leader since taking office this week, comes as the new administration turns its focus to the United States’s economic recovery.

It also comes with parts of Canada up in arms over Biden’s Day 1 executive order rescinding permits for the US$8-billion cross-border pipeline expansion.

Biden believes a brisk economic recovery doesn’t have to come at the expense of the environment, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

“His record shows the American people that he’s committed to clean energy jobs, to jobs that are not only good, high-paying jobs, union jobs, but ones that are also good for our environment. He thinks it’s possible to do both,” Psaki said.

Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama, who blocked the project in 2015, and as president he still does, she added.

“He had opposed the Keystone pipeline … and he’s been consistent in his view and he was delivering on a promise he made to the American public during the campaign.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is among those urging Trudeau to take Biden to task over the decision and to “respond with consequences” if it’s not reversed.

Kenney and other champions of the project, including Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., argue it has changed significantly since the Obama administration cancelled it five years ago.

Trudeau held a call with all the premiers Thursday that included a briefing from Hillman, according to a readout from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“The prime minister reiterated his disappointment with the decision on Keystone XL, and emphasized that the federal government has engaged with the new administration in support of the project,” it said.

A federal official familiar with the call, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the details, said Kenney and several others urged Trudeau to take a hard line with Biden.

Trudeau, however, insisted Canada had done everything it could to change his mind, and called on the premiers to take the same united, “Team Canada” approach they did with Biden’s predecessor.

As word emerged this week of the project’s imminent demise, Calgary-based owner TC Energy revealed plans to spend US$1.7 billion on a solar, wind and battery-powered operating system for the pipeline to ensure it achieves net-zero emissions by 2030.

Kenney says Wednesday’s decision came “without even giving Canada a chance to communicate,” although Hillman insists she has been in near-constant discussions with the Biden team ever since May, when they promised to cancel the project.

Biden’s decision has critics in the U.S. Republican party as well: Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, calls it a job-killing “virtue signal” to climate activists.

Trudeau is also likely to voice worries about Biden’s Buy American plan to ensure U.S. workers and manufacturers are the primary beneficiaries of his economic recovery strategy.

Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris are scheduled to receive a briefing today on that recovery effort before the president makes public remarks on their plans.

By James McCarten