As It Happens

Alberta mayor 'wasn't prepared' to hear of Biden's plan to cancel Keystone XL pipeline

News that U.S. president-elect Joe Biden has plants to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline permit surprised Doug Jones, the mayor of Oyen, Alta., a community whose population has doubled thanks to construction work on the pipeline.

Oyen, Alta. has seen its population double, thanks to pipeline construction

Pipe ready to be used for the construction of the Canadian leg of the Keystone XL in Alberta near the town of Oyen, in September, 2020. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

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News that U.S. president-elect Joe Biden plans to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline permit surprised Doug Jones, the mayor of Oyen, Alta., a community that has been getting an economic boost thanks to pipeline construction.

"Well, [I] wasn't prepared to hear that, didn't even consider [in] my mind that that would be coming through," Doug Jones told As It Happens host Carol Off.

On Sunday, sources confirmed to CBC News that Biden plans to use an executive action to cancel the permit on his first day in office. 

Oyen is a town of about 1000 people, located more than 300 kilometres east of Calgary, near the provincial border with Saskatchewan. An influx of workers involved with the pipeline doubled the town's population in the fall, and those workers spent money on essentials like food, hotel rooms and rental units. 

"I think people are a little upset," said Jones.

"They're a little disappointed, I guess. We all knew that even though the pipeline was here, it would be a — it was a three year window of opportunity for our community and for our businesses within the community."

The crowd inside The Overtime Pub on a Wednesday night in September. Most of the patrons on this night are workers from the Keystone XL pipeline. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Jones said he still thought some sections of the pipeline might be built after all, including a bit from Burstall, Sask.  to Oyen and from Oyen to Hardisty, Alta.

"I would think that's going to be finished, you know, it's another hundred miles. So at least that section would be done," he said.

Jones says there are other pipelines in Burstall that the Keystone pipeline could connect to, which would make it worthwhile. 

"It would not be a waste of money. It is a pipeline that would be finished, it would be in the ground, and it could be used for subsequent things later on." 

Conversations between leaders

Jones thought that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had covered the issue when he spoke with Biden after Biden won the U.S. presidential election last November.

"I think we thought that was covered off, but maybe it wasn't," said Jones.

Trudeau was the first world leader to call Biden after his win, and it was reported he raised the issue in his call.

And, at the same time, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne told CBC News the pipeline was a priority for the Trudeau government.

"This is top of the agenda. We're going to be making our case, saying that Canada is the most reliable energy supplier to the United States," Champagne said in November. "We've been working together for decades now."

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney also brought up the November call in a news conference on Monday .

"We hope that given the importance of the Canada U.S. relationship, that the president elect will at least agree, as apparently he did in that initial call with Prime Minister Trudeau, to engage on the issue and not to make a rash decision," he said.

An equipment yard for work on the Keystone XL pipeline near Oyen, Alta, in September, 2020. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Economic worries 

Kenney emphasized the economic impact of cancelling the pipeline in his remarks.

"This is about more than just Keystone XL, this is about the Canada-U.S. relationship, this is about tens of thousands of jobs here. This is about billions of dollars of revenue for governments to pay for things like health care," he said.

Jones was also concerned about the impact, not just in his town, but across the country.

"It's going to hurt the economy. I think it's - the biggest hit is going to be the economy for both Alberta and Canada. That's a hundred billion dollars of oil," he said.

"There's people from other provinces that are working on this pipeline. It's just not Albertans that are on this total pipeline here, we have people from Saskatchewan and B.C. that work on this pipeline," he said.

He also noted it would be a 'major blow' to all of the workers on the pipeline in the United States.

Written by Andrea Bellemare with files from CBC News and Kyle Bakx. Produced by Kevin Robertson.