It's time to let Keystone XL go, ambassador says
Kirsten Hillman says there's no saving the project now — and the bilateral relationship has other problems
Canada's ambassador to the United States says there's no chance of President Joe Biden walking back his decision to kill the Keystone XL pipeline — so she's turning her attention to other pressing bilateral issues.
"It's obviously very disappointing for Albertans and people in Saskatchewan who are already in a difficult situation," Kirsten Hillman said in an interview airing Saturday on CBC's The House.
"But I think that we need to now focus on moving forward with this administration, and there are so many ways in which we are going to be aligned with them to our mutual interest that I'm eager to to get going on that."
Biden vowed during last year's presidential campaign to rescind Donald Trump's permit for Keystone XL, which would have linked Alberta's oilsands with refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. And he did, making it one of the first executive orders he issued within hours of taking office on Wednesday.
While the move was applauded by progressives in his Democratic Party and in Canada, it struck a heavy blow in Alberta. TC energy, the company building the pipeline, halted construction and laid off a thousand workers.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney lashed out this week at both Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, accusing the federal government of abandoning the oil and gas sector.
He released a letter to Trudeau on Friday calling on the federal government to retaliate by imposing economic sanctions on the United States or by demanding compensation for TC Energy and his government — which invested billions of provincial taxpayers' dollars into the project. The premier even took his case to Fox News on Friday.
"It's very frustrating that one of the first acts of the new president was, I think, to disrespect America's closest friend and ally, Canada, and to kill good-paying union jobs on both sides of the border and ultimately to make the United States more dependent on foreign oil imports from OPEC dictatorships," Kenney told the Fox audience. "We don't understand it."
Hillman didn't comment directly on Kenney's demands, insisting instead that Canada remains the "best partner" for helping Americans meet their energy needs.
"But we have to recognize that the Biden administration has put fighting climate change at the centre of their agenda," she said. "Not only their domestic agenda but their international agenda."
Goodbye, Keystone — hello 'Buy American'
Keystone's abrupt death isn't the only recent challenge to a Canada-U.S. relationship that's been severely tested over the past four years by Donald Trump. Many Canadians see Biden as not only a more reliable partner but as a friend to this country.
Some of his policies suggest otherwise. Hillman said she's already spoken to the White House about another Biden campaign promise — this one to restore "Buy American" requirements for major government contracts, a move that could freeze Canadian companies out of U.S. government work.
"Less than an hour after the end of the inauguration ceremony, we were in touch with top-level advisers in the White House and discussed many things," she said. "Among them was Buy America."
Biden is proposing a massive, $400 billion infrastructure program that would award contracts exclusively to U.S. companies. As big as that program is, it will be dwarfed by another Biden proposal — to invest $2 trillion in clean technologies and infrastructure.
Hillman said such protectionist measures are not new. In the past, Congress has imposed restrictions to limit or exclude foreign companies from bidding on infrastructure projects, or from supplying U.S. companies that do.
Canada has successfully negotiated exemptions to such policies before — most recently through the 2010 Canada-U.S. Agreement on Government Procurement, which gave companies in this country access to stimulus projects funded under the U.S. Recovery Act.
No link between Keystone and carve-out, says Hillman
Hillman was asked in The House interview if the federal government's muted response to the Keystone decision is tied to its hopes for getting a carve-out for Canadian businesses under Biden's Buy American policy. She said there's no connection.
"Our job here is to work with the administration to demonstrate to them, factually, that as they pursue their domestic goals, the highly integrated supply chains that we have with the United States are essential to protect and preserve for their economic recovery objectives," she said.
"I'm optimistic that we are going to be able to have meaningful conversations with them around how they can meet their policy objectives while also being sure that we protect our mutually supportive supply chains."
Hillman said she sees other opportunities for cross-border cooperation in the Biden administration's decision to rejoin the Paris climate accord and the president's vow to meet the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.
Canada's hopes for a green tech boom
Biden has nominated former secretary of state John Kerry as his special presidential envoy for the climate — a new cabinet-level position intended to underscore Biden's personal commitment to addressing climate change.
"That provides a lot of opportunities for green tech, for Canadian clean energy, for working together on emission standards, for innovation in our automotive industry," Hillman said.
The Trudeau government is trying to position Canada as a global leader in green technology fields. It introduced legislation requiring Canada to become a net-zero emitter by mid century and last month unveiled this country's first national strategy to develop hydrogen as a fuel source.
That's the long game, of course.
For now, the Trudeau government must also deal with the challenge here at home: preventing the fate of Keystone XL from becoming the dominant issue in Canada-U.S. relations that it was the last time a Democrat was in the Oval Office — and Joe Biden was his vice president.