Justin Trudeau knew Keystone XL was dead long before he opened the door to the Prime Minister's Office. He has been practising a policy of moving past it since he took office, and even before.
Eventually, however, the new Prime Minister will face a domestic version of Keystone's cross-border saga focused on the Energy East pipeline from Alberta to Saint John, N.B. He has promised new, beefed-up environmental reviews, that projects must get a "social license" from communities they would affect to win approval and that his government will ensure Canadian energy products get to international markets.
But right now, all is proceeding according to the Liberal plan, so well, in fact, that it would be hard to believe U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement was not co-ordinated between the White House and Mr. Trudeau's team.
The Liberals knew Mr. Obama would reject the Keystone proposal. Nearly everyone did. Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose said in a statement it had long been clear the decision was a "fait accompli." The Liberal position on Keystone has been that Stephen Harper's government failed to do enough on climate change to ensure the acceptance of Alberta oil.
And on the day after the election, Mr. Trudeau played down Keystone as a beef with the Americans, saying he did not mention it in a phone call with Mr. Obama because he did not want one prickly issue to dominate relations.
So there could not possibly have been better timing for Mr. Obama's announcement. It is three days into Mr. Trudeau's government, so early he cannot be blamed. His government can, and did, blame Mr. Harper's inaction on the environment. And Mr. Obama helped reinforce the idea by saying that approving Keystone would undermine the United States' ability to be a leader on climate change – and his ambassador in Ottawa, Bruce Heyman, said that was the "critical factor."
Mr. Trudeau's government, in fact, used the rejection of the pipeline as a justification for its plan to move ahead on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said repeatedly that the new government will have a "fresh start" in Canada-U.S. relations.
The Keystone decision comes a month before the climate-change conference in Paris, where Mr. Obama wants to be seen as the president who led in reaching a global deal and Mr. Trudeau wants to be seen as the leader who brought Canada to action. It is reasonable to expect an Obama-Trudeau embrace in Paris on newly shared climate-change goals.
That may improve Canada-U.S. relations, but it still leaves Keystone in the past, at least as long as Mr. Obama is President. And since Mr. Trudeau has more or less said it is his duty to get Alberta oil to tidewater, that increases pressure on him.
The route to the Gulf of Mexico is officially out. Mr. Trudeau opposed Northern Gateway, the main route to the Pacific. That leaves only the route to the Atlantic, the proposed Energy East pipeline. And the Keystone-like battles over that project are really just starting.
The debate over Keystone heightened sensitivities. Its proposed route across the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska was one spark for local concerns; Energy East would cross several waterways, raising local qualms. Several First Nations oppose it. An Ontario report said the risks outweigh the benefits for the province. And the developer of both pipelines, Trans-Canada Corp., just abandoned plans to build a marine export terminal at Cacouna, Que., prompting Premier Philippe Couillard to suggest it makes the pipeline's approval less likely.
Mr. Trudeau's policy, reiterated by Mr. Dion on Friday, is that strengthened, credible environmental reviews will reassure opponents and increase acceptance of pipelines. But the Liberals must create that new process, and balance it with an implicit promise that some pipeline-to-tidewater project will one day get through it.
The new Prime Minister can turn the page on Keystone, and use it to back his climate policies and a fresh start with Mr. Obama. But now Mr. Trudeau will bear the responsibility as the centre of high-profile pipeline politics moves from Washington to Ottawa.