Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn't even utter the word – Keystone – that had bedevilled Canada-U.S. relations for a decade.
But he did hint.
In a breakfast speech Thursday to the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce – directly across from the White House – Mr. Trudeau painted Canada as open for business and vowed heavy investment in the nation's infrastructure to create jobs and lure investment.
"Over the course of the next year, we will work to develop a long-term infrastructure strategy that includes large-scale infrastructure projects and investment in our ports and important trade corridors to the U.S. and Asia."
The Prime Minister, in Washington for the Nuclear Safety Summit, is seeking to build on the lingering and largely favourable buzz created earlier this month when he was feted by President Barack Obama at a gala state dinner.
But while Mr. Trudeau didn't mention Keystone XL – the pipeline rejected by Mr. Obama but backed by Republicans seeking to succeed him in the Oval Office – it still lurks in the background of the bilateral relationship. TransCanada Corp. has filed a lawsuit accusing the U.S government of treating it unfairly. Mr. Trudeau, who openly backed the pipeline while he was in opposition, ignored it Thursday. That, in itself, marked a significant shift.
For years, a parade of Canadian cabinet ministers and provincial premiers speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have harped about the need to get Canada's landlocked oil sands to world markets and world prices and pointed to Mr. Obama's opposition to the controversial pipeline crossing the U.S. heartland as an unfair impediment. Former Conservative foreign minister John Baird – to the same Chamber of Commerce audience – demanded an immediate answer from Mr. Obama, even if it was a 'No," an outburst so unusual that it resulted in a gentle chiding from Secretary of State John Kerry.
Environmentalists painted Keystone XL as an irresponsible scheme that would spur development of Canada's vast and carbon-heavy oil reserves, thus contributing to increased emissions of greenhouse gases and forcing global warming.
Mr. Trudeau said his priority was to "find responsible, sustainable ways to get our goods to market," but didn't directly refer to the oil sands.
The Prime Minister, who has bilateral meetings later today with the leaders of India and Argentina on the margins of the summit, told the chamber that his vision of "our shared future" was an increasingly integrated North American economy. "In the years ahead, Canada, the United States and our neighbours in Mexico will accomplish amazing things together," Mr. Trudeau said, adding: "Working together, we can steer our countries toward a clean and prosperous future – one that provides good jobs and great opportunities for every North American."
And he repeatedly returned to the theme that saving the planet from the ravages of man-made global warming won't stunt economic growth. "Environmental protection and economic growth go hand in hand," he said, adding: "In the rapidly expanding global marketplace, the reality is this: New growth is increasingly clean growth."
In a discussion session following his speech, Mr. Trudeau was asked he if was willing to reopen NAFTA, the 20-year-old free-trade agreement binding Canada, Mexico and the United States. Some presidential candidates have vowed to renegotiate the pact that they believe has drained good jobs and hurt the U.S. economy. "We always have to be ready for discussions around NAFTA and around any trade deal but NAFTA has worked extremely well for our economics and, as we all know, as soon as you crack open a deal for one little thing, the whole thing can start to unravel," Mr. Trudeau said.
Asked directly about resurrecting Keystone, Mr. Trudeau said simply: "It's not a Government of Canada proposal," effectively distancing himself from the $8-billion TransCanada plan to funnel Canadian oil to Texas and Louisiana refineries. But he acknowledged that "one of the most important jobs of any prime minister is to make sure we're getting our resources to market," adding: "Doing that in the 21st century means doing it responsibly, sustainably, ethically and thinking about the long term."