Western News

January 26, 2021

Western Canada: Kenney pushes for trade war after Biden’s Keystone veto but Ottawa appears ready to move on

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Western Canada: Kenney pushes for trade war after Biden’s Keystone veto but Ottawa appears ready to move on

Wendy Cox and James Keller

Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.
The fate of the Keystone XL pipeline was sealed as soon as Joe Biden won the presidential election in the United States.
Mr. Biden had made it clear earlier in the year that he would cancel the US$8-billion proposed pipeline expansion between Alberta and Nebraska if elected. And while proponents in Canada, including Alberta’s Premier, held out hope that it wouldn’t happen, Mr. Biden had given no indication that he had changed his mind or was open to another option. Mr. Biden was vice-president when then-president Barack Obama vetoed the project in 2015.
In Alberta, the election outcome posed significant challenges to the province’s finances and oil patch. The industry was counting on the project to expand constrained pipeline capacity and bolster shipments to the U.S. markets. The provincial government also took on its own risk by investing $1.5-billion in the project and promising billions more in loan guarantees – money that could be washed away by a stroke of Mr. Biden’s pen.
The wishful thinking that the project could be saved continued into this week, when leaked transition documents indicating Mr. Biden planned to cancel the project on Day 1 sent officials in Alberta and Ottawa scrambling in an attempt to stop the inevitable.
Even before the presidential inauguration on Wednesday, TC Energy Corp. suspended work on the project. Mr. Biden signed an executive order making it official a few hours later. And by the end of the day, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was calling for economic sanctions to retaliate.
While the news was painful, The Globe’s Jeffrey Jones says it was no surprise for the industry, which had been reading the same news reports as everyone else and had been preparing for Mr. Biden to follow through on his election promise. It is also not a death blow to the oil patch, he writes, which has seen conditions change considerably in the 13 years since Keystone XL was first proposed.
There are other options for moving crude to Alberta’s largest customer, and the industry is also grappling with a growing realization that a transition from fossil fuels is under way.
There are also other pipelines under construction to export Canadian crude, including the replacement for Enbridge Inc.’s Line 3 to the Midwest and the Trans Mountain Expansion Project to the Pacific.
The project’s potential demise is also a blow to 1,000 newly laid-off workers and the small communities along the route that had already been benefiting from construction work.
That includes people like Emily Lai, whose small family restaurant in Oyen, Alta., about three hours east of Calgary, has been surviving on business from pipeline workers. She told The Globe’s Kelly Cryderman that she’s now anxious about the future of the business.
“My husband is feeling sad, too, and worried about the business,” said Ms. Lai.
Mr. Kenney continues to push for the federal government to fight the Biden administration, writing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a letter demanding that Ottawa impose retaliatory sanctions or demand financial compensation if the pipeline ultimately dies.
Mr. Kenney says the decision to target a previously approved project would set a troubling precedent and he argues that opposition to Keystone XL is based on outdated information about the project and about Alberta’s oil sands. He has repeatedly accused “foreign funded” environmentalists of targeting the industry, and on Wednesday he singled out members of Mr. Biden’s team.
The federal Liberals, which have long been a target for Mr. Kenney, have publicly supported the pipeline project but appear uninterested in taking up the fight.
Mr. Trudeau issued a statement immediately after the presidential order saying he was disappointing with the decision but accepts it, and his government has signalled repeatedly this week that it would rather work with Mr. Biden on other areas rather than dwell on Keystone.
The Keystone decision is part of a wider effort from Mr. Biden to bring climate change back into focus for the United States. Mr. Biden also plans to rejoin the Paris Agreement and has set other ambitious targets such as a clean power grid by 2035.
As Adam Radwanski writes, the Biden administration not only appears willing to ruffle feathers with policy decisions on the climate issue, but also take a global leadership role in a way that it hasn’t even under previous Democratic presidents.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
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Around the West
British Columbia’s age-based COVID vaccine plan: Oldest to youngest the main criteria

Justine Hunter and Ian Bailey

Starting in February, British Columbia’s oldest residents will be asked to pre-register to get their COVID-19 vaccination, securing a place in line for when their age group is called.
The B.C. government offered the details of its distribution plan on Friday, as it wraps up the first phase of priority vaccinations for those in long-term care facilities. Rebuffing demands from various industries and professions, it has instead established a rollout based mostly on a resident’s date of birth.
“The science is very clear. The single biggest factor for death or severe illness, is age,” Premier John Horgan told a news conference on Friday. He said he has been lobbied hard by different interest groups that wanted priority vaccines, but said the plan is driven by the statistics on risk. An individual older than 60 is five times as likely to get seriously ill or die from COVID-19 than someone younger than 45, he noted. “No matter where you work, no matter what you do, your age is the predominant factor. And that’s been the focus of the development of this plan.”
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Thousands of Albertans in private seniors’ facilities still awaiting vaccines, not atop priority lists

Carrie Tait

Thousands of Albertans living in privately funded congregate care facilities have not received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and are not, as a group, given priority in the government’s inoculation plan.
Alberta earlier this week said residents and staff at 357 long-term care and designated supportive-living operations, which are categories subsidized by taxpayers, had received the first of two shots to guard against the coronavirus. However, this excludes facilities that may offer care for seniors in similar settings – such as retirement homes and some assisted-living facilities – but are funded privately.
All people older than 75 in Alberta are eligible for the vaccine in the next phase of the province’s plan. However, seniors in privately funded congregate facilities have not been designated to be the first in that group to be vaccinated, which experts argue is a mistake because people living in group settings are at greater danger. Alberta stopped booking appointments for the first dose of the vaccine on Monday, after Pfizer slowed shipments of the shot to Canada.
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Truck driver who caused Humboldt Broncos bus crash awaits deportation decision

Stephanie Taylor

A former truck driver who caused the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash has submitted paperwork with reasons why he should not be sent back to India when he gets out of prison.
Jaskirat Singh Sidhu is now waiting for the Canada Border Services Agency to write a report that will recommend whether he be allowed to stay in his adopted country or be deported.
A grieving father of one of the hockey players killed will be waiting, too. Scott Thomas said he aches every day for his 18-year-old son, Evan, but submitted a letter in support of Sidhu.
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B.C. property manager and self-described ‘Wolf of Burrard Street’ under investigation

Mike Hager

B.C.’s provincial real estate watchdog has ordered a young man to immediately cease managing high-end Vancouver rental properties without a licence as it investigates whether he collected security deposits and then cancelled agreements without returning the money.
The Office of the Superintendent of Real Estate recently issued an urgent order against Colton Roberts and his two companies after four groups of tenants complained last year to the agency, which investigates unlicensed real estate activity. Mr. Roberts, 24, who cultivated an image of a globe-trotting playboy on his Wolf of Burrard Street Instagram page, says his actions were the result of his poor communication while living in Spain last summer and that he has returned any money owed.
The superintendent’s directive called on Mr. Roberts, Renters Management Inc. and Bluhome Properties to stop offering his services immediately, provide a full list of clientele and a detailed breakdown of any rents or deposits he is currently holding.
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B.C. now has three clinics for ‘long-hauler’ COVID-19 patients with lingering symptoms

Mike Hager

British Columbia has launched a network of three clinics offering specialized treatments for COVID-19 patients still suffering from an array of ailments months after testing positive for the virus, with researchers using evidence from this care to better understand the long-term effects of the disease.
On Friday, a group of local health authorities announced units already operating at Vancouver General Hospital and St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver have now been joined by one this week at the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre in Surrey, still the B.C. community reporting the most new cases each day.
As the pandemic nears its first year in Canada, health authorities across the country are grappling with how to treat those patients, who refer to themselves as long haulers. Alberta has announced three similar clinics, while Ontario has one in Toronto and one in London.
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B.C. schools spend federal money on cleaning instead of ventilation

Mike Hager

B.C.’s school districts spent just a fraction of their first tranche of federal pandemic funding on improving the airflow in classrooms across the province this fall, instead focusing much of their infection control efforts on enhanced cleaning.
The province’s teachers say too many students and staff at British Columbia’s nearly 1,600 public schools are still at risk because of antiquated ventilation systems and windowless classrooms.
This week, the Ministry of Education provided a spreadsheet breaking down how the first $101-million in federal aid for B.C. public schools was spent from September to the end of December. More than half the money went toward learning resources – mostly adding teachers and buying new technology to assist with remote learning – but just $5-million of the $35-million spent on health and safety was used to upgrade ventilation at schools.
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  B.C.’s assault on its surgery backlog has been a pandemic success story

Gary Mason

National affairs columnist
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced this week that he didn’t expect any elective surgeries in the province to be cancelled as a result of the deadly second wave of COVID-19.
This undoubtedly came as a relief to those who have been waiting months to get various ailments addressed on an operating room table. And it unquestionably made Mr. Dix pleased as well, given the remarkable job health professionals in British Columbia have done clearing up backlogs created by the suspension of surgeries last spring when the pandemic first arrived.
It’s an achievement that stands out amid the gloom the virus has brought to the world. And for Mr. Dix, the accomplishment is personal, having staked his reputation on reducing wait times and having taken a firm stand against private clinics, which justify their existence by arguing that waiting lists are too long and that people are suffering needlessly as a result. Last year, a B.C. Supreme Court judge sided with the government in its bid to close private clinics on the grounds that they violate the Canada Health Act; the case is likely to end up at the Supreme Court of Canada.
More than 30,000 surgeries were postponed over two months when the virus hit – a demoralizing development for the Health Minister. By the time surgeries resumed in late May (some emergency surgeries were still performed), there were about 93,000 people on a waiting list; at the time, it was estimated it would take two years to clear the backlog.
Full Story
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