Max Fawcett is a freelance writer and a former editor of Alberta Oil magazine and Vancouver magazine.
Ever since he returned to provincial politics in 2017, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has found ways to blame Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberal government for his province’s various woes. If an oil and gas company decides to leave the province? It’s Ottawa’s fault. If construction of an important pipeline project is slowed by protests? It’s Ottawa’s fault. Heck, it was apparently even Ottawa’s fault that Jason Kenney’s own MLAs and staff decided to travel to Hawaii over the Christmas break. But when it comes to president-elect Joe Biden’s reported intention to cancel Keystone XL’s permit on his first day in office, Mr. Kenney is going to have a very hard time blaming Ottawa.
That’s because despite sinking more than a billion dollar of taxpayer dollars into the project, and recently inking contracts worth $1.5-million with three Washington lobbying firms, Mr. Kenney and his administration have basically brought Mr. Biden’s decision on Keystone on themselves.
It could not have escaped the Biden team’s notice that the Kenney government has made attacking environmentalists and undermining climate policy one of the foundational elements of its political strategy. It was, after all, at the forefront of the attacks against the federal government’s revised climate plan – one that will see Canada’s carbon tax rise to $170 per tonne by 2030 – and continues to press its legal case against the tax in federal court. Its energy “war room,” as ineffective as it’s been, revealed an agenda that is out of step with the one articulated by Mr. Biden during his campaign. And the recent revelations about its public inquiry into anti-energy campaigns, whose reading list and commissioned research seems far more in keeping with a government that wants to deny the reality of climate change than one getting on with the business of responding to it, couldn’t have helped matters.
The Biden team also surely noticed the conspicuous presence of MAGA hats in Mr. Kenney’s political orbit – including atop the head of his government’s minister of agriculture and forestry, Devin Dreeshen. Similarly, they had to have been aware of the comments Mr. Kenney made during a post-election podcast, when he referred to Gretchen Whitmer – Michigan’s governor and, most crucially in this context, Mr. Biden’s campaign co-chair – as “brain-dead” because of her opposition to a different pipeline, Enbridge’s Line 5.
And while Mr. Kenney has been successful at making the federal government a scapegoat for the cancellations of the Northern Gateway and Energy East pipelines, he’ll have a far harder time here. That’s because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has supported the project for years and has made it clear that he intends to make the case for it with Mr. Biden. According to a readout of his Nov. 9 call with the president-elect – Mr. Trudeau was the first world leader to speak with Mr. Biden after the U.S. election – the Prime Minister “looked forward to further strengthening the Canada-U.S. relationship and to engaging on key issues, including trade, softwood lumber, Buy America and energy co-operation, such as Keystone XL.”
If it’s any consolation for Mr. Kenney and his government, they weren’t the only ones stepping on their own toes here. As The Globe and Mail reported on Monday, TC Energy – the proponent of Keystone XL – donated US$2,500 to the runoff campaign of Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler and combined with Enbridge to contribute a total of US$12,500 to Senator David Perdue’s efforts. That they didn’t realize the risks associated with donating to only one side of a pair of Senate races that could decide the balance of power in Washington – and with it, Joe Biden’s ability to implement his legislative agenda – beggars belief. In an industry that has made a number of political miscalculations in recent years, this may prove to be the biggest one yet.
Still, after having invested well over a billion dollars of taxpayer money in the Keystone XL project, Jason Kenney will have to answer some difficult questions now. Yes, he can try to find a new scapegoat – radical Democrats, perhaps, or even Joe Biden himself – but it won’t be nearly as easy as it’s been in the past. And maybe, just maybe, it’s time for a Premier who talks incessantly about the merits of personal responsibility to take some of it himself here.
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