Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks in Lansing, Mich., on March 2, 2021.

The Associated Press

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer won’t back off. Rather than show flexibility toward Canada in the confrontation over the vital Line 5 pipeline, she’s treating the good neighbour as badly as Donald Trump did, prompting a showdown.

She’s ordered the shutdown of the Enbridge Inc. line that passes through her state and supplies almost half the fuel needs of Ontario and Quebec. She threatened Tuesday to seize the profits of Enbridge if it doesn’t comply. It says it won’t.

This line has been in operation for 67 years without a leak into the Straits, but that doesn’t cut it with the uncompromising governor, a rising Democratic Party star. She alleges it is in ill-repair and could cause a horrific spill. She’s ignored a compromise reached by the previous governor, Republican Rick Snyder, that would see Enbridge bore an underground tunnel connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan as a replacement for the pipeline.

Story continues below advertisement

Ottawa has repeatedly raised the issue with U.S. counterparts to try to ward off a crisis. If the shutdown occurs, thousands of jobs would be threatened and gas prices would jump. But with the Democrats, the Liberals’ ideological soulmates, pals diplomacy hasn’t worked. So Ottawa filed a motion Tuesday with the U.S. District Court in Michigan saying Canada’s energy security is at risk and urging the court to prohibit a “unilateral compelled shutdown.”

The motion cites the 1977 Transit Pipelines treaty, which bars either country from interfering with the cross-border flow of oil. Should push come to shove that would appear to give Ottawa an advantage in the case.

The Trudeau government has already felt the sting of the new administration concerning pipelines with U.S. President Joe Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline. Not getting his help to prevent a Line 5 shutdown would come as another blow from a president with whom Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a warm relationship.

The governments are on the same page when it comes to climate change and a wide range of other progressive issues. But the same page also means a shared determination to transition away from fossil fuels. Mr. Biden and Ms. Whitmer, who campaigned against the pipeline in her gubernatorial election, are following their playbooks, while Mr. Trudeau sides with Enbridge.

Judging from social-media platforms and commenting websites, Western Canadians are enjoying seeing him and Easterners in the crosshairs. There are snide remarks to the effect of letting the Easterners freeze in the dark. Hey Quebec, one post said, how’s that Energy East pipeline you objected to looking now?

Of course, Western interests that supply the oil would take a hit as well if the line is closed. Michigan would, too, since the pipeline also delivers much of the propane used as heating fuel in the Wolverine State.

Although Line 5 has never had a leak, in 2010 a different Enbridge pipeline spilled millions of litres of oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. Environmental and Indigenous communities on both sides of the border support Ms. Whitmer’s position. Opponents scoff, citing what they believe would be increased risks from rail and truck transport of the fuel.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Biden appears bent on steering clear of the conflict, leaving it to state and the courts to work out. He is a fan of Ms. Whitmer. She was on his short list for vice-president.

The President will be well briefed on the situation as his Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, is not only a former governor of Michigan but also Canadian-born. She’s a big admirer of Canada, but she also has the responsibility of leading the administration’s transition into an era of clean renewable energy.

Kirsten Hillman, the Canadian ambassador in Washington, has expressed confidence that during the course of the litigation, Line 5 oil will continue to flow. Let’s hope she’s right. Canada has hired American Gordon Giffin, Ottawa ambassador during the Bill Clinton presidency, to head its legal efforts. He’s a strong choice, clear-headed and well connected.

Ms. Whitmer faces opposition to her aggressive posture in her state. The Detroit News, for one, says the wise course would have been to stick to the deal worked out by Mr. Snyder for the construction of a tunnel at Enbridge’s expense. It says her actions constitute an “arbitrary closure of a key piece of energy infrastructure” that risks damaging the close relationship with Canada.

That sounds about right. Calmer heads should prevail on this file. That’s one of the changes Mr. Biden was supposed to bring to bilateral relations post-Trump. Gretchen Whitmer never got the message.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies