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Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, May 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California. Mr. Trump clearly sees Keystone XL as a business negotiation, like putting his name on a hotel or casino.ROBYN BECK/AFP / Getty Images

Donald Trump's plan for Keystone XL is kooky, but sensing an opening, the oil pipeline's staunchest Canadian supporters are weighing the pros and cons of it anyway.

The question is, at what cost do they want the contentious conduit built? Because this sounds uncomfortably like nationalization. Where might it end in Mr. Trump's America?

He said last week he'd like to approve the TransCanada Corp. project, reversing U.S. President Barack Obama's rejection of it, but then he wants "a piece of the profits."

The New York businessman has said that before, but not in his elevated role as the Republican Party's presumptive presidential nominee. It's tempting to scoff – and in fact, I'm scoffing – but it displays the "America first" trade philosophy that his isolationist base laps up. It will affect Canada in countless ways, most of them negative, should he win in November.

Hillary Clinton, who will likely lead the Democratic ticket, said last year that she opposes the $8-billion (U.S.) pipeline, designed years ago to carry Alberta's oil sands-derived crude to southern U.S. refineries. The debate about it and the oil sands' contribution to climate change cast a pall over U.S.-Canada relations through much of the tenure of former prime minister Stephen Harper.

Mr. Trump, though, clearly sees Keystone XL as a business negotiation, like putting his name on a hotel or casino. "I would absolutely approve it, 100 per cent, but I would want a better deal," he said at a rally of supporters in North Dakota.

This doesn't sound much like a level playing field, sticking with the set of regulated returns that pipeline operators receive in the United States and in Canada. It sounds more like the heavy hand of government setting more onerous and expensive rules for one foreign investor versus those that domestic companies have to abide by.

TransCanada had already complained about such treatment at the hands of Mr. Obama following the latest rejection.

Presumably, the company could seek higher tolls from its shippers to pay the ransom, raising already-high costs for energy producers, many of which are U.S.-based companies to begin with.

For anyone in Canada who wants Keystone XL built, and believes that giving the U.S. government some kind of extra cut in exchange would be acceptable, it's worth considering what could be next.

This is just one oil-pipeline proposal. There are numerous pipes already in the ground that carry about three million barrels of Canadian crude a day into the United States, including the original Keystone pipeline to Illinois and Oklahoma, as well as much of Enbridge Inc.'s network into the U.S. Midwest and beyond.

Those operators may also be forced to pony up more, regardless of the regulator-approved agreements they have in place with their shippers.

In fact, why stop at oil pipelines? Mr. Trump could demand a fatter take from natural gas lines or even restaurants and retail stores.

That would surely spark a flurry of challenges by Canadian companies under the North American free-trade agreement. But wait – Mr. Trump has famously declared that he'll rip up NAFTA should he move into the Oval Office. It gets complicated.

In retaliation, and without a well-established trade agreement, Canada could be forced to demand "a piece of the profits" from U.S. companies that operate here, such as Wal-Mart, Starbucks and Victoria's Secret. All's fair in love and trade war.

For its part, TransCanada, which already pays significant U.S. taxes from its growing network there, has declined to wade into the profit discussion surrounding Keystone XL. Instead, it notes the Donald's overall support.

"We are pleased the presumptive GOP nominee would approve the project and is encouraging reapplication," spokesman Mark Cooper said in an e-mail. "Keystone XL continues to receive widespread support in the United States."

The company has even dusted off its Keystone XL stats list, pointing out the jobs it would create and property taxes it would generate.

But as Mr. Trump has campaigned on building a wall along the United States' southern border, and demanding Mexico pay for it, his plan here seems to be getting a pipeline built across the northern border, and demanding TransCanada pay up for it.

The art of that deal is just too abstract.