Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the province is “deeply disturbed” by the revocation of a presidential permit that gave the green light to the Keystone XL pipeline expansion across the Canada-U.S. border.
“This is a gut punch for the Canadian and Alberta economies,” Kenney said just a short while after newly-sworn in President Joe Biden revoked the presidential permit given under former President Donald Trump a year ago — a project that Kenney said was essential to Alberta’s economy.
“Sadly, it is an insult directed at the United States’ most important ally and trading partner, on day 1 of a new administration.”
“Today, as I speak, over 2,000 women and men have lost their jobs – are heading home from good-paying, union jobs as a result of this decision.”
The decision was one component of Biden’s campaign promise to transition the U.S. from its reliance on fossil fuels to clean energy.
Biden said claims that shutting down the Keystone pipeline would do undue damage to the oil industry are “just not rational,” adding that the arguments do not make any environmental or economic sense.
“We’ll continue to fight for them and for the 59,000 jobs that this project would create,” Kenney said.
“The leader of our closest ally retroactively vetoed approval for a pipeline that already exists and which is co-owned by a Canadian government, directly attacking, by far, the largest part of the Canada-U.S. trade relationship, which is our energy industry and exports.”
Kenney criticized the response Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government had to the news of Biden’s executive order on Wednesday, and called on the Liberals to ask the Biden administration to have a discussion on how to move forward.
“If, however, the U.S. government refuses to open the door to a constructive and respectful dialogue about these issues, then it is clear that (the) government of Canada must impose meaningful trade and economic sanctions in response, to defend our country’s vital economic interests,” the premier said.
“Not doing so would… create a dangerous precedent,” he said.
Kenney said the thousands of energy workers now out of work deserve as strong a response from the federal government as Ottawa had when Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to the U.S.
“Just because a foreign government gets elected on a promise to hurt our economic interests, (it) does not mean we can or should accept the damage inflicted,” he said.
Kenney said he spoke with Trudeau on Monday and urged him to take action on this file before Biden was even sworn into office. He added that he made the point that Alberta was poised to generate $30 billion in revenue from Keystone XL over the next 20 years, with billions more going to the federal government.
“I said, ‘If you want this province to continue to contribute to the rest of the country, we need to get things like this built.’ He said, ‘I understand that.’
“Well, I appreciate the words,” Kenney said, “but now we need to see actions.
“If we don’t see those actions, if we don’t see the same seriousness about this issue that we did on aluminum and steel tariffs and other sectors attacked by American protectionism, then that will only compel us to go further in our fight for a fair deal in the federation.”
‘Disappointment all around’
Lionel Railtom, Canadian director of the Union of Operating Engineers said: “The direct impact is already being felt,” referring to Biden’s decision.
“We’ll have the immediate impact of displacement and layoff of our men and women who are working on building the Canadian portion of the line,” he said, in addition to work that’s been happening in the U.S. that will stop.
“[It’s] a disappointment all around.”
Railtom said halting the project is a “major blow” to the pipeline industry, which is “already under stress.” He estimates roughly 600 union members have been working on the project, which he said was one of the biggest in the works right now.
Railtom said there will be opportunities for members when it comes to the burgeoning renewable energy sector, but that isn’t without its challenges either.
“The transition of energy workers that are displaced from very good-paying jobs — how do you transition them to these new opportunities?”
He said the government of Alberta “absolutely” needs to step in to help workers impacted by layoffs in the energy sector, and find ways to help them transition into other careers.
“We’re in many conversations right now about this particular issue: how do we support the very important industry, the energy industry, in all its forms?” Railtom said.
“And we’re working with all levels of government right now to not only keep the existing work that’s available but looking forward to the future as to where we need to go and how we need to support it.
“We also have been working very hard with industry to continue to move forward the narrative that transportation of fossil fuels is going to continue for some time and pipelines, in our opinion, is the safest way to do it.”
Railtom said it was “disappointing” the union didn’t have a chance to discuss the pipeline project with the Biden administration before his decision was made.
Oyen, Alta., Mayor Doug Jones said the cancellation means his town stands to lose millions of dollars in revenue.
He said over the summer the eastern Alberta town hosted upwards of 1,000 workers from TC Energy and Michels Canada – the prime contractor tasked with building about 260 kilometres of pipeline in Alberta as part of Keystone XL, starting near Oyen.
The workers’ camp was just on the edge of town.
He said the town was expecting the workers to slowly trickle out of the camp over the next while and all be gone by February, as the work was slowing down over the winter. However, they were counting on them coming back in the summer.
“It was a pretty nice windfall for us to be able to have that here, especially when COVID was on,” Jones said.
He said he was surprised to see Biden pull the presidential permit within his first 100 days in office, and hoped there would have been more discussions between the new U.S. administration and stakeholders.
Thursday afternoon, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi called the decision to pull the Keystone XL permit “the wrong thing to do, both from a climate perspective and from an economic perspective.”
“Certainly this is a blow to Calgary — it’s a blow to our economy,” Nenshi said.
But President Biden’s decision didn’t come as a surprise to the mayor. He said he hoped the provincial and federal governments have been working on contingency plans since the U.S. election in November.
“But we also have to be realistic. Even though this is a terrible decision on the part of the new administration, it is a decision they chose to make on their very first day, which means it’s important to them.
“You’re not going to win this one by bullying the new administration.”
Nenshi said he wasn’t convinced of the reasoning behind Kenney’s call for sanctions, saying Keystone XL is a part of the federal govenrment’s climate change and energy transition plan.
— With files from Global News’ Hannah Jackson and Adam Toy