Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced anger from some of Canada’s premiers Thursday over U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline project — including heated calls for punishment that could fracture ties between the two allies.
The First Ministers call, which lasted just over an hour, also touched on the coronavirus pandemic and issues with the nationwide vaccine rollout, sources told Global News. But Canada-U.S. relations in the wake of Biden’s controversial move dominated the discussion.
“Some premiers want to go to war” with the United States over the cancellation, aides of those who participated in the meeting said.
The aides spoke on the condition of anonymity to frankly discuss a private discussion that they said “got pretty heated.”
During the discussion, aides said Ontario Premier Doug Ford cast his lot in with Alberta’s Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe, and warned the prime minister he should stand up to “a bully” like Biden on Keystone.
The characterization surprised some of the other premiers on the call, aides said, given the behaviour of Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.
Ford, along with premiers of other non-oil producing provinces, fear that if Biden can cancel Keystone XL, he’ll also bring in “Buy America” policies to help the American economy recover from the pandemic. A “Buy America” policy, which Biden has promised on the campaign trail, could freeze out Canadian steel, aluminum, and manufactured goods — something that would cause widespread harm to the Canadian economy.
Trudeau told the premiers he will plead the case for the Keystone XL pipeline when he speaks to Biden by phone Friday. The call will be the new U.S. president’s first with a foreign leader after being sworn into office Wednesday.
But Trudeau also indicated to the premiers that he is mindful of improving the broader Canada-U.S. relationship after an often contentious four years squaring off with Trump, according to the sources.
Biden’s revoking of the Keystone XL permit, one of several executive orders signed within hours of his inauguration, drew sharp condemnation from the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan, whose energy sectors were depending on the US$8 billion project.
Premiers Jason Kenney and Scott Moe have not only criticized Biden’s order but also the Canadian government’s response to the decision. Trudeau said in a statement Wednesday that Canada is “disappointed but acknowledge(s) the President’s decision to fulfill his election campaign promise on Keystone XL.”
Kenney, who called the cancellation an economic “gut punch,” told reporters Wednesday that Canada should impose trade and economic sanctions on the U.S. if the Biden administration does not agree to further discussions on the future of the project.
The Alberta premier has said the province has about $1 billion of its own money at risk if the project is killed, while the province will miss out on $30 billion in revenue over the next 20 years along with nearly 60,000 new jobs.
In a statement released Thursday, Moe also called on the federal government “to explore opportunities to compel the Biden administration to allow” construction to resume. He said he would raise the issue during the First Ministers call the same day.
A readout of the call from the prime minister’s office did not mention the premiers’ comments, but said Trudeau “reiterated his disappointment with the decision on Keystone XL, and emphasized that the federal government has engaged with the new administration in support of the project.
“He noted that workers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and across Canada will always have the federal government’s support,” it added.
Trudeau is expected to face more questions on Canada’s response to the U.S. and support for energy-dependent provinces when he speaks to reporters on Friday.
Biden and the White House have defended the project’s cancellation by pointing to the new administration’s focus on building a clean energy economy, which it says will create jobs.
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