Max Fawcett: Who will Jason Kenney blame next if Keystone XL fails?
The Kenney government’s conspicuously lukewarm reaction to the Biden/Harris victory shouldn’t be surprising
You would think, given what he had at stake in the outcome of the American presidential election, that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney would be ready with a reaction to its eventual winner. But when major American news networks finally summoned the courage to call it for Joe Biden on Saturday, it took Kenney two and a half hours — longer than Ontario Premier Doug Ford, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and a host of other conservative leaders — to release a statement. Worse still, that statement was utterly divorced from the reality of a Joe Biden presidency and what it will mean for Alberta.
After all, there was no mention of climate change, or any acknowledgement of the importance that addressing it will have for a Biden administration. Instead, it was a reiteration of the same tired talking points about energy security and job creation that Kenney’s government has been using ever since it came into power in 2019. “U.S. energy security is dependent on Alberta as the United States’ largest source of oil imports,” his statement said. “Much of the American economy is fueled by Alberta energy. We look forward to working with president-elect Biden’s transition team and future administration to ensure that this vital economic partnership continues.” Given that his government has a $1.5-billion bet riding on the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline — one Joe Biden pledged to block earlier this year — the implied threat in Kenney’s statement is remarkably cavalier.
In fairness, his statement about the Biden administration looks positively Churchillian compared to what he said in an interview with far-right entrepreneur (and former candidate for the Separation Party of Alberta) Cory Morgan. During Morgan’s recent podcast, Kenney said that those who want to cut off Alberta’s oil and gas exports “would have to be brain dead,” and then proceeded to take direct shots at Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer. If Kenney were trying to win friends with the incoming Biden administration, he has a strange way of going about it. Worse still, he may have inadvertently nudged Whitmer towards the decision she made on Friday to revoke the easement for Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, a move that Politico energy reporter Ben Lefebvre suggested “would essentially kill the pipeline.”
Not all of Alberta’s political leaders were so obviously tone-deaf. In his own statement, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson tweeted that “the U.S. is Alberta’s largest trading partner and an important ally in our goals to accomplish action on climate change, achieve economic prosperity, and build a more inclusive society. I'm relieved to see us moving closer to those goals together again.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, noted that “our shared geography, common interests, deep personal connections, and strong economic ties make us close friends, partners, and allies. We will further build on this foundation as we continue to keep our people safe and healthy from the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic, and work to advance peace and inclusion, economic prosperity, and climate action around the world.”
The Kenney government’s conspicuously lukewarm reaction to the Biden/Harris victory shouldn’t be surprising. This is, after all, a government whose own Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Devin Dreeshen, campaigned proudly for Donald Trump in 2016. Kenney declined to meet with Greta Thunberg when she was visiting Edmonton last October. Instead the executive director of issues management put an “I <3🇨🇦 Oil & Gas” sign on a very public-facing office window.
But that was then, and this is now. And if Kenney wants to salvage the $1.5 billion in taxpayer money that he’s already invested in Keystone XL, he’ll need to do more than send former Conservative Party of Canada backbenchers to Washington in order to remind Americans that they need Alberta’s oil. Instead, he’ll have to talk about what Alberta is actually doing to reduce the carbon intensity of those barrels. He will need to pair that talk with meaningful action. He’ll need to put an end to the ludicrous public inquiry into the critics of Alberta’s oil and gas industry, one that is both late and over budget. He should drop his appeal of the federal carbon tax, given the Biden administration’s obvious interest in that sort of climate-friendly policy. And he ought to tie a rock to the feet of the Canadian Energy Centre and throw it into the Bow River.
Make no mistake: with a potentially divided government, and a slim Democratic majority in the Senate at best, the Keystone XL pipeline isn’t dead yet. Biden’s promise to cancel it helped placate his party’s left wing and get them to turn out at the ballot boxes last week, but that’s all in the past now. The president-elect’s future involves ongoing negotiations with Mitch McConnell, who will have every incentive to undercut Biden’s administration and position Republicans for the 2022 midterms. It’s not clear that McConnell wants Keystone XL to get built, but it’s a safe bet that he wants it more than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. If Kenney wants to protect his province’s investment, he should be working hard to ensure the Biden administration understands that there’s a win for them in not killing the project — both in terms of horse-trading with McConnell, and advancing a climate agenda.
If the last 18 months have told us anything, though, it’s that Jason Kenney won’t modify or moderate his approach on this issue. In the face of a rapidly changing global energy market — one that has seen major players like BP and Shell embrace the idea of a transition away from fossil fuels — he remains steadfast in his belief that failed arguments like Ezra Levant’s 2010 book Ethical Oil will somehow start working. He continues to insist that climate change concerns are overblown, demand for oil will continue to grow for decades, and that any criticism of Alberta’s industry and its environmental practices is an affront to his province’s dignity. And he remains heavily invested in finding other people to blame when things don’t go his way, whether it’s Justin Trudeau or Rachel Notley. One wonders who he’ll blame if Joe Biden follows through on his promise to kill Keystone XL for a second time.
Max Fawcett is a freelance writer and the former editor of Alberta Oil and Vancouver magazines. He worked in the Alberta Climate Change Office from 2017 to 2019.
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