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What’s that Flushing Sound? Just Albertans’ Keystone XL Investment Going Down the Drain

Joe Biden plans to cancel the pipeline on his first day as president. Kenney’s fumbling is partly to blame.

David Climenhaga 18 Jan 2021 |

David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator. He blogs at, where this column first appeared. Follow him on Twitter at @djclimenhaga.

“Rescind Keystone XL pipeline permit,” says the transition team’s briefing note for day one of the Biden Administration on Wednesday.

This seems pretty definitive.

According to the CBC, the plan for Joe Biden’s first day on the job includes pulling the plug on the bitumen pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast of Texas as one of the Democrat’s top priorities.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to U.S. politics.

It’s been a Biden promise from the get-go. It’s easy to do with the stroke of a pen. It’s devoutly wished for by key segments of his base. And it doesn’t cost the United States anything, fanciful arguments about the economic benefits of the Keystone XL pipeline notwithstanding.

It’ll cost Albertans, though, because Premier Jason Kenney bet at least $1.5 billion of their money, and possibly $7.5 billion, on the dubious proposition that Donald J. Trump, almost certain to be judged the worst president in American history, would win re-election on Nov. 3. Kenney invested $1.5 billion in the project and provided another $6 billion in loan guarantees.

What possessed Kenney to do that? Wishful thinking? Something Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen, Alberta’s most famous red cap, told him? Something he read on Parler?

Let it never be asked, “Who could have seen this coming?” Damn nearly everybody who’s been paying attention did.

Speaking of history, Kenney’s crazy bet has to be near the top of the most irresponsible things ever done in Alberta’s history. Will there be a political price to pay for his irresponsibility? Given that history, it’s hard to say.

Keystone XL might’ve had a chance if New Democrat Rachel Notley were still premier… because, social licence.

But Notley isn’t premier, is she? No, it’s Kenney, the politician who excoriated the very idea of seeking social licence for Alberta’s carbo-intensive heavy oil projects.

He called the whole concept of social licence a myth. He called it a failure. He called it a lie.

Well, it’s not fair to single out Kenney, really. Two years ago, the whole Canadian conservative movement was screaming the same scream. Many in the oilpatch too. Although TC Energy Corp., the company behind the Keystone project, finally got the need for social licence — granted, a day late and a dollar short.

In a desperate last ditch attempt to win support Sunday, the former TransCanada PipeLines promised to power the line with solar and wind energy, pledged zero emissions, vowed to find Indigenous partners and said it would hire union-only workers.

Its budget for this plan: $1.7 billion, or about the same as the Alberta government’s investment in the project. Coincidence?

But Kenney’s sustained, prolonged attack on the idea that you could build social licence for the infrastructure needed to export Alberta bitumen by not behaving like a shipload of environmental pirates was certainly one of the keys to his United Conservative Party’s success at the polls in April 2019.

No social licence for us brainiacs here in Alberta! We were going to Make Alberta Great Again. And we had an ally in the White House, the greatest MAGA Man of them all, Trump himself.

So, now what are we going to do?

Will Alberta finally wake up and smell the coffee?

Having invested so much effort in claiming Alberta’s economy was doomed without Keystone XL, Kenney is now going to have to come up with a new storyline. Presumably it will involve blaming Justin Trudeau — even though Canada’s prime minister risked his own political future by buying Alberta a pipeline for $4.5 billion in 2018.

Double down on fossil fuels and shear the top off a mountain on the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies to mine coal?

Surely not even Kenney would do that!

Oh, wait...  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, Politics

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