After four complicated years with Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau is eager to start afresh with Joe Biden. But the willingness given to the new American president to block the construction of an oil pipeline between the two countries as soon as he arrives at the White House on Wednesday, could complicate his task.
“It’s not the best way to start a relationship,” notes analyst Tim Powers.
The Canadian Prime Minister was pleased to be the first leader to speak on the phone with Mr. Biden shortly after his election in November 2020. Some of the opposition is already pushing him to use this relationship to pressure the news administration, while Ottawa on Monday reaffirmed its support for the project.
“As long as the Canadian government has said it will strongly support the Keystone XL pipeline, having a US administration hinting that it is going to be scrapped does not help,” Powers told AFP.
According to several Canadian media, Joe Biden plans to block this controversial pipeline project launched in 2008 – already canceled by Barack Obama for environmental reasons, put back on track by Donald Trump for economic reasons – from the day he takes office Wednesday.
The project of the Canadian group TC Energy, of some 8 billion American dollars (6.6 billion euros), should make it possible to transport from 2023 more than 800,000 barrels of oil per day between the Canadian province of Alberta and the American refineries of the Gulf of Mexico.
But it is criticized by environmentalists because of its impact on greenhouse gas emissions. On Sunday, TC Energy pledged to use only renewable energy to operate the pipeline, hoping to change the mind of the new US administration.
The decision attributed to Mr. Biden to cancel it “puts spikes in the wheels of the Canada / United States relationship,” says Ryan Katz-Rosene, professor of politics at the University of Ottawa.
But it could also “make things a little more difficult for Mr. Trudeau at the national level,” he said.
As snap elections loom in 2021 for the Liberal Prime Minister’s minority government, Trudeau finds himself torn between his environmental commitments and opposition pressure to defend an oil sector in crisis , especially since the coronavirus pandemic.
Opposition from environmentalists
“On the Canadian side, we are talking about 100 billion dollars (65 billion euros) in exports each year,” said Jason Kenney, the Premier of Alberta, which concentrates most of the country’s oil reserves on Monday. , Canada’s main export product.
The country has the third proven reserves in the world, mostly contained in the western oil sands whose exploitation is criticized for its government impact. This is what explains the opposition of the Biden team to this project.
For Mr. Kenney, whose government is funding the project to the tune of more than $ 1 billion, its cancellation would destroy jobs on both sides of the border, weaken relations between the two countries, and make the United States more dependent. of OPEC production.
Justin Trudeau is committed to completing Keystone XL and other pipelines in order to get Canadian oil to other markets and get a better price.
If the project is abandoned, the oil-rich provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan (center), already hit by falling oil prices, will pay a heavy price and this will have “wider economic repercussions” for the future. Canada, says Powers.
Conservative (opposition) leader Erin O’Toole estimated that such a decision would “devastate thousands of Canadian families already hard hit by the economic crisis” and called on Mr. Trudeau to “communicate immediately with the new American administration to prevent that from happening ”.
The news was nevertheless well received by the New Democratic Party (NDP, left) and by the Greens, whose leader Annamie Paul sees it as “the chance of a lifetime” to carry out joint actions with Mr. Biden, who said “Very clearly that the climate will be at the top of his agenda”.
The Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan has defended the continuation of the project: Canadian oil will create “thousands” of jobs “for workers on both sides of the border”.