Former Alberta politician and envoy to Washington D.C. Gary Mar in 2018 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It may not quite be impossible for Jason Kenney to see his dream of completing the Keystone XL Pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast on his watch come true, but it will be almighty difficult with Democrat Joe Biden in the White House.

What’s more, if the project is to be completed the way Alberta’s premier wants, its success will depend heavily on the last guy the Mr. Kenney wants to be beholden to: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Don’t take my word for that assessment. It’s what Gary Mar told me in a short conversation a few days ago, just before Alberta’s terrible pandemic performance started dominating the province’s political discourse.

Mr. Mar, the veteran Alberta politician from Calgary who came that close to being premier in 2011 after serving four years as Alberta’s envoy in Washington D.C., is probably in a better position than most of us to judge whatever potential is left in the project in which Mr. Kenney has sunk so much political and literal capital.

The United Conservative Party Government has already invested $1.5 billion in what increasingly looks like a long shot, and it may be on the hook for another $6 billion for, basically, nothing. So if Mr. Biden pulls the plug on KXL, as is widely expected, and the project goes south metaphorically instead of literally, Alberta’s premier is going to have to wear it.

Having bet $7.5 billion of our money on Donald Trump winning the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3, there will be no one else for Mr. Kenney to blame, least of all his favourite target, Mr. Trudeau.

I talked about this with Mr. Mar, who was recently named President and CEO of the Canada West Foundation in Calgary, because a Calgary Herald story two days after the election when the results were still in question made it sound as if he thought KXL wouldn’t necessarily be a goner even if Mr. Biden was declared the winner.

Well, sort of.

I asked, how could the project survive a new president who has pretty unequivocally said he will kill it, and who owes the U.S. environmental movement for its support?

U.S. President Elect Joe Biden (Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons).

“You’re right that the President Elect has been pretty consistent that he is not a supporter of the Keystone XL Pipeline being built,” Mr. Mar responded.

What’s more, he noted, “this is one act that he can perform without reference to anybody else and just turn down the pipeline permit. It would be very easy for him to do.”

“If it’s simply a yes or no issue, he might just say no.”

Indeed, other Conservatives concede he probably will say no. John Baird, minister of foreign affairs in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, told the Canadian Press on Nov. 9 that he reckoned “we’re in trouble on Keystone.”

“This is something (Mr. Biden) can do with the stroke of a pen and I’m deeply concerned that he will revoke the presidential permit,” Mr. Baird said.

But according to Mr. Mar, Premier Kenney may have one high card left to play – one with Mr. Trudeau’s face on it.

“We should not underestimate the fact the Prime Minister of Canada and the President Elect seem to have a very good relationship,” he said. “When two leaders really like each other, I think a lot of stuff can be done.”

Consider Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney, he added. Well, most of us would rather not, but the point is taken.

So don’t underestimate the potential of a good relationship, Mr. Mar said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: Justin Trudeau/Flickr).

There will also likely be some trade union pressure on the new president to keep the project going, and some Democrats in Congress who would like to see it completed, he added, noting that before Mr. Trump was president, Canada was more likely to be treated favourably in the United States.

So, “if Keystone XL is only one of many issues, you might be able to thread the needle to get approval.”

However, he conceded, “it’s quite a needle to thread. I wouldn’t say I’m optimistic about it, but I think there’s way to thread the needle.”

So, I asked, should Mr. Kenney, a politician who’s been known to call U.S. Democrats who don’t share his views on pipelines “brain dead,” just shut up and let the PM do the heavy lifting?

Mr. Mar’s too much of an old pro to fall for a line like that. “We’ve got the province of Saskatchewan as interested in Keystone XL as the province of Alberta,” he responded. “All of the Canadian side’s got to be together in providing the same message. … It’s got to be a co-ordinated effort. Both provincial governments and the federal government together.”

Well, Mr. Kenney did say at the UCP annual general meeting that his party should learn to walk and chew gum at the same time.

But as Mr. Mar repeated, “it’s not going to be a slam dunk. I think you’re threading a needle.”

Back in 2013, when Mr. Harper told a room full of Republican toffs in New York City that if President Barack Obama said no to KXL, “that won’t be final. This won’t be final until it’s approved and we will keep pushing forward.”

Mr. Obama did say no, on Nov. 6, 2015, declaring that the pipeline was not in the national interest of the United States whether or not Stephen Harper was unwilling to take no for an answer.

Mr. Harper was proved right – at least temporarily – thanks to the election of Mr. Trump one year and two days later.

This time, though, if Mr. Biden says no, KXL will be done for.

Alberta will be out billions, and the only thing Mr. Kenney will have to show for it will be egg on his face.

Join the Conversation


  1. Sounds more like the conservative braintrust is laying the foundation to blame JT for the failure of Jason’s

    longshot gamble.

  2. You would have thought that Kenney would have been smart enough to have a meeting with Biden before the election to see what his feelings were instead of going ahead and putting Albertans on the hook for $7.5 billion. This Liberal turned Reformer just keeps on proving how ignorant he is. He is certainly nothing like Peter Lougheed.
    It certainly isn’t surprising that his popularity is dropping like a stone, he won’t listen to anyone and blames everyone else for his incompetence. I think it’s hilarious that he might have to cooperate with Trudeau to save the Keystone Pipeline after all the sarcastic comments he has hurled at him.
    He is still using the Ralph Klein lie that Alberta is broke because Alberta has had to send billions to Ottawa and Quebec in the form of equalization payments, when Alberta hasn’t paid a penny to anyone in the form of equalization.

    1. ALAN SPILLER: Too bad many other Albertans don’t have your mindset as to what is really happening. If they did, they would wake up and throw the UCP out.

  3. Jason Kenney is soooo busy telling us all to hang on and wait for the vaccine that he is bringing to this great province, and working hard behind the scenes on the important issues of the day, like allowing automobile insurance companies to spy on us with our own cellphones and vehicle computers, and pushing through no-fault insurance, Are you sure he has time to show some humility and ask for help from the PM, who has done more for Albertans during this pandemic than Kenney ever will? It will probably involve a lot of coughing and gasping for air, and muttering from behind a coffee mug if it happens. On the plus side, it would allow him to take credit for everything and Trudeau-bash once again, to the delight of his backbenchers and base. The Trudeau-bashing has fallen flat of late, as Albertans are finally waking up to his “Emperor’s New Clothes” pandemic response, i.e. there isn’t one.

    Well, Happy Thanksgiving south of the border. And if you’re north of the border, don’t forget to sacrifice yourself at the altar of the economy in the pre-Christmas sales. Remember that citizens have only modest human capital, and their value is measured by how much money they spend. $pend, $pend, $pend! As for me, I’m spending in proportion to what the Kenney government has done for us citizens during this pandemic: little to nothing. I did, however, indulge in a piece of sweet potato pie. Let them eat pie, Mr. Kenney.

  4. The XL pipeline has to be stopped, because a toxic bitumen spill from the pipeline down into the Ogallala Aquifer will poison the drinking water for millions, which is worse than a weapon of mass destruction and will destroy the agriculture of the Great Plains states.

  5. Just wondering. Maybe the Keystone pipeline was being traded off for the rebuild of the TMX. Maybe instead of diluted tar [dilbit] going to the Gulf Coast refineries, it could go to the California ones? No price differential of course. And no waiting for the Chinese, or anyone else out that way, to build refineries that can handle such stuff. Bigger picture than UCP could possibly imagine?

  6. I think Mr. Mar’s assessment of the situation is probably fairly accurate. In more layman’s terms the chances of Keystone XL going ahead is somewhere between slim and none, but there is a chance.

    I also agree that ironically, whatever slim chance exists rests significantly on Mr. Trudeau being able to convince Mr. Biden that Canada is taking climate change fairly seriously. Interestingly, our Federal carbon tax that Mr. Kenney so vigorously opposes is one indication of that. While Mr. Mar said it so much more diplomatically, I think it would be a good time for Kenney to not call US politicians stupid again or go on about conspiracies involving US organizations to landlock Canadian energy. Unfortunately, the remarks Mr. Kenney has made in the past about certain influential US governors can not be unsaid at this time, but on a more positive note for Kenney, US politicians probably really do not pay much attention to what yappy Canadian provincial politicians say, especially ones that do not border their particularly states.

    At this point, there is not much Kenney can do on this, but just hope things work out. If not, his huge last minute investment will look very bad and I suspect will be widely questioned in Alberta, probably by many more conservatives types as well as progressives. To use one of Mr. Kenney’s own phrases, if this pipeline does not go ahead there will be a reckoning, but it will be for Kenney.

  7. i would eat grass and dirt to see kenny fail
    oh wait …i’m albertan so that’s a given win or lose
    at least a con is wearing the 40 years of conservative mismanagement
    but just change the premier
    and the retro-grades will flood it blue again ..
    serious question
    are albertans in the dictionary under unteachable?

  8. All of this aside, even if Biden approves Keystone, it still faces hurdles at the state level. A local county judge can tie it up in legal wrangling for years. The biggest opposition has always come from the powerful agricultural lobby in the Midwest concerned about the safety of the water table.

  9. The notion of the Angry Midget having to stop insulting PMJT daily — literally putting a cork in his festering gob to stop the spew of inanities — is the stuff of insane comedy. The sight of Kenney’s face turning blue as the anger and crazy builds up in him would thrill and excite the masses to no end. Who knows? He might grow and inch or a dozen taller.

    Today’s presser, in light of the leak of an audio recording that detailed that Kenney and the Cabinet have been pressuring Hinshaw to be ideologically compliant in her recommendations was all I wanted for Xmas. What remains now? Kenney found drunk in a ditch babbling, “I coulda been Preem Misterah”?

    Alberta veers from Dystopian nightmare to comic farce. Even the Beaverton is impressed by this reality.

  10. Biden has to throw something to the environmental industry in the US killing keystone would be an easy one with little cost to him. He can’t throw everyone aside after pandering to them during the election, but then again he likely isn’t worried about re-election.

  11. If the pipeline doesn’t get built, AB will be out billions. No problem! Kenney and Toews just forced the transfer of billions worth of public service pensions to be managed by AIMCo. Coincidence you say?

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