Calgary – Justin Trudeau edged his way across a political tightrope Tuesday, doing his level best not to glance down at the perils lurking below.
Shattered credibility on climate change and women’s rights, two of his policy cornerstones. Alienated voters in Alberta’s hard-hit oilpatch. An agitated Donald Trump barring the door on cross-border trade.
Trudeau’s Liberal high-wire act was on full display, whether it was as he cheered a widely hated pipeline project that’s bound to aggravate environmentalists, or contemplated how best to avoid calling the U.S. president a misogynist.
First up, Trump’s conditional approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which he said would bring badly needed jobs to the energy sector without blowing up Canada’s commitments on greenhouse gas emissions.
“We can continue to support good jobs, including in the fossil fuel industry, while we improve our emissions standards, while we innovate and develop renewable resources, while we manage the long-term transition, that the planet needs to go through,” Trudeau told a news conference.
The federal government is implementing a pan-Canadian climate change framework that includes a price on carbon, he said. Alberta has put a cap on emissions, he added. Plus, pipelines are a safer option than rail cars.
And he promised that his Liberal government would show leadership on the environmental front – as well as the equality demanded by the tens of thousands of Canadians who took to the streets Saturday on behalf of women’s rights.
“They expect me to continue to demonstrate opportunities, and they expect me to stand strong for the values that make Canada this extraordinary country we love so dearly.”
Then came the question about Trump’s outsized unpopularity among women. Asked a reporter: Is he a misogynist?
Trudeau paused, momentarily off-balance. The cabinet ministers behind him, fresh from their two-day strategizing effort at a Calgary hotel, almost seemed to gasp audibly, fearing a fall.
“It is not the job of a Canadian prime minister to opine on the American electoral process,” he finally said.
“It is the job of the Canadian prime minister to have a constructive working relationship with the president of the United States, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.”
Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that appears to clear the way forward for the Alberta-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline, although it appears highly conditional; he said he wants to renegotiate the terms, and also wants it built with U.S. steel.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama quashed the Keystone project in late 2015 because he said it was not in the best interests of Americans, citing the potential impact on the environment.
Environmental groups pounced.
Patrick DeRochie at Environmental Defence called on the Canadian government to revisit its 2010 approval of the pipeline, because it didn’t factor in Canada’s climate commitments.
“The National Energy Board evaluated KXL under a flawed process that lacks credibility,” DeRochie said in a statement.
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said that the regulatory approvals won’t be revisited, since the government decided it wouldn’t be fair to force projects to go back to square one as they look to modernize the approval process.
Carr said the government continues to maintain its twin pillars of the economy and the environment and Keystone XL doesn’t sway that balance.
“We believe that it is possible to have sustainable economic growth, creating important jobs in the energy sector, while at the same time maintaining our commitments to a lower carbon economy in the long term.”
The project would be very positive for Canada, creating 4,500 construction jobs and deepening relations with the U.S., he added.
Not everyone is buying what the Liberals are selling, however.
“The prime minister can’t keep saying he will lead on climate while building three new tarsands pipelines,” said Greenpeace Canada’s Mike Hudema.
“Alternative facts may work in the U.S. administration, but they shouldn’t be tolerated here.”
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who met the federal cabinet this morning to discuss the challenges facing his city, cheered the Keystone news. His city, like the province, is hurting, he said.
“We have the highest unemployment rate of any major city in Canada,” Nenshi said.
“One of the best ways for us to approach that is to continue to build these projects. These projects create good, decent jobs here in Calgary, as well as in the field and they are a great way to help our economy recover.”
He said the $8-billion project, which would take oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, is also needed to increase market access for the country as a whole.
“It is important for Canadian energy to have access to global markets,” Nenshi said. “It’s important for the prosperity of our nation for that to happen.”
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