Both outgoing Canadian prime minister Steven Harper and his newly-elected successor Justin Trudeau hope these sections of pipe will eventually get put into place as part of the planned Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta to Texas. But politics and econo

Both outgoing Canadian prime minister Steven Harper and his newly-elected successor Justin Trudeau hope these sections of pipe will eventually get put into place as part of the planned Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta to Texas. But politics and economics may push Trudeau's Keystone policy in a new direction.

Credit:

REUTERS/Andrew Cullen

The victory of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in this week’s Canadian election marks a significant turn to the left for the country. But on one of its most high-profile issues, Trudeau stands shoulder to shoulder with his defeated conservative opponent.

They’re both in favor of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would carry an extremely dirty kind of oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the US.

Though he differs from Harper on many points of environmental policy, Trudeau and Harper "are “marching to the same tune” on Keystone, says The Guardian’s North American environment correspondent, Suzanne Goldenberg.

For Harper, Keystone was a big part of an aggressive policy to make Canada an “energy superpower” by pulling out all the stops on fossil fuel development, expanding tar sands development and building pipelines to export petroleum via the US and ports on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. It also meant shying away from ambitious greenhouse gas pollution targets.

Trudeau has pledged a stronger policy on cutting greenhouse gases and fighting climate change, and he campaigned against other pipelines and expanding tar sands production. But his big-picture climate policies have been vague, and his position on Keystone, which would be a major outlet for the very carbon-intensive tar sands oil, only contributes to the murky picture.

“Trudeau says he’s going to do something about climate change,” Goldenberg says, “but we don’t yet know exactly what.”

Goldenberg says Trudeau has promised that his climate policy will become clearer over the next few months, after he consults on the issue with the leaders of all 12 of the country’s provinces. And in a peculiar new irony of Canadian politics, Goldenberg says Trudeau may get a push toward a stronger policy on climate in general and Keystone in particular from the new premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley, who has come out against the pipeline.

But some in Canada say the new prime minister needs to clarify his policy more quickly. Goldenberg says that Elizabeth May, the head of Canada’s Green party, told Trudeau he needed to show his hand before Canada sends its delegation to the next UN climate summit in Paris next month, at which world leaders hope to forge a strong agreement to limit greenhouse gas pollution and prevent further dangerous global warming.

That deadline could indeed put pressure on Trudeau. And Goldenberg says it’s likely that Trudeau’s position on Keystone and other climate and environmental issues will “evolve,” not merely due to domestic and international political pressures. The global slump in the oil business is already changing the project’s arithmetic.

“No matter what Justin Trudeau’s personal view of the Keystone pipeline, the situation for the Keystone is not looking very promising,” Goldenberg says. “Global oil prices are really low, it’s making it uneconomic to build new projects (like the pipeline) in the Alberta tar sands.”

And that’s a reality that neither Trudeau nor Steven Harper could have done anything about.

Related Stories