OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline as an early good sign in dealing with Donald Trump’s administration but cautioned that much discussion lies ahead with the new president on the Canada-U.S. relationship.
Speaking at the end of a two-day retreat where cabinet ministers sought to get a handle on Trump’s potential impact on cross-border relations, Trudeau said the president’s approval of the new pipeline will mean “good jobs” and economic growth.
Trudeau said the issue of the Keystone XL project had come up in the two telephone conversations he’s had so far with Trump. “We spoke about the project and I underlined I was in favour of this project,” Trudeau said.
The project to move Alberta oil to U.S. Gulf coast refineries had been held up under Barack Obama’s administration, angering then Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who called it a “complete no-brainer” and said its approval was “inevitable.”
It took a change of president but on Tuesday Trump signed an executive order to get the project moving again, subject to some conditions.
The prime minister voiced his support for the plan, saying that moving oil by pipeline is safer and better for the environment than shipping it by rail. “This is what Canadians expect of us,” he said.
The cabinet gathering in Calgary was a chance for ministers to reflect on their priorities for the coming months, a period they acknowledge will be dominated by Canada-U.S. issues as the new president settles in and campaign promises become policy south of the border.
But Trudeau said preliminary discussions by Canadian officials with top aides in Trump’s administration have been “positive.” And he said those talks have highlighted the “extraordinary” economic ties between the two countries.
“Millions of good middle-class jobs on either side of the border depend on the close trade relationship we have. That has really been at the centre of all of our discussions,” Trudeau said.
“The response we’re getting is very much positive in terms of understanding the extent to which the relationship between Canada and the United States is particular and unique,” the prime minister said.
“We know there is much to discuss,” he said.
It’s early days in the Trump presidency but already clear ideological splits with the priorities of the Trudeau government are becoming apparent.
For example, on Tuesday as he signed executive actions to revive Keystone and another pipeline in the U.S., Trump also took steps to streamline what he called the “incredibly cumbersome, long, horrible” environmental process.
“The regulatory process in this country has become a tangled-up mess,” Trump said.
The president drove home the message later in the day during a meeting with auto executives, where he declared that the environmental processes were “out of control.”
Trade is another potential flashpoint between Canada and the U.S. Trump has declared he wants to either renegotiate or tear up the North American Free Trade agreement. On Monday, he signed an order executive order to quit the Asia-Pacific free trade deal known as the trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Asked about that on Tuesday, Trudeau said his government is a proponent for trade and pointed to the free trade pact recently signed with the European Union and early talks with India, Japan and China on the topic.
“We know that increasing our engagement with the growing economies of Asia is a good way to ensure good jobs and prosperity,” Trudeau said.
The federal Liberals are even having to tiptoe around questions about Trump’s character. On Tuesday, the prime minister was asked pointblank whether he thought Trump was a misogynist. Trudeau says it’s not his job “to opine” on the “American electoral process.”
“It is the job of the Canadian prime minister to have a constructive working relationship with the President of the United States. That’s exactly what I intend to do,” Trudeau said.