The Enbridge Line 5 pipeline confrontation is political theatre at its best and worst. But this doesn’t mean it’s inconsequential.
There is virtually zero chance that the Governor of Michigan can unilaterally close down an existing pipeline that crosses both state and international boundaries.
This type of issue is way outside any one state’s jurisdiction. But this doesn’t mean that Canada will have won.
We may win this battle, but we are still losing the war to Blockadia — the well-organized, well-financed crusade to block oil pipelines out of Canada, and, by extension, to shut down the Canadian oilsands.
Jurisdictionally, the governor’s executive order to shut down Line 5 is in clear contravention of the 1977 Canada-U.S. treaty that prohibits governments on both sides of the border from closing an existing pipeline unless there is a “natural disaster or operating emergency.” There is neither in Line 5.
Gretchen Whitmer’s order also violates both NAFTA and the new USMCA. The likelihood of a federal judge issuing an order to turn off the taps is remote, and Gov. Whitmer knows this. So why did she issue the order?
Whitmer’s ambitions go far beyond just being the governor of Michigan. She is only 49 years young. Her first term expires next year. Her challenge to Line 5 is classic virtue-signaling and has made her the overnight hero of the American anti-pipeline movement.
Dozens of climate-change groups and other Democratic politicians are intervening in this legal action to support her. Don’t be surprised to see her as a keynote speaker at the Democratic Party’s 2024 national convention.
Whitmer is laying the foundations for the next stage of her career: maybe as a U.S. senator; perhaps a well-paid position in the Rockefeller, Tides, LeadNow, or other foundations that finance the anti-pipeline crusade; or even a plumb federal appointment by President Joe Biden.
For Whitmer, her attempt at the Line 5 veto is the means to this greater end.
And what about President Biden? Why hasn’t he spoken out publicly to condemn a rogue state governor from doing something that is both unconstitutional and illegal? Once again, the answer is politics.
On the first day of his presidency, Biden vetoed another Canadian oil pipeline — Keystone XL. Since then, he has declared that fighting climate change by lowering U.S. CO2 emissions is one of his top three priorities.
Last but not least, Biden (and everyone else in Washington) knows that now at age 78, he is a one-term president. This undermines the influence that a first-term president normally has, even within his own party.
Biden cannot afford to alienate the growing environmental wing of the Democratic Party by publicly blocking Whitmer’s attempt. Besides, he has known all along that the courts are likely to do it for him.
This brings us to Canada and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Publicly, his public relations team is working overtime to present an “all-hands-on-deck” appearance of action.
Given the devastating effect a Line 5 closure would have on Ontario and Quebec, and with the next federal election on the horizon, this a political must for the Liberals.
Trudeau’s ministers are busily scurrying around Ottawa and Washington declaring that a Line 5 closure is “non-negotiable.” But privately, they all know that if it were to happen, there is little Canada could do.
Biden ignored Canada on Keystone XL, and he could do it again if he wanted to. Trudeau could loudly denounce this but to little effect. And here is where Canada’s problem gets deeper.
Justin Trudeau has no credibility, zero moral authority, on this issue. Trudeau is the Gretchen Whitmer of Canada. He has already done what she only dreams of doing.
He has shut down one pipeline (Northern Gateway) and undermined another (Energy East).
He has enacted legislation that complicates and extends an already tortuous approval process for any new pipelines (C-69) and prohibits the export of Western Canadian oil from the northern portions of British Columbia (C-49).
And just as Canadian courts had finally ruled that there is no constitutional right to an Aboriginal veto of pipelines, Trudeau is adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) into Canadian law (C-16).
Given this remarkable track record, protests from the prime minister would never be taken seriously by anyone in Washington.
This is where and why we are losing the war. Line 5 will almost certainly remain open now, but for how long?
Whitmer’s Line 5 attack has gifted the American Blockadia movement with hours of prime-time media exposure and provided it with the opportunity for more social media recruiting and list-building and more fundraising to strengthen it to fight more pipeline battles down the road.
Attorneys-general from 14 states and two governors (all Democrats) have filed for intervenor status to support Whitmer in the federal lawsuit that Enbridge has filed against the governor’s shut-down order.
So have dozens of climate-change groups. The Sierra Club has characterized Line 5 as a relic of the 20th century that has no role to play in the now environmentally conscious 21st century.
In the longer term, the Line 5 “defeat” will have strengthened the climate-change movement’s campaign to stigmatize and block not just new but existing oil pipelines from Canada.
This should be a wake-up call for all Canadians. Six years of Justin Trudeau’s climate change odyssey has left both Central Canadian consumers and Western producers vulnerable to the changing whims of American politics.
Eighty percent of Canada’s oil production is sold to the U.S. at well below global prices. In the business world, no company would be deemed viable if 80 percent of its product went to one customer. But that’s where we are today.
This is an opportunity that Erin O’Toole and the Conservative party should seize. They need to tell Canadian voters — especially those in Ontario and Quebec — that Justin Trudeau is the Gretchen Whitmer of Canada; that he has no credibility in defending them against a Line 5 shut-down; and that six years of Trudeau’s anti-oil, anti-pipeline policies have jeopardized the very future of one of the largest and most important sectors of Canada’s economy.
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