For Canadians who thought relations with the United States would suddenly be blissful and genteel the instant Donald Trump exited the White House, it’s time to think again.
In the early days of Democrat Joe Biden’s presidency, cross-border oil and gas pipelines have become a new flashpoint in relations that were already in need of repair after Mr. Trump’s tumultuous time in office.
Just hours after being sworn in, Mr. Biden signed an executive order cancelling approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project meant to expand critical Canadian oil exports.
"This is a gut punch for the Canadian and Alberta economies," Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said at the time.
Tensions are on the rise again as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wages a battle to shut down Calgary-based Enbridge’s Line 5, a nearly seven-decade-old pipeline that carries petroleum from western Canada through Wisconsin and Michigan, ending at refineries in Sarnia, Ont.
The pipeline, which runs along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, helps deliver nearly half the supply of light crude oil, light synthetic crude oil and natural gas liquids in Ontario and Quebec.
Casting herself as an environmental champion, the Democratic governor was elected on a promise to shut down Line 5, which she calls a "ticking time bomb" and a "catastrophic" threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem. In November, Ms. Whitmer revoked the easement that had allowed the line to operate since 1953.
Enbridge argues that the disputed section of the 68-year-old pipeline has never leaked and that it is taking steps to protect the lakes after negotiating a plan with former governor Rick Snyder to encase the pipes in a tunnel below the lake bed. It ignored an order to shut the pipeline on May 12, arguing Michigan cannot unilaterally close an energy link that crosses the Canada-U.S. border.
Enbridge has vowed to continue operating Line 5 unless shut down by a court order, while Ms. Whitmer has threatened to seize the company’s profits if petroleum keeps flowing under the lake.
In a rare filing in U.S. federal court, the Liberal government warned closing the pipeline would cut off almost half the supply used to make gasoline, jet fuel and home heating oil for residents in central Canada, and lead to higher fuel costs and thousands of job losses.
The two sides are in court-ordered mediation, with the next session scheduled for May 18. Canada’s trump card is a 1977 treaty that prohibits either country from blocking an existing pipeline unless there is an emergency.
The heat is intensifying. Richard Studley, head of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, didn’t mince words last week when he commented, "Every Michigan governor I have worked with, until today, has treated our Canadian friends and neighbours with courtesy and respect."
It’s unlikely Ms. Whitmer will succeed in turning off the taps, but in appealing to a growing environmental wing, the flamboyant governor appears to be laying the foundation for a run at a Senate seat, or possibly even the White House.
Regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, the two countries will always be at odds over some issues. With Mr. Trump gone, there’s no guarantee Canada will win more of these cross-border spats, but at least there’s reason to be optimistic that the rhetoric flowing through the diplomatic pipeline will be something other than crude.