As their province grapples with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, a prolonged period of uncertainty regarding the future of its oil sector and a beleaguered economy to boot, some Albertans may be wondering how Joe Biden’s projected U.S. presidential election win will impact people north of the American border.
“Albertans will greet the win with a certain amount of ambivalence,” says Lori Williams, a political commentator and associate professor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University. “On the one hand, Biden will offer predictability, restoring stability in the Canada-U.S. partnership.
“On the other, his inclination to protectionism and environmental policies could present challenges to sectors reliant on exports to the U.S.”
Impact of Biden’s win on the Keystone XL pipeline project and Alberta’s energy sector
The Keystone XL pipeline project, one the Alberta government has invested in both politically and financially, is arguably what has the most at stake for the province in terms of the U.S. presidential election outcome.
In 2017, Donald Trump gave the pipeline new life when he gave the US$8-billion project a presidential permit. Once complete, the pipeline will transport up to 830,000 barrels a day of oil from Hardisty, Alta., to Nebraska before the product makes its way to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Despite Trump’s permit, the project has since continued to face legal and regulatory hurdles, and Biden has promised to kill it if elected president.
“This is one of the few issues where a stark difference between the candidates will have a tangible effect on Alberta,” says energy journalist Markham Hislop with Energi Media. “Biden has promised to cancel it.
“Eight-hundred-thirty-thousand barrels per day of new shipping capacity to the U.S. Gulf Coast market, where there is strong demand for Alberta bitumen, is a big deal.”
Williams says the Alberta government will continue to fight for the Keystone XL project despite Biden’s projected election win.
“The federal and Alberta governments are united in their support for the project, so I expect to see these governments employ the same kinds of tactics they used in trade talks and tariff disputes to push for a path to compromise,” she says.
“While Biden has protectionist leanings, he has an interest in improving the Canada-U.S. relationship, and will ensure a more stable, rational approach to trade policy. This could benefit a range of businesses seeking predictable access to U.S. markets.
“(But) the short-term economic challenge will be negotiating around his position on Keystone XL.”
While Biden’s win clearly may have implications on Alberta’s energy sector, Hislop says he believes Canadians often “overestimate the role of the American government in energy.”
“States are primarily responsible for regulating oil and gas activities,” he says. “As Ed Crooks of Wood Mackenzie argued last week in an Energi Talks podcast, Trump’s influence is mostly restricted to federal lands, which has nothing to do with Canada.
“I suppose Biden might impose new taxes or regulations that affect Canadian companies working in the USA, but I haven’t heard any specific concerns. Mostly, the Alberta oil patch prefers Trump because he’s pro business and oil.”
Williams suggests it’s possible Biden’s win could indirectly result in advances in both the non-renewable and renewable energy sectors.
“Many Albertans, including key players in the oil and gas industry, see Alberta’s economic future in a balance between energy and the environment,” she says.
“A Biden presidency could offer opportunities for renewable and non-renewable energy innovation.”
Potential impact of Biden’s victory on Alberta’s economy in general
While the energy sector plays a vital role in Alberta’s economy, how the president-elect develops his economic policies could significantly impact the province in other ways as well.
“Since Biden’s impact is likely to benefit some and potentially diminish opportunities for others, Albertans will be looking to their leaders to ensure economic opportunities are diversified, both in terms of economic sectors and international markets,” Williams says. “Managed strategically, Alberta could partner with a Biden administration in balancing energy and the environment.
“There will be opportunities and challenges involved in finding common ground… (Biden’s) prioritization of U.S. interests may present challenges, but also provide an opening for longer-term strategic planning.”
Trevor Harrison is a sociology professor at the University of Lethbridge who has written about Donald Trump’s impact on politics in Alberta.
“A Biden win will provide Alberta — and Canada — with predictability, something that business will appreciate,” he says. “Trump is reckless and changeable, and this is a problem for the U.S.’ allies.”
However, Harrison also says he believes Biden will adopt protectionist policies, at least in some areas, “because coming out of the (COVID-19) pandemic, the pressures are away from globalization and open trade.”
How Biden’s victory may impact political discourse in Alberta
Trump’s style of politics as president has been described as confrontational by people who are critical of him, and even by some of his supporters who argue he fights passionately for what he thinks is right.
Harrison, who says he believes the former New York businessman’s politics are “based on polarization,” has written about how he believes some of that style of politicking has parallels in Alberta.
He says Biden’s victory will “certainly herald a return to something more traditional where the conflict was kept within more civil bounds.”
However, Harrison says how or if that may spill over into the province is not clear.
“That might have a salutary impact on Alberta politics, but I doubt it,” he says. “The style of conservative politics almost everywhere is now wedded (with) conflict.”
However, among Alberta’s population, Harrison believes “there will be a notable sigh of relief,” though perhaps “not exultation.”
“A Biden victory would give Canadians and much of the world space to breathe while everyone figures out the plan for how we move forward in future.”
Evan Balgord is the executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and says it may take time to assess how Biden’s victory impacts political discourse in Canada and the activities of extremist groups.
“It’s really hard to say what will happen inside our borders as a result of (the) election… and the aftermath,” he says.
Balgord says he will be watching for whether the “rigged election” narrative Trump pushed during his re-election campaign, and during the election itself, has any ongoing impact on the activities of hate groups and anti-mask movements.
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