CALGARY - Donald Trump's fiercely protectionist inaugural address is a clarion call for Canada to nurture its relationships with other countries and do everything possible to access markets abroad, the head of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said Friday.
Tim McMillan said he made it a point to attend Trump's inauguration as president in Washington in part due to concerns that U.S. policy changes could threaten Canada's energy industry. He said he also met later with U.S. industry and Canadian government officials.
"I think it's a bit of a wake-up call that we need to strengthen our relationships on energy with other countries," McMillan said of Trump's speech, adding that it reinforces the need to proceed with projects such as the Trans Mountain expansion and Energy East to get Canada's wealth of oil riches to tidewater.
Trump's remarks, which were high on rhetoric but short on details, stressed a pro-America approach — a reminder that Canada is sometimes not "front of mind" for the U.S. despite a highly integrated oil and gas network between the two countries, McMillan said.
"He spoke about his administration will put America first every time and he was very deliberate about that," McMillan said in an interview.
"For our industry, where we have an integrated system — we have energy going both north and south — I think we will be very conscious to ensuring that how our interests are aligned is clear with the new administration."
Canada has the third largest proven oil reserves in the world and is the largest exporter of crude to the U.S., shipping 3.2 million barrels per day. That accounts for 42 per cent of total oil imports.
There are expectations plans to build Keystone XL could swiftly be resurrected under a Trump administration, which would be a boon for Canada's oilpatch. The pipeline proposed by TransCanada would ship Alberta oilsands crude to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
It was rejected by former U.S. president Barack Obama in late 2015 but Trump has said he would undo that decision, provided the terms are favourable to the U.S.
Terry Cunha, spokesman for TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP), said in an email Friday the company remains "fully committed" to build Keystone XL but declined comment on its next steps. The Calgary-based company has filed a $15-billion challenge under NAFTA over Obama's decision.
Trump provided little clarity in his 17-minute speech on energy or other economic issues, aside from committing to protect American jobs and industries.
"What we're left with is a whole bunch of question marks," said Ron Kneebone, professor of economics in the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary.
Judith Dwarkin, chief economist at investment firm RS Energy Group in Calgary, said she is baffled by Trump's positions, favouring energy exports on one hand while being critical of NAFTA on the other.
"So far it's a bit like watching a bumper car at a fair ground, lurching from place to place," she said. "And maybe that's part of the strategy is to keep everybody guessing about what will actually happen."