Quebec Liberal MP Justin Trudeau arrived in Calgary Wednesday aiming to woo the West as he kicked of his bid for the leadership of his third-place party.
Speaking to a packed Dashmesh seniors centre in the city’s ethnically diverse northeast, Mr. Trudeau attempted to distance himself from his the ill-fated policies of his late father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
The National Energy Program, introduced in 1980 to address sky-high oil prices, but ultimately punished homegrown energy producers, is still reviled in the West. Calgary hasn’t elected a federal Liberal since 1968, when the first Trudeaumania swept the nation.
Mr. Trudeau said that he has learned from the mistakes of his party’s past, and hopes to lead a movement of Canadians to build the party’s future. He also hinted at NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s complaints that oil sands development in Alberta has created an environment of so-called Dutch disease, which has hammered eastern industries.
“I promise you, I will never use the wealth of the West as a wedge to gain votes in the East,” he said to applause.
“It is wrong to use our natural wealth to divide Canadians against one another. It was the wrong way to govern Canada in the past. It is the wrong way today. And it will be the wrong way in the future,” he added.
Speaking to reporters later, Mr. Trudeau elaborated on his views toward the NEP, and the job his father did as prime minister.
“I think any policies and any politics that divides this country against itself, within itself, has been unhelpful in the past, is unhelpful today, will be unhelpful going forward,” he said.
“I’m proud of my father and the values he stood for, but I’m here to try and challenge a whole new set of realities and to try and bring a whole new generation of Canadians forward to the 21st century,” he added.
Mr. Trudeau, who represents the riding of Papineau where he launched his leadership campaign on Tuesday night, also pointed out that he was a mere child at the time of the controversial program.
“I have nothing to do with the National Energy Program ... I was 10 years old,” he said.
The 40-year-old married father of two also said he strategically chose Calgary as his first stop leading toward the Liberal leadership vote next April. He talked at length - and outlined his concerns - about the oil sands and the Northern Gateway pipeline in terms of balancing economic growth with the environment. He pointed out he has a long, tough campaign ahead and winning places like Calgary won’t come easily.
“Here, our victories are in the distant past and our failures are a long-standing phenomenon. Sometimes it feels like the only thing protecting Liberals in Calgary are the gaming laws,” he told supporters.