Justin Trudeau is making do with no Liberal MPs from Canada’s two alienated Prairie provinces.
The Prime Minister has appointed a group of parliamentarians, with links to the West and Canada’s oil industry, to key energy and environment cabinet posts as a kind of Liberal proof-of-life game plan in the region.
Alberta and Saskatchewan now know the cabinet personalities they will be dealing with in the near term. But there’s still a long road ahead for any trust to be regained, on both sides.
Chrystia Freeland represents a Toronto riding. But Canada’s new Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs was born and spent much of her childhood in Peace River. Her lawyer/farmer father, Don Freeland, is regularly seen in the northern Alberta community during seeding and combining seasons.
Even more important to many in Alberta’s trade-exposed oil and gas sector, dealing with the Trump administration has given her first-hand experience in that world (a world she will continue to inhabit).
She is seen as one of Mr. Trudeau’s star performers in the Liberals’ first four years in government. And she isn’t seen to be as hyperpartisan as some of her colleagues – a plus in Alberta, where the Conservatives won every seat except one.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe – who with Alberta’s Jason Kenney have been thorns in the side of the federal Liberals on carbon pricing and energy policy – expressed some optimism about Ms. Freeland’s appointment Wednesday. He said he hopes her stature as Deputy PM, combined with her portfolio, is a sign “of the importance of the relationship with premiers across this nation.”
Jonathan Wilkinson, now the country’s Environment and Climate Change Minister, was born and raised in Saskatoon. The North Vancouver MP served as an adviser to former Saskatchewan NDP premier Roy Romanow but then shifted into the world of green tech.
As his government moves forward on an ambitious climate-change agenda, he has also spoken recently about the need to dial down the partisan rhetoric.
But in the province of his birth, Mr. Wilkinson will be subject to not only Mr. Moe’s challenge to federal carbon pricing and pushback from the oil and gas industry, but also farmers who say the carbon tax is increasing their costs and making them less competitive in global agricultural markets.
Seamus O’Regan gets the pipeline-heavy portfolio of Natural Resources. He hails from St. John’s, the commercial hub for Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore oil industry and its four producing projects. And he is a good friend of the Prime Minister’s.
But Mr. O’Regan – like all Liberal cabinet ministers – is still burdened by the unpopular Bill C-69 law, which overhauled the federal environmental approval process for major projects. Even entreaties to energy-industry leaders in his own province have sometimes fallen flat.
Gary Mar, chief executive of industry group Petroleum Services Association of Canada, said he hopes Mr. O’Regan can play a role in showing that the oil and gas industry can be a uniting force for the different regions of the country. “It’s not an Alberta energy sector, it’s a Canadian energy sector,” Mr. Mar said.
A big question is how significant a role Winnipeg MP Jim Carr will be able to play as the Liberals try to address angst in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Mr. Carr is suffering from blood cancer, and needs to stick closer to home for treatment. This is likely the only reason that he doesn’t have a cabinet post.
Mr. Trudeau has made him a special representative for the Prairies, ensuring that “the people of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have a strong voice in Ottawa.” In his former role as natural resources minister, he spent a lot of time in downtown Calgary speaking with oil and gas executives.
But he will come back to a different Alberta than the one he saw when he held the pipeline file. Mr. Carr was shuffled from that portfolio just before the August, 2018, Federal Court of Appeal decision that quashed approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion – a development that surprised governments in Edmonton and Ottawa, and again delayed the construction of the project.
While work on the expansion has since resumed, the economy in Alberta has continued to stagnate. The Court of Appeal decision marked the beginning of a period of deepening cynicism in Alberta regarding the project.
Mr. Carr and Ms. Freeland – both with more experience in cabinet, and a solid claim to Western roots – will likely be the most welcomed parts of the Liberals’ Prairie push.
In Peace River, mayor Tom Tarpey says he’s pleased that Ms. Freeland could play a role in bridging the gap between Alberta and the federal government. “She’s smart and intelligent, and she’s well travelled. But she has her roots in Peace River Country."