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Trudeau’s energy policies put national unity at risk: Preston Manning

Preston Manning speaks at the opening of the Manning Centre conference in Ottawa on Feb. 26, 2016.


Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning is accusing Justin Trudeau's government of breeding western Canadian alienation at a time when low-energy prices are wreaking havoc in places such as Alberta, saying the Liberals care more about Montreal-based Bombardier than unemployed oil workers.

Mr. Manning opened a conference for Canada's conservative political movement in Ottawa on Friday by warning the Trudeau government is risking national unity by neglecting the need for the country's petroleum sector to find new pipeline routes to market.

"What are the unity consequences going to be when the federal government is all ears to requests from Bombardier for financial aid to protect 3,000 jobs in Quebec but is stone deaf to the voices of more than 100,000 unemployed oil-field workers in Western Canada?" Mr. Manning said in a speech to the Manning Centre gathering.

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"What will be the unity consequences when a supposedly national government welcomes tankers bringing in foreign oil on the east coast but wants to ban tankers on the west coast from carrying Canadian oil to world markets?" he said in remarks critical of the lack of progress on new pipeline capacity.

It was an unusually sharp attack on the new Liberal government from a western Canadian politician who retired from politics more than 15 years ago and normally speaks in more statesmanlike tones these days. The current Conservative Party is a blend of ex-Reformers and Progressive Conservatives who merged in 2003.

The Trudeau government has responded to Alberta's woes recently, providing the province with $250-million to help offset the impact of low crude prices. Alberta is also expecting close to $700-million in federal infrastructure cash.

At the same Ottawa conference, a former top aide to Stephen Harper said he wants to see conservatives broaden their appeal in non-traditional areas for Tories by talking more to voters about problems such as poverty reduction and the environment.

"We have to expand our conversation with Canadians to give them reasons to be attracted to us – and for candidates to be attracted to us," Nigel Wright, former chief of staff to Mr. Harper, said.

The Conservative political movement is down on its heels today. As Mr. Manning put it, conservatives are "in opposition in eight of the 10 provinces and the federal Parliament" and they have a big rebuilding job ahead.

Mr. Wright, who played a big role in building the Conservative Party's fundraising arm, is now back at private equity giant Onex Corp.

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He said conservative politicians are comfortable talking about tax breaks and controlling spending but should also tackle "poverty alleviation, social and family dysfunction and market-based solutions to environmental challenges." He believes the conservative movement has good solutions "but we haven't actually spent a lot of time talking about them, either to ourselves or conversely, to Canadians."

The former Harper aide left the PMO in 2013 after news broke that he had supplied Senator Mike Duffy with $90,000 to repay questionable expense claims. Mr. Duffy is now awaiting a judge's verdict on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery. No charges were brought against Mr. Wright.

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