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Opinion Canada has a national unity crisis. We just don’t know it

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has suggested that a failure to build more pipelines could incite a national unity crisis. Too late; there already is one.

Although we may not realize it, the moment in which we find ourselves is beyond worrisome. We face a common enemy in climate change amid a hyperpartisan age that almost by definition means our political leaders can’t come together to find a common solution.

Tearing down your enemy is more important than reaching across the aisle to build consensus. In this type of war, like all others, truth becomes a casualty. Today, we see politicians everywhere of all stripes lying with impunity. Civility has largely disappeared from the political arena, replaced with a viciousness and vileness incubated by social media.

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Rational discussion about most issues has become even more unattainable, and now the new norm is a general discourse that pits Canadian against Canadian.

Mr. Kenney talks about the rise of alienation in his province, one he exploited so successfully on the campaign trail. Rather than attempt to temper hostilities, however, the new Premier has breathed life into the embers of Western separatism at every turn. And he hasn’t been alone.

I look at the current mess in which we find ourselves and see little hope, quite honestly.

In the last federal election, the Liberals ran on a hard environmental agenda that put Canada’s response to the global climate crisis at the forefront. They campaigned against the Northern Gateway pipeline and promised to ban tanker traffic along ecologically-sensitive areas of the West Coast. They promised to bring in tougher rules around resource development projects. They promised to bring in a carbon tax.

And they won a significant majority running on that platform.

Now Mr. Kenney and others want the Liberals to abandon those pledges and effectively give Alberta everything it wants (Or we’ll separate!). And it’s been made clear that one new pipeline won’t be enough. This at the same time as Environment Canada has revealed that some of the oil sands are releasing an average of about one-third more carbon dioxide per barrel than has been previously reported. And a shocking new report by a panel of international scientists estimates one million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction, some within a few decades or less, unless action is taken immediately to stifle the effects of climate change.

But so what, right? That’s only an issue for people who believe climate change is real, or who believe we should do something about our emissions problems even if India isn’t doing enough about theirs. Beyond that, as you may have heard, Albertans, by dent of their wealth, have contributed more in federal income taxes over the years than those living in other provinces. So the province deserves to be cut a break on that basis alone, or so the argument from politicians there goes.

Some have also suggested that allowing the provinces to independently address the issue of climate change would be best, with Ottawa playing a more benign co-ordinator’s role. Of course, this is a world in which you trust people like Ontario Premier Doug Ford to take environmental action seriously. As if.

Peter Lougheed’s name gets thrown around a lot these days. He, of course, is the Alberta premier who stood up so successfully against prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s ill-conceived National Energy Program. Mr. Lougheed “turned off the taps” of oil heading to the rest of the country in 1980 and within a week, the NEP was effectively gone as a policy.

Mr. Kenney is threatening to do the same.

He could. Although he’d have to not just do it to B.C., but the rest of Canada, which would mean putting the screws to his buddy Mr. Ford in the process. I’m not sure Mr. Kenney has the appetite to do that. Beyond that, I would suggest that Mr. Lougheed did his thing in a moment in time completely at odds with the one in which we now find ourselves.

Pierre Trudeau was wrongly trying to control Alberta oil for economic reasons. Today, the pipeline debate is enveloped in a broader, more heated discussion about climate change. And there are many who no longer accept that business interests trump all.

Mr. Kenney can stomp his feet, and threaten to hold his breath all he wants, but this won’t change the fact that growing numbers believe there should be compromise when balancing the needs of the environment and the economy.

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Even if Mr. Kenney’s friend, federal Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer, becomes the next prime minister, he’s unlikely to be successful in taking Canada back in time. Instead, he’ll get an up-close look at Canada’s unity crisis.

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