The federal election result on Monday has many stories to tell, but there are two that will shape the Trudeau minority government’s early days in power.
The first is that the majority of Canadians showed a democratic preference for parties that are committed to fighting climate change and which support the federal carbon-pricing regime.
Only the Conservatives campaigned against the carbon tax, and they got 34.4 per cent of the popular vote. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party will rightly continue making the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions a priority, and he said as much in his first postelection news conference on Wednesday.
The second narrative is that of Western alienation. On Monday, the Liberals lost their handful of seats in Saskatchewan and Alberta, which means the governing party has no representatives from the two provinces with the most at stake in the fight against climate change.
The West’s feeling of being shut out is made worse by the fact the Liberals will have to rely on the NDP and Green Party for support in Parliament – two parties that want to see the oil sands closed down in short order – and on the Bloc Québécois, which is opposed to new pipeline construction.
A lot of the resurgent “Wexit” talk is over the top. It was particularly off-putting to see Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe release a letter the day after the election in which he demanded that the Liberals cancel the federal carbon tax – as if the winning party would ever adopt the main plank of its defeated opponent.
And it has to be asked, what more could the Liberals do to assuage Alberta and Saskatchewan beyond purchasing the Trans Mountain pipeline, which the Trudeau government did, and approving its expansion, which it has also done (twice)? The Liberals expended immense political capital in the rest of the country, fighting for a pipeline that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney on Tuesday called his province’s “most important economic imperative,” and yet somehow it cost them seats in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Still, it would be a mistake to dismiss the frustration of the West – not because “Wexit” is a threat to be taken seriously, but because the frustration is real and understandable.
Think about it. The federal carbon-pricing regime – which we support – targets the West’s chief resource. The tax’s goal is to encourage consumers to use less of it.
Yes, it’s fair to point out that the big oil producers support the carbon tax. Yes, it’s one of the most efficient ways of reducing emissions – something the planet must do.
But that does not change the hard fact that the carbon tax singles out one Canadian resource, mostly produced in one region of the country. That has to sting.
There is also the fact that the landlocked West is utterly dependent on the federal government to be able to ship its product to foreign markets via the most efficient and safe means available: pipelines. As Mr. Kenney said, expanding Trans Mountain is all that really matters at this point.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau recommitted his government to completing Trans Mountain, whether the other parties in Parliament like it or not.
That’s a necessary commitment. It’s also a bold promise. It’s going to be very tough for Mr. Trudeau to balance his twin goals of fighting climate change and completing a state-owned pipeline that has been vilified by the very parties he will have to rely on for support in Parliament.
And it won’t pay off for him politically, either. Even if he built Trans Mountain with his bare hands, it might not win him any seats between the Rockies and Manitoba, while costing him seats in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.
He has to try, of course. It’s the job of the federal government to consider the competing demands of all the regions of Canada, and find a way forward that furthers the national interest.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt Mr. Kenney and others to acknowledge that the Liberals are the only party trying to balance the needs of Canada’s oil industry with the need to curb carbon emissions.
The Conservatives dropped the ball on climate change and have been sidelined as a result; the other parties are actively hostile to the oil patch. Funny, then, that the party Alberta and Saskatchewan voters rejected may turn out to be their best friend in Ottawa.