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GARY MASON

The West knows where Trudeau stands Add to ...

The federal Conservatives will have no shortage of material when it comes to attack ads against Justin Trudeau. They are particularly rich in anger-inducing comments the young Liberal leader has made about the West.

Mr. Trudeau recently incurred the wrath of some westerners when he said he favoured keeping the current Senate configuration because it favoured his home province. “We have 24 senators from Quebec and there are just six from Alberta and six from British Columbia. That’s to our advantage.”

Needless to say, remarks like those don’t make Mr. Trudeau’s efforts to build a true national party any easier. A couple of western premiers are indignant over the Senate slap.

“I just think it’s entirely inappropriate for anyone who is purporting to be a national leader to start pitting one region against the other,” Alberta Premier Alison Redford told me over coffee last week. “That’s not how I feel about Quebec. That’s not how most Albertans feel about Quebec.

“When you have a national leader stand up and say those sorts of things it does run the risk of raising the ire of people out here. I think if you want to be a national leader, you have to act like a national leader, and if you don’t, it means you don’t understand what it means to be one.”

Ouch.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was even more incensed.

“It’s hard to see where this ends for him politically,” Mr. Wall told me. “I’ve heard him say that he’d like to make inroads in the West, but the comments he’s made would lead to the opposite conclusion.”

The Premier said the unequal nature of the Senate is precisely what drives many people nuts. He can’t understand why Mr. Trudeau would support a concept that is so fundamentally unjust and so clearly irritates a large region of the country.

“I have to believe he understands that and if he does, I worry there’s been a calculation by him and his team that, look, we’re going to have to try and win without the West because of the history of the party or for whatever reason.”

This isn’t the first time that Mr. Trudeau has gotten himself in trouble over statements perceived to be insensitive to those living west of the Ontario border.

Last year, a two-year-old interview that Mr. Trudeau gave on Quebec television surfaced that made him look as parochial and insecure as they come. He concurred with his interviewer that the country might run better if there were more Quebeckers in charge and fewer Albertans. He said that Canada hasn’t been doing well with Alberta in control of the country’s “community and socio-economic agenda.”

You can imagine how that went down in Wildrose country. Not that the Liberals had much of a chance of gaining ground in Alberta anyway – at least any time soon. More generally, however, those types of remarks help cement criticism that the Liberal leader is out of touch with a large segment of the country.

Mr. Trudeau’s views on the Senate, for instance, are deeply at odds with those of many people living in the West. They simply can’t abide an institution whose basic makeup is so profoundly discriminatory. Why would they? Mr. Trudeau believes that opening the Constitution in an attempt to fix the Senate would disadvantage everybody. But how would some form of equal representation in the Senate disadvantage provinces like B.C. and Alberta, which are woefully underrepresented there now?

For the record, Ms. Redford still holds out hope that reform, of some nature, will address the current regional disparities. In particular, she’s encouraged by the federal government’s decision to ask the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on how reforms to the Senate can be made or whether it can be abolished.

Which is what Mr. Wall would like to see. He doesn’t believe meaningful reform is possible. At the same time, however, he recognizes that the chances of abolition are equally slim – but he believes there is at least a possibility it could happen.

He’ll be waiting for the results of the Supreme Court reference. But he’d like to see what would happen if provincial legislatures voted on abolition. At least then you’d get an idea whether abolition had any hope. Meantime, he knows where Mr. Trudeau stands on the matter.

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