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Politics Questions on Trans Mountain, USMCA and ethics could decide Liberals’ fate in fall election

When he announced Tuesday afternoon that construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would proceed, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared: “We are a government that cares deeply about the environment. And we care just as deeply about the economic success of Canadians.”

Whether the Liberals have succeeded in bridging that divide is the question. Actually, it’s one of three questions related to events this week that could determine the outcome of the Oct. 21 federal election. Let’s look at each in turn.

At one happy moment, in late 2016, a private company owned the Trans Mountain pipeline, the National Energy Board had approved construction of the expansion and almost every premier in Canada had agreed to putting a price on carbon. The Trudeau government appeared to have proven that it could, indeed, protect both jobs and the environment.

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But things aren’t that happy now. As protests from environmental and Indigenous groups escalated, Kinder Morgan sold the pipeline to the government, not long before the courts struck down the NEB’s approval and ordered a new review.

Then a raft of pro-carbon-price premiers lost elections. Now six conservative provincial governments are at war with Ottawa over the carbon tax.

Liberal government reapproves Trans Mountain pipeline expansion

Coalition vows renewed fight against Trans Mountain as First Nations seeking stake applaud green light

Opinion: Trans Mountain’s reapproval doesn’t solve energy sector’s woes

Environmental and Indigenous protesters are certain to relaunch their public opposition to Trans Mountain, even as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and others lambaste legislation that would place new environmental limits on future resource-based projects, while also banning tankers on the upper British Columbia coast.

First question: Will Mr. Trudeau’s actions convince voters that this government can protect both the environment and the economy, or will it convince them the Liberals can do neither?

On her website this week, former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould announced her opposition to allowing Trans Mountain to go ahead, saying “choices and actions that have been taken have resulted in a broad cross-section of Canadians of all backgrounds deciding they do not trust the federal government to own, operate, and regulate this project.”

A poll by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail released this week revealed the most important issue for Canadians is ethics in government, followed by the economy, carbon taxes and NAFTA. Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s statement folds most of these concerns into a single declaration of non-confidence in the government by one of its former ministers, who is now running in Vancouver as an independent.

Second question: Will the damage to this government from the SNC-Lavalin affair ever go away?

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Finally, the Prime Minister will attempt to buttress his government’s credibility on Thursday, when he meets with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, before heading to the Group of 20 meeting in Osaka, Japan.

Two of this government’s biggest accomplishments were sealing trade agreements with the European Union and with the 11 countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. When Mr. Trump threatened to tear up the North American free-trade agreement, the government went flat out to secure the best possible terms for the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement, which was signed by Canada, the United States and Mexico last September.

But signing does not mean ratifying. Democrats, who control the U.S. House of Representatives, are skeptical of the new treaty, saying it needs stronger provisions to protect labour. Nonetheless, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told a Senate committee on Tuesday that “my hope is that, over the course of the next couple of weeks, we can make substantial progress.”

If Congress ratifies the USMCA soon, the Liberals will rush ratification through Parliament. But if Congress balks, the treaty might never be ratified at all, because the Canadian and then U.S. election seasons will hijack the agenda.

Third question: Will ratification of the USMCA provide the Liberals with powerful evidence that they can be trusted to protect Canada’s vital trading interests, or will the ratification fall afoul of Congress, making the whole thing a giant waste of time?

The answer to those three questions will come on election night, four months and a couple of days from now.

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