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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives to speak at a news conference after members of the federal cabinet, left, were sworn in, in Ottawa on Oct. 26.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

In the early 1980s, after Pierre Trudeau won election to a fourth and clearly final term, Canada’s 15th prime minister used the opportunity to pursue his personal priorities, with little regard for political consequences.

He brought home the Constitution, complete with a new bill of rights, despite bitter opposition from Quebec. And he imposed the market-distorting National Energy Program (NEP), rendering the word Liberal toxic for many Western voters to this day.

Forty years later, Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet choices suggest the 23rd prime minister, in what may be his final term in office, could have similar plans: in this case, pursuing an ambitious agenda to lower carbon emissions, even if this further estranges his party west of Ontario.

Trudeau’s cabinet choices put the oil-and-gas sector on notice

A cabinet for a prime minister taking risks on his legacy

In shaping his cabinet, Mr. Trudeau almost appeared to go out of his way to snub the Prairies. Winnipeg MP Jim Carr, once one of the most senior ministers in the Liberal government and the de facto liaison between that government and the West, has been dropped completely.

Dan Vandal, also a Winnipeg MP, stays on as Northern Affairs minister, while Edmonton MP Randy Boissonnault has been given Tourism. Both portfolios are minor, and no other Liberal MPs from Alberta or Manitoba have been put in cabinet (the Liberals were shut out in Saskatchewan). This despite Terry Duguid and Kevin Lamoureux in Winnipeg and George Chahal in Calgary (notwithstanding some unpleasantness about taking his opponent’s campaign materials) being available.

When Mr. Trudeau fashioned his new cabinet, he left a lot of Prairie timber on the shelf.

Also telling is the list of cabinet ministers potentially arrayed against Western interests. Former environmental activist Steven Guilbeault is now Environment Minister. Seamus O’Regan, a Newfoundlander who understood the importance of the oil-and-gas industry, was turfed from Natural Resources, replaced by former environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson. The Guilbeault/Wilkinson tag team could be formidable in reducing carbon emissions, but it would surely come at the expense of the Alberta and Saskatchewan energy sector. This could be NEP 2.0.

The home base of the most senior figures in cabinet is also telling. Mr. Wilkinson and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland like to remind people they were raised on the Prairies. But Ms. Freeland represents the downtown Toronto riding of University-Rosedale, and Mr. Wilkinson represents North Vancouver. Both MPs are Laurentian in outlook to the core.

Most of the other major portfolios that have a strong impact on provincial interests are represented by ministers based in Greater Toronto (Omar Alghabra at Transport; Ahmed Hussen at Housing; Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould; Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett) or Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec (Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau; Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne; Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos).

Other provincially sensitive portfolios were given to MPs based in Atlantic Canada (Immigration Minister Sean Fraser; Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc; Rural Economic Development Minister Gudie Hutchings), far removed from Western interests.

Mr. Trudeau’s hand is stronger in dealing with the Prairies than it was after the previous election in 2019. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe were both more popular prepandemic than they are today.

The federal Conservative Party is distracted by an internal debate over whether MPs have the right to sit in the House of Commons without proof of being vaccinated, and whether the Earth might indeed be flat. (Leader Erin O’Toole said Wednesday all Tory MPs in the House will be vaxxed.)

Most important, reasonable efforts to reduce emissions by the oil-and-gas sector will have the support of many people in Alberta and Saskatchewan who are as worried about global warming as anyone else.

That doesn’t change the fact that millions of voters in Alberta believe Ottawa ignores their concerns. Most of the 62 per cent of Alberta voters who supported an end to equalization in a referendum earlier this month undoubtedly knew that the program is constitutionally mandated and can’t be scrapped. They were sending a message.

But Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet choices suggest that this Prime Minister is also sending a message. He has decided to give up placating Prairie concerns. Fighting global warming is his highest priority, and fight it he will.

Even if the Grits are estranged from the West for another 40 years.

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