Justin As Alberta's Saviour? His Papa Would Say Fuddle Duddle
In the film Something Wicked This Way Comes, a charismatic man comes to town to grant wishes— for a price. The movie title is from Macbeth: "By the pricking of my thumbs / Something wicked this way comes."
The moral of the story— like Macbeth murdering his way to the crown— is that everything comes with a price. Sifting through the confusion of the B.C. provincial election, Canada’s Sunny Ways prime minister, Justin Trudeau, probably now realizes the cost of the bill he’s just been handed.
Darling of the progressives and eco warriors, Trudeau has suddenly been thrust into the role of defender of Canada’s energy industry. An industry largely based in the western provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Anyone well-read in their Canadian history will remember that père Trudeau— Justin’s daddy Pierre— had a less than cordial relationship with these provinces. They calledthe former PM a playboy, he called them something you’re not supposed to say in polite society. It went downhill from there with Trudeau’s National Energy Program, which gored the energy business for a decade.
Now, here is son Justin, the great placater, thrust into the role of telling B.C.’s nascent NDP/ Green tryst (and activist Vancouver major Gregor Robertson) that pipelines are not their responsibility. Back off on federal territory. The son of the NEP demon will be the one to guard Alberta’s interest in the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
Something wicked has descended on Trudeau.
Confident in getting their toes in the legislature door, the Greens’ three members are not going to be in a mood to compromise, even with Sunny Ways. Their self-appointed mission is to save the planet and, by God, if they have to break a few bitumen eggs on the way, so be it. Flush with American eco money (how much did the Tides Foundation indirectly pump into the provincial election anyhow?) they are well-set to take the fight to the PM.
Trudeau must also fend with the Greens’ idealogical cousins in the east, the urban virtue circle that spends every day stuck in Toronto traffic thinking of ways to destroy the energy biz that funds them so handsomely via federal transfers. These are the people he needs to keep in the Liberal tent federally, away from the NDP and Greens.
Getting into bed too much with an NDP premier in Alberta to protect the demon oil would be a gift-wrapped present to new Conservative Andrew Scheer, the 38-year-old who makes Justin look positively ancient at 45. And believe it, the feckless Scheer needs all the help he can muster if he’s to win a seat in the no-go zones of Canada’s biggest cities.
Trudeau’s other thankless task is trying to ensure that the two-headed left-wing monster doesn’t also destroy the economy, which has prospered in Clark’s four terms as B.C. premier. Ontario's disastrous debt bomb is bad enough. But if some of the Greens more ambitious platform demands are enacted— hamstringing energy, revising the electoral system away from first-past-the-post, housing affordability, providing more public transit and universal child care — Trudeau could next face the voters in 2019 with a much-diminished economy.
The message of a go-slow on Kinder Morgan from the coalition will also be a giant sign to the international investment community that B.C. is an unfriendly place for large projects. That’s fine for the Salt Spring Island granola brigade, but it would be a rude surprise to the heartland of the province.
There is every chance that B.C. will head back to the polls before any of this becomes a reality. A one-seat coalition majority is as ephemeral as the unicorn. As happened to the NDP when it held a balance of power in Ontario in 2013, the wedge party is often punished in the next voting. (Andrea Howarth led the NDP out of power by rejecting a budget).
But should the coalition hold until the federal election in 2019, the mischief done to Trudeau’s mandate could be costly.
Finally, if the pipeline is delayed or cancelled because of the actions of the coalition, the prime minister could find himself facing a constitutional crisis. No, not Quebec. But the citizens of Alberta, long taken for granted by their partners, may decide that they don’t share enough with the eco loons of the coast or the progressive talking shops of Toronto/ Ottawa/ Montreal.
The schisms are clearer every day, from the climate-change debate to immigration policy. After years of funding the country via equalization grants, Alberta (and Saskatchewan) may look to renegotiate their position in Confederation.
While this has always been regarded as crazy talk outside the hard right, Canadians should realize that, lacking any over-arching national beliefs, Canada in the 21st century is largely held together by the redistribution of funds from the federal government. The Maritimes has largely ceased to be an active player in the economy, Quebec desires complete autonomy, Ontario is pursuing its progressive fantasies of state-controlled economy, B.C. seeks a social democratic partnership with indigenous peoples.
And they all want money to do that.
Even with its diminished energy sector, Alberta has a different vision, and the means to act on it. Which could lead Trudeau to channel Banquo, “If you can look into the seeds of time, And say which grain will grow, and which will not, Speak.”
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)