Trudeau’s En­ergy/En­vi­ron­ment Pre-elec­tion Peril

Policy - - Contents - Col­umn / Don New­man

When Par­lia­ment re­turns this fall, not much will have changed for the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment in the House of Com­mons. But be­yond the con­fines of Par­lia­ment Hill, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and his min­is­ters are fac­ing an in­creas­ingly un­friendly po­lit­i­cal land­scape that is likely to be­come even more un­friendly.

At stake are Lib­er­als hopes for re-elec­tion next Oc­to­ber, the fu­ture of an en­vi­ron­ment and en­ergy strat­egy that on one hand ap­pears to be con­tra­dic­tory but on the other ap­peared to be work­ing, and the pos­si­ble re­turn of the kind of fed­eral-provin­cial dis­putes not seen since the 1980s.

The land­scape be­gan to change just over a year ago when the rel­a­tively cozy com­pact on fed­eral-provin­cial re­la­tions that greeted Justin Trudeau when he be­came prime min­is­ter in 2015 started to crack in the sum­mer of 2017.

The first crack came not from Con­ser­va­tives on the right, but from New Democrats on the Lib­er­als’ left flank.

That hap­pened when a new NDP gov­ern­ment sup­ported by three Green Party mem­bers of the leg­is­la­ture nar­rowly re­placed the Lib­er­als in Bri­tish Columbia. Claim­ing the po­ten­tial dam­age to the en­vi­ron­ment as its rea­son, the new gov­ern­ment im­me­di­ately re­versed the prov­ince’s sup­port for the twin­ing of the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line across B.C., car­ry­ing Al­berta Oil Sands Bi­tu­men.

That set off an in­ter­provin­cial trade war with the neigh­bour­ing NDP gov­ern­ment in Al­berta, and forced the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to buy the pipe­line and the pro­posed ex­pan­sion from its owner, Kin­der Mor­gan in the United States. If Ot­tawa had not in ef­fect “na­tion­al­ized” Trans Moun­tain, Kin­der Mor­gan planned to stop fund­ing the project, in ef­fect killing both it and hopes to get Al­berta bi­tu­men to an ocean port.

How­ever, the Trudeau Lib­er­als are de­ter­mined to get the Trans Moun­tain ex­pan­sion built. A pipe­line to get Al­berta bi­tu­men from the oil sands to tide­wa­ter is part of the gov­ern­ment’s two-pronged en­vi­ron­ment-en­ergy strat­egy. The other is a provin­cial agree­ment to im­pose a tax on car­bon be­gin­ning at $20 a tonne and ris­ing to $50 by 2022. If prov­inces did not want to di­rectly tax car­bon emis­sions they can in­stead adopt a “cap and trade” sys­tem to re­strict the growth of green­house gasses, which On­tario and Que­bec al­ready had.

Un­til the B.C. elec­tion there was wide­spread buy-in from provin­cial gov­ern­ments to both as­pects of the Lib­eral en­vi­ron­ment/en­ergy strat­egy. Only the Saskatchewan Party con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment in that prov­ince re­fused to sign onto the car­bon plan. In­stead it has taken the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to court to op­pose Ot­tawa’s plan to put a fed­eral tax on car­bon emis­sions in any prov­ince that does not act on its own, even though the rev­enue from the fed­eral tax will go to the prov­ince.

With Trudeau’s en­ergy/en­vi­ron­ment strat­egy un­der at­tack from both an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist gov­ern­ment in B.C. on the left and an anti-tax gov­ern­ment in Saskatchewan on the right, the anti-car­bon tax­ers re­ceived re­in­force­ments, with still more likely to come.

When Doug Ford be­came the Con­ser­va­tive premier of On­tario in June, one of the first things he did was scrap the prov­ince’s cap-and- trade regime. And he is now spend­ing $30 mil­lion to launch a court chal­lenge to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment sim­i­lar to Saskatchewan’s.

What’s more, the provin­cial op­po­si­tion to a car­bon tax is al­most cer­tain to in­crease next May, when Al­ber­tans go to the polls. The pub­lic opin­ion polls show that the United Con­ser­va­tive Party un­der for­mer fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive cabi­net min­is­ter Ja­son Ken­ney is al­most cer­tain to re­place NDP Premier Rachel Not­ley, a car­bon tax sup­porter. Ken­ney will lead a tra­di­tional right wing Al­berta gov­ern­ment, and join the anti-car­bon tax emis­sions-con­trol fight with On­tario and Saskatchewan.

By the time of the next fed­eral elec­tion on Oc­to­ber 21, 2019, the bat­tle lines will be clearly drawn around the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line and car­bon taxes. The un­known ques­tion at the mo­ment is whether there will be more pub­lic re­sis­tance to a tax de­signed to im­prove the en­vi­ron­ment or a pipe­line with the po­ten­tial to harm it.

If it is the tax, will Con­ser­va­tive leader An­drew Scheer be able to ben­e­fit? If it is the pipe­line, could that help Jag­meet Singh and the NDP?

Lib­er­als like to say that when they are at­tacked by the par­ties to both the right and the left of them they must be do­ing some­thing right. Of­ten, there is some truth in that. But there is also the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing squeezed in the mid­dle, some­thing that won’t be lost on Lib­eral strate­gists.

In 2019 there will cer­tainly be other is­sues in the fed­eral elec­tion. But how the en­vi­ron­ment-en­ergy one plays out will be one of the keys to de­ter­min­ing the win­ner.

Don New­man is Se­nior Coun­sel at Nav­i­ga­tor Lim­ited and En­sight Canada, a life­time mem­ber of the Cana­dian Par­lia­men­tary Press Gallery.

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