Braid: Trudeau minority has to go ahead with Trans Mountain

Braid: Trudeau minority has to go ahead with Trans Mountain

Alberta conservatives will hate this. But with Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives beaten, the remaining hope for Trans Mountain construction is Justin Trudeau in (limited) power.

There is a view, advanced here sometimes, that a minority is disastrous because the NDP, Greens and/or Bloc Quebecois will force Trudeau to abandon Trans Mountain.

And, of course, those parties would also shut down the oilsands as quickly as possible.

But on Monday, the vast majority of Canadians cast a moderate vote on both pipelines and climate policy. Trudeau will ignore that at his peril.

The NDP lost 15 seats from their 2015 total. The Greens gained one, for a total of three — hardly the grand breakthrough.

The Conservatives won 26 more seats than they had at dissolution. The Liberals lost 20. Even Saskatchewan Liberal icon Ralph Goodale went down.

The Conservatives are all in for the pipeline. And the Liberals, we must remember, still say they will build Trans Mountain and put all the profits into green energy. They did buy the thing for $4.5 billion.

During the campaign, Trudeau kept stressing that point, even as he neglected to blast the hostile Green and NDP policies.

Composite photo of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May during the first leaders’ debate of the campaign, on Sept. 12, 2019.

Frank Gunn/Pool via Reuters

The Greens and NDP got 21 per cent of the popular vote. If you throw in the pipeline-hating Bloc Quebecois, the total is just over 30 per cent.

Together, the Conservatives and Liberals drew 68 per cent.

And so, in a general way, the two big parties that favour the pipeline got well over double the support of the much smaller parties that oppose it.

By the numbers, Jagmeet Singh’s NDP now has the perfect number of seats to support the Liberals in a minority.

The Liberals got 155. Backing from the 25 New Democrats would put them comfortably over the 170-vote majority hurdle.

And Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, whose party won 32 seats, said clearly that the Liberals should stay in power.

He’ll be looking for good deals for Quebec. And this man does not like Trans Mountain.

The conventional thinking is that Singh or Blanchet would make a deal with Trudeau to support the Liberals, perhaps including a condition to stop the pipeline.

Otherwise, they would withdraw support and thus defeat Trudeau, forcing another election.

But don’t forget the Conservatives. If the pipeline was at stake in a some kind of cooked-up vote, they might very well back the Liberals. They should, if their interest is the economy rather than just power.

The other factor is exhaustion. No party will want a quick election, least of all the NDP, which will be flat broke. The small parties have far less fundraising capacity to rebound quickly, especially when they lost ground in campaigns.

There is another tactic for running a minority government. In 1979, Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark called it governing like a majority.

In essence, the minority government presents legislation and dares the opposition to defeat it.

It didn’t work for Clark because of clumsy handling. The Liberals defeated his budget because of government failure to round up MPs at a crucial moment. Pierre Trudeau went on to thump the PCs in the 1980 election.

Managed well, though, governing like a majority can work. Former prime minister Stephen Harper did it through two minorities, making no deals but adroitly stickhandling legislation. Then he finally won his majority in 2011.

Today, Justin Trudeau is close enough to a majority — 14 seats short — that he could play this same game with some public legitimacy. The next federal election may be two years off.

Now, what would happen if Trudeau were to bow to the NDP (and the wishes of Singh’s Burnaby riding) and cancel the pipeline, or just let it fade away?

First, he would face a tremendous uproar from the Conservatives, who would do everything in their power to force an election.


Trudeau would damage his party by blowing up his entire energy transition and green growth strategy. He would waste $4.5 billion in public funds. He would look like both a fraud and a patsy for minority opinion.

Soon enough, he would usher in a Conservative government.

On Monday night, newly elected Montreal Liberal Stephen Guilbeault, a founder of the Quebec environmental outfit Equiterre, appeared to have made his peace with the Trans Mountain, although not with any other such project.

Trans Mountain doesn’t need any parliamentary approvals. It only becomes an issue if the opposition tries to make cancellation part of a deal to keep the Liberals in power.

In that case the Liberals would not only break all their promises, but defy the great majority of Canadians who voted Monday night. Just try it.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

[email protected]

Twitter: @DonBraid

Facebook: Don Braid Politics


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