In a thumbing of his nose to the West on Wednesday, Justin Trudeau’s federal government announced that it would reject most of the amendments to Bill C-69 — the no more pipelines act — that were proposed by the Senate after much study and testimony.
Experts say that as a result of the arbitrary measures contained in the bill, that will allow the minister of the environment to veto an approved project “just because,” no corporation would risk hundreds of millions of dollars trying to win approval of a large infrastructure project, like a pipeline, should this bill pass without the 188 amendments recommended by the Senate.
This is a big blow for Alberta and other non-renewable resource jurisdictions in Canada and it’s sure to stir up growing sentiments of western alienation.
That Trudeau’s government would announce this just one day after six common-sense premiers, including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, sent out a polite letter urging Trudeau to amend Bill C-69 and let Bill C-48, the law that would ban Alberta crude from being shipped on B.C.’s north coast, to die, as recommended by the Senate committee, is tone deaf.
Trudeau’s response seems to be, to heck with sober second thought and to hell with Tuesday’s mild warning of these bills “further alienating provinces and territories and their citizens.”
In Montreal on Wednesday, it appears that Kenney is looking to recruit a seventh premier, Quebec’s Francois Legault, into his current Sensible Six group by chatting up that province and focusing on Alberta and Quebec’s similarities, rather than its areas of tension — namely pipelines bringing Alberta crude through the province to the East Coast.
Kenney zeroed in on how both provinces are the strongest “champions of the role of the provincial governments and our constitutional jurisdiction.”
“Prime Minister Trudeau came to office promising a federalism of openness with the provinces, instead, we are getting a door being slammed in our faces,” Kenney told reporters. “This is very regrettable, so we would make one last appeal to the federal government: To listen to employers, to many First Nations, to provincial and territorial governments, and to the Senate of Canada in adopting those constructive amendments that have been made.”
Following a question by a reporter, Kenney made no bones about being strongly pro-Canadian, referencing how at the time of the patriation of the Constitution in 1982, “Alberta and Quebec were close partners, and often have been.
“Look, I’m a federalist. Peter Lougheed was a federalist. Albertans are proud Canadians. But we often understand and share the frustrations that Quebecers have felt historically with the federation. Alberta and Quebec historically have been the provinces most focused on protecting the original vision of the founders of the Canadian federation, which is a federation of provinces. It’s on those grounds that we can work together.”
Kenney was hitting all the right notes and firmly rebuked Trudeau who tried to paint Kenney and the other five premiers who signed Tuesday’s letter — Scott Moe from Saskatchewan, Brian Pallister from Manitoba, Doug Ford from Ontario, Blaine Higgs from New Brunswick and Bob McLeod from the Northwest Territories — as fomenting separatist sentiments in Canada.
Trudeau knows very well that the premiers are merely warning him about a growing reality and clearly hopes Canadians have short memories in the years prior to becoming prime minister in 2015.
Savvy Canadians will recall how in 2012, Trudeau said if voters keep on electing Stephen Harper, he just might help Quebec separate.
“I always say, if there came a point where I thought Canada really was Stephen Harper’s Canada, that we were against abortion, against gay marriage, that we went backwards in 10,000 different ways, maybe I’d consider making Quebec a country.”
On Tuesday, after six premiers released their letter, Trudeau said: “I think it’s absolutely irresponsible for conservative premiers to be threatening our national unity if they don’t get their way.”
Of course, that’s not what they did. They simply referred to a reality — backed up by polls including Angus Reid and Environics — that shows that 57 per cent of Alberta and Saskatchewan residents agreed that “Western Canada gets so few benefits from being part of Canada that they might as well go it on their own.” That’s alarming.
Reached in Swift Current Wednesday, former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall said he found Trudeau’s comments “stunningly unaware of how serious the matter of alienation is in Saskatchewan, Alberta and other parts of Western Canada.
“Trudeau acknowledged (Tuesday) that a prime minister’s No. 1 priority is to keep the country together,” declared Wall. “But, I’m not sure there’s been a prime minister who has done more to divide this country with policies than Justin Trudeau.
“Clearly, he’s in campaign mode. He wants to run against Doug Ford and Jason Kenney. He wants to run against provincial premiers because his personal approval rating is in a free fall and he’s got problems in his party so he’s looking to tilt at some other windmills, in this case, it’s the premiers.”
Mentioning the February Angus Reid poll and the March Environics poll, Wall is concerned about western alienation “that’s an order of magnitude greater than during the National Energy Program when the elder Trudeau was in office,” said Wall.
“The numbers in these polls are a very big deal and this warning by these six premiers is a big deal and it should have the attention of the prime minister. It would have been a good moment for him to make a case for the federation and why it can work for the West and the rest of the country and not just go straight into campaign mode to take a run at these premiers, who are democratically elected and are doing their jobs.”
The expected approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project on June 18, which the federal government purchased, might help anxious westerners feel less disrespected and unappreciated by the Laurentian elite.
That would go a long way towards helping westerners thumb their noses at feelings of alienation.
Licia Corbella is a Postmedia columnist. [email protected]