Trudeau needs to act on Trans Mountain and equalization to bridge East-West divide: strategist
OTTAWA – After a fractious election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's next steps must involve focused action on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and reconfiguring the equalization formula in Alberta or risk further alienation from the West, says a political strategist in Saskatchewan.
Earnscliffe’s Jamie Miley said if Trudeau, instead, chooses to approach the concerns of the Western provinces and the ensuing regional divide with symbolic gestures – like hosting more meetings in Saskatchewan and Alberta and using them as political talking points – versus making substantive policy changes, it will make matters "far worse."
"If it looks superficial, which is something that the prime minister has been accused of, this will get smashed back at him very quickly," said Miley in an interview with CTVNews.ca.
Monday night’s election results saw the Liberals lose all five of their MPs in Alberta and Saskatchewan, including Amarjeet Sohi and Ralph Goodale, which means their cabinet roster lacks Western voices.
This has spurred an intensity of discussions around Western separatism, not a new concept but one Miley said is at "an all-time high."
"You can do all these political things, but the policy stuff needs to be looked at and there needs to be in my judgment a recalibration of the direction of what these policies represent."
The two issues that should be at the top of the new prime minister’s office priority list, according to Miley: following through on the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline and rejigging the equalization formula.
"If you ask somebody in Saskatchewan or Alberta, there is a deep skepticism around that project that it’s ever going to get concluded,” said Miley. “It’s been a long time that equalization has been reassessed and it’s time we had a look at that."
Finance Minister Bill Morneau told The Canadian Press in an interview this week that the expanded pipeline is not fodder for negotiating with other parties in the minority government. Rather, he said, it is a crucial piece of the puzzle of financing Canada's transition to a clean energy economy.
"We purchased it for a reason," said Morneau. "We now see how it can help us accelerate our clean energy transition by putting any revenues that we get from it into a transition to clean energy. We think that is the best way we can move forward in our current context."
Trudeau, for his part, also doubled-down on his party’s commitment to continue with the expansion in a press conference with reporters on Tuesday.
"We made the decision to move forward on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion because it was in Canada’s interest to do so," he said. "We will be continuing with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion."
In an interview on CTV News on Thursday, former leader of the Reform Party of Canada, Preston Manning, said it’s a culmination of issues at the root of the West’s frustration with Ottawa.
"Alberta pouring billions and billions into the [equalization formula], and then when Alberta gets into trouble, there’s no reciprocity; the failure of the federal government to provide transportation infrastructure that gets the resources of the interior provinces to market; the extremism of this environmental energy front," said Manning.
He also noted this shift in regional support should embolden Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to form "coalitions" with the provinces to mobilize the party’s priorities.
"If you had a real coalition of interest between the Conservative opposition in Parliament and seven Conservative governing parties in seven of the provinces, that’s a pretty strong coalition that should be able to advance some of these issues and would have a different perspective than the Trudeau administration."
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is scheduled to unveil his party’s first budget later today with a series of major budget cuts.
With files from The Canadian Press