The West wants out - How Trudeau lost Alberta, and may lose the rest
Upon his election in 2015, Justin Trudeau seemed to be the golden boy of Canada: crowds clamoured wherever he went and endorsements rang out worldwide for his new Liberal vision for Canada. Yet the shine has begun to wear off with accusations of economic incompetence and unconstitutional practices, and a recently elected Conservative government under Jason Kenney in Alberta, Trudeau seems weaker than ever. It seems reminiscent of when the Reform Party garnered enormous popularity at the expense of the ruling Progressive Conservatives in an alienated and embittered Western Canada under the slogan ‘The West Wants In’. Now, however, it seems like the very same West wants out.
At his victory celebrations, Kenney stood beaming on stage as the crowd chanted ‘Build the pipe’, a reference to an oil pipeline project that was killed by the previous central government. Kenney interrupted just to correct them: ‘It should be “Build those pipes.”’ Alberta’s economy relies on its large supplies of oil and gas, some of the largest in the world. Yet the economy has suffered ever since the crash of oil prices in 2015, when the price of oil per barrel fell from a high of $104 in 2014 to under $30 by 2016. Kenney and the Conservatives accuse the Trudeau government of exacerbating the economic downturn by refusing to build new pipelines to the coastline, resulting in a ‘landlocking’ of Canadian energy. With Canada forced to sell 79% of her oil to her southern neighbour at reduced prices, most Albertans feel that billions of dollars worth of oil money that could have been spent on social services and infrastructure projects has been lost. Kenney has promised to fight the federal government to secure permission and funding for more pipelines, as well as to fight the Carbon Tax being levied on four other Provinces.
The Tax was imposed due to these Provinces not forming their own plans to fight climate change, yet is seen by many as an overstepping of federal authority. It is up to the Provinces, the critics say, to determine whether or not they want to do so. Trudeau, however, sees it as a matter of national policy given the immense threat climate change poses. His determination to get this legislation through, though, has only further alienated the former Progressive Conservatives who helped him and the Liberals win in 2015. It was these disaffected former Liberal voters that handed the keys of Alberta to Kenney’s Conservatives.
This however, is not the only case of Trudeau seemingly overstepping the constitutional mark. The now infamous SNC-Lavalin Scandal has borne the testimony of former Attorney-General Jody Wilson-Raybould which accuses Trudeau’s team of putting pressure on her to settle a bribery case against SNC-Lavalin, rather than press charges. Pressure mounted until Wilson-Raybould was demoted to Veterans’ Affairs, shortly after which she resigned altogether, soon to be joined by her colleague Jane Philpott, former President of the Treasury Board. Calls for Trudeau’s resignation over the matter have not been answered, and there has been no real response to the allegations other than an ongoing investigation into Trudeau and his allies.
The problem with looking at this situation from a British perspective is that we tend to assume that the Canadian and British political systems are alike in almost every way. Yet there are key differences that make the Albertan election and the SNC-Lavalin debacle so important. In the former case, the United Conservative Party is not truly comparable to the Tories of the UK - it is an amalgam of populist parties from Western Canada and traditional parties from across the Provinces; it is a party that is quite clear in its intention to challenge federal authority, and policy and seems intent on garnering further support in other alienated Provinces. In the latter case, it is very rare for Ministers to resign on matters of principle in Canada due to the stricter party structure - for the Attorney-General to do so is a devastating blow to the Liberal government. It seems very likely that there will be a Conservative victory in October this year, and if not then we can expect Trudeau and the Liberals to face fierce resistance in the Provinces to any policy. Whatever the case, for now, the West is definitely Out.