Having bought Canada a pipeline it may or may not want at considerable expense, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to spend political capital on Alberta as well, now saying the federal government is prepared to help the province finance the purchase of additional railroad tanker cars to raise the volume of crude it can ship to foreign markets.
Trudeau made the comments in a CBC interview that will be broadcast in full today. "We're there to be a partner, to help," he said, the national broadcaster reported on Thursday.
It’s not clear whether Trudeau's political strategists think this is a viable strategy for the federal election expected in the fall of 2019, if they feel they're in too deep to back out now, or what. My guess is that, right or wrong, they have concluded it's the best thing for the country.
What is pretty clear, though, is that this effort won't win the Prime Minister many friends in Alberta.
Around here, the only thanks he gets comes pretty much in the form of a stream of abuse from everywhere on the political spectrum, New Democrat and United Conservative Party alike. That, plus frivolous Tory lawsuits against other Trudeau Government policies financed from Alberta's bottomless conservative PACs that aren't allowed to directly contribute to the UCP and have to do something to show they're busy.
It's remarkable when you think about it. Every time Trudeau shows up in Alberta, there are demonstrators yelling at him. His predecessor, Stephen Harper, almost never showed up, and didn't buy us a pipeline either, and there were never any demonstrations. What's with that?
The eventual result of this kind of reception, as I speculated earlier this week, will be centrist governments in Ottawa that simply forget about trying accommodate the wishes of voters in resource dependent, Conservative-voting regions like Alberta.
If you don't believe this can happen, consider another emotionally charged, but financially less significant issue that may be about to ricochet onto the national stage: much-needed restrictions on handguns and assault rifles.
Trudeau chose Thursday, the 29th anniversary of the gender-based mass shooting at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal, to announce on a Quebec radio station that his government will confront gun violence in Canada by acting to control possession of handguns and assault rifles. He refused to rule out a complete ban.
This, of course, will send Canada's small but noisy cadre of "law-abiding gun owners" into a full-blown swivet. Stand by for a fusillade of enraged screeds packed with dubious statistics "proving" gun ownership prevents crime. Members of the Conservative Party of Canada base every one, they are determined they have a right to practice their anti-social hobby come what may.
The tone will be much uglier, of course, on their private online bulletin boards and at rural UCP meetings where, I kid you not, nowadays folks are standing up and seriously proposing a Florida-style "stand your ground" law for Alberta, which, thankfully, doesn't have its own Criminal Code.
A significant portion of these LAGO screeds will insist that AR-15s, the weapon of choice of American mass murderers, aren't really assault rifles and that anyone who doesn't know any better is just a blubbering snowflake.
We can debate these points, especially the one about how anyone who supports a ban on such firearms is a snowflake, but it's hardly worth the effort to try to change the minds of the Canadian right-to-bear-arms crowd. This group seems to have missed it that the Canadian Constitution gives them no such right, and that you can't just make up common law because you feel like it.
But that's not the point of this commentary. The point is that Trudeau seems to have figured out that the number of Canadian LAGOs is small, and that gun nuttery in this country is located almost exclusively within the loving embrace of the conservative movement in general and the Conservative Party of Canada in particular.
As a result, nothing he does will win any votes from the gun-rights-are-human-rights crowd anyway. So why not just go full steam ahead for an outright ban on handguns and assault rifles, including "hunting rifles" designed to look like assault rifles?
Seriously, a majority of Canadians would welcome this, no matter how many fanciful and unconvincing statistics the wannabe NRAs of the Canadian gun lobby spew out, or how hysterically they spin them. That includes a majority of residents of Alberta cities, I'd wager. Significant numbers of gun-control supporters feel strongly enough about this to make it an election question.
Count on Andrew Scheer, the brainiac leader of the Opposition in Ottawa, to miss this and walk right into the trap the Liberals are setting for him.
I think there's a good chance we will see this tested in the 2019 federal election. If it is, I think there's a very good chance it will work.
If it does, it will deliver a sound policy from which Canada will benefit. But, perhaps more important, it will also demonstrate that a political strategy that has long worked for the right -- forget about what your opponents have to say and rile up your base -- may be starting to go mainstream.
So forget about guns. Polarization on environmental issues is not likely to be good news for Alberta. Think rail cars, guns and Liberals … this stuff will hit the fan!*
What gives? Conservatives keep calling for a return of the NEP
Brian Jean, former leader of the Wildrose Party and erstwhile aspirant to lead the UCP, editorialized in the Edmonton Journal Thursday that Alberta should create its own strategic oil reserve, "so that we can properly weather, and even profit from, temporary supply and demand imbalances."
Presumably Jean doesn't mean the strategic reserve that Alberta already has -- you know, the one under the ground.
At any rate, he doesn't explain exactly how he sees this interesting idea working, in particular how or at what price the oil companies that pump the stuff out of the earth would be compensated for their efforts. Perhaps there's a model that would work in the U.S. government’s strategic oil reserve mentioned by Jean, who is also the former Member of Parliament for Fort McMurray.
One thing is an absolute certainty, though, and that is that this would amount to massive interference in the market by a Canadian government, unprecedented since Pierre Elliott Trudeau was prime minister of Canada and Peter Lougheed was premier of Alberta. Neither of those two politicians was a shrinking violet when it came to state interference in markets.
So what's happening? Have Canadian conservatives (other than Maxime Bernier and Derek Fildebrandt, of course) lost their faith in the magic of the market, or what?
I used to be joking when I suggested that what Canadian conservatives really want is the reimposition of Trudeau the Elder's National Energy Program. With every week that passes, I wonder more if I actually got this right.
We'll know we've hit that magic moment when Jean or anther conservative grandee demands the creation of a national petroleum company, perhaps called Oil-Can or some such, so that we can have some much-needed influence over the oilpatch.
* With apologies to the late Warren Zevon.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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