ANDRUS: Trudeau about to administer bitter medicine to the West
When Western Canada’s economy weakens while the federal government turns a deaf ear, history books show Western Canada’s discontent will bubble and Westerners begin looking for a strong political voice that Ottawa can’t ignore.
The upcoming session will be a defining one for the Trudeau administration. His Liberal Party is still reeling from the fallout from the WE scandal and looks towards the upcoming fall session to make a dramatic shift in policy – one designed to win voter-heavy Ontario and Quebec while leaving the West gasping for air.
It was under Trudeau the Elder that the Liberal Party pioneered the political strategy “Screw the West, We’ll Win the Rest,” and his son is on the verge of following in his father’s footsteps.
The centerpiece of the Liberal’s “Build Back Better” strategy is a renewed approach to a “green recovery” after the economic devastation resulting from the COVID-19 shutdown. Pundits have been musing over the possibility of a Clean Fuel Standard (CFS), a policy which prominently features a $350 per tonne carbon tax. By taking this stance, Justin Trudeau has pointed the proverbial policy gun straight at Alberta and Saskatchewan’s struggling energy sectors.
In the face of another attack from Ottawa, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has seen his government’s polling numbers dip to just 38 per cent, putting his United Conservatives neck and neck with the New Democratic Party in Alberta.
Kenney’s poor performance is not due to any major surge in support for the NDP. The blue wave that saw him elected with 55 per cent of the popular vote has been waning. Kenney’s conservative base is clearly unhappy with his performance – and rightly so. In a 17-month span, the UCP ran up the biggest deficit in the history of the province, tacking $24.1 billion in debt to the ledger – almost a quarter of the total debt accumulated since it was paid off during the Klein administration.
Kenney faces major problems as Trudeau serves up his next spoonful of bitter medicine for the West. His decision to punt referendums on equalization, police force and pension plans into 2021 significantly weakens his maneuverability as Ottawa brings an environmental reckoning down on his province. His delays in implementing his Fair Deal objectives could prove disastrous – not just to his career, but the very economic viability of the province he leads.
Kenney’s recent fascination with “reverse equalization,” essentially a one-time $6.5-billion payment from Ottawa, does nothing to address the fundamental problems facing Alberta in confederation. Moreso, it appears to be an attempt at watering down anger stemming from the unfair equalization system. Even if he succeeds, receiving the payment only weakens his position as Ottawa rains down on Alberta’s energy sector. It’s a band-aid, nothing more.
The most prudent way forward is to simply move up the timelines. The government has plenty of time to put a referendum to abolish equalization to the voters this fall. It’s time for the Premier to take a stand or be washed away in the tide of anger that is inevitably on the way.