No guarantee voters will flip in this fall’s federal election

The brief get-together of five conservative-minded premiers last week was meant to highlight the divide.

Alberta’s Jason Kenney, Ontario’s Doug Ford, Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe and New Brunswick’s Blaine Higgs all gathered before the cameras to flip pancakes at the Calgary Stampede.

They were joined by Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod who, while technically non-partisan, shares the Conservative critique of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s energy policy.

The symbolism was supposed to be obvious: The Liberals may rule in Ottawa for now. But conservative parties control all but three of the provinces. When Trudeau goes to the polls in October, he will face an electorate that over the past four years appears to have become considerably more right wing.

If Canada were a simple country, the symbolism of the pancake breakfast might reflect reality. But Canada is not simple. It is complicated. Provincial and federal politics influence one another. But they do so in ways that are difficult to predict.

Even a seemingly monolithic province like Alberta can produce surprises, as it did in 2015, when Rachel Notley’s New Democrats won power provincially.

Tellingly, her victory did nothing to bolster the fortunes of Alberta’s NDP in the federal election that took place a few months later.

In most cases, provincial election results say little about federal preferences. Ontarians, for instance, often elect one of the two major parties provincially and the other federally. But they don’t do so in every instance.

Conversely, there is no reason to assume that just because Ontarians voted for Ford’s Progressive Conservatives provincially last year, they will do the same for Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives federally this October.

Quebec politics is complicated by the ebb and flow of the separatist movement. Quebec is also prone to enthusiasms, as it was in 2011, when Jack Layton’s NDP came from nowhere to win 59 seats in the province.

But the fact that Quebecers elected Premier Francois Legault’s right-of-centre government provincially last year does not necessarily mean they will opt for Scheer federally in October.

On it goes. New Brunswick elected a minority Progressive Conservative government last year. But the issues of that provincial campaign, such as language rights and ambulance services, were resolutely local.

Ditto with Prince Edward Island. It elected a PC government this year and chose the Greens as official opposition. Figure out the ideological meaning of that.

What unites most right-of-centre provincial governments are support for oil pipelines and opposition to carbon taxes. Quebec is the great exception.

Legault supports Scheer’s idea of using a national corridor to ship Quebec hydroelectricity westward. But he opposes Scheer’s idea of using the same corridor to ship Alberta’s heavy oil eastward.

Legault also supports carbon pricing – as long as it’s not imposed by Ottawa.

Is opposition to Trudeau’s carbon tax a winning formula in the rest of Canada? Given that individuals who pay the levy are being compensated through the income tax system, I’m not sure it is. But Scheer seems to think so, as does Ford.

Yet, the Ontario premier forgets that he won power not because of his promises – including his pledge to axe the carbon tax – but because voting for him was the easiest way to oust his unpopular predecessor, Kathleen Wynne.

While the shine may be off Trudeau, he is nowhere near as unpopular as Wynne was at the end of her time in office. In fact, he is nowhere near as unpopular as Ford is now.

All of which is to say that there may be less to the pancake-flipping provincial front against the Trudeau Liberals than meets the eye.

Thomas Walkom is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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