Notley’s defeat will isolate Trudeau

Of the premiers of the four larger provinces who signed off on Justin Trudeau’s climate-change framework three years ago, only Rachel Notley was left.

That makes her the second most prominent Canadian political leader — after the prime minister — to support the notion that it is desirable to strike a balance between pipeline building and carbon pricing.

Notley’s defeat in Tuesday’s Alberta election will drive yet another nail in the coffin of Trudeau’s defunct national climate-change consensus.

The election of a conservative Alberta government led by Jason Kenney will not bring a polarized Canadian political class any closer to a resolution on the issue.

Because regime change in the provinces caused the unravelling of Trudeau’s grand energy/environment bargain, its fate has often been compared to Brian Mulroney’s failed constitutional reconciliation attempts.

In fact, the former Tory prime minister had more provincial allies left at the end of the divisive Meech Lake round in 1990 than Trudeau can now count on to advance his plan.

If anything, the House of Commons is even more deeply divided than at the time of the constitutional wars. The NDP, the Greens and the Bloc Quebecois would nix any future pipeline proposal.

The Conservatives have never seen a pipeline project they did not want to support.

Not only is there little or no common ground between the pipeline-averse governments of British Columbia and Quebec in one corner, and the anti-carbon-pricing cohort in the other, but bridge-builders are increasingly in short supply at the federal-provincial table.

As a last resort, Trudeau has been advancing his carbon-pricing policy through unilateral action.

His government has imposed a federal carbon tax on provinces that have opted out of the national framework. And it has kept the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion alive over the objections of B.C.’s current government.

On both fronts, the prime minister has been implementing what he and his advisers considered improbable worse-case scenarios as recently as two years ago.

The backup plan of a federal carbon tax with assorted individual rebates was conceived with only a few isolated provincial outliers in mind. And approving the Trans Mountain expansion initially seemed like taking the path of least resistance to deliver more oil to tidewater.

Instead, the process has earned Trudeau the enmity of a majority of his provincial partners. On both sides of the divide, provinces have been taking the federal government to court.

B.C. is awaiting the decision of its top court in a reference that seeks to have the province’s power to limit the amount of crude oil and gas that transits through its territory affirmed.

The Ontario government opened the latest front in the legal battle against the federal carbon tax in the Court of Appeal on Monday.

Trudeau’s name has become dirt in many Alberta and Saskatchewan pro-pipeline quarters. At the same time, he has been vilified in almost as many pro-environment quarters for keeping the Trans Mountain expansion alive by purchasing the pipeline.

But here’s the rub: The intense political polarization that has over the past three years come to attend the pipeline-versus-carbon-pricing debate has essentially been driven from the top down, rather than from the ground up.

To this day, polls suggest a plurality of Canadians support both the efforts to get more Alberta oil to markets and the bid to ensure carbon pollution is priced and taxed.

While more and more politicians have deserted the middle ground, voters have not always followed suit.

Chantal Hebert is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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