By David Marsden
National unity is not being threatened by the federal government’s attack on Western Canada’s energy industry. We know this because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has told us so.
Premier Jason Kenney said at a meeting of provincial leaders last week that the bonds that unite Canada are at risk of fraying because Alberta contributes billions of dollars to the economy, but is blocked from developing its resources.
“The level of frustration and alienation that exists in Alberta right now towards Ottawa and the federation is, I believe, at its highest level, certainly in our country’s modern history,” said Kenney.
Not so, said Trudeau a day later, accusing leaders such as Kenney of playing petty politics and hurting people across the country.
“Conservative politicians are choosing to play a high degree of politics, including bringing up threats to national unity, which we categorically reject,” Trudeau said in Edmonton.
Trudeau is cheeky telling western Canadians they don’t feel bruised by the treatment they’ve received in recent years.
Apparently, we’re supposed to quietly tolerate policies that put the region at an economic disadvantage. We have to accept such treatment without question, the prime minister tells us.
Trudeau’s tone deafness is notable, because he usually demonstrates tremendous sympathy for those who feel aggrieved. He’s earned a reputation, deserved or not, of apologizing to anyone who perceives themselves or their ancestors to have been treated unfairly.
So it’s unusual that Trudeau would be so quick to deny western Canadians the ability to feel slighted by his government’s policies and the actions of some premiers to landlock Alberta energy.
Investment in Canadian energy projects is expected to be half as much this year as it was in 2014, before the Liberals came to power – dropping from $81 billion to $37 billion.
Trudeau’s killing of the Northern Gateway pipeline played a role in fuelling uncertainty about investing in Canada. Enbridge, the company that wanted to build the pipeline from Alberta to northern British Columbia, was reimbursed $15 million for its expenses, but said it was still out of pocket $373 million because of the cancellation.
If Trudeau were more astute, he would point to a global drop in oil prices that has hampered Canadian producers at points in recent years. He would argue that pipeline delays have been caused by legal challenges by environmental and Indigenous groups, and that fairness demands their concerns be heard.
But he would not deny western feelings of alienation exist.
An Angus Reid poll earlier this year found that 50 per cent of Albertans would support secession from Canada.
An earlier poll had discovered that 82 per cent of Quebecers said they have no interest in revisiting sovereignty in the near future.
“Quebec is the favoured child of the nation, while Alberta is the stepchild who gets ignored,” pollster Angus Reid explained.
Trudeau’s inability, or unwillingness, to even consider that western frustration has the potential to tug at the threads of Canada, perhaps by encouraging resentment toward the equalization program, doesn’t serve the country well.
David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.