Prime Minster Stephen Harper’s soft environmental stance has deepened B.C.’s skepticism over the proposed Alberta oilsands pipeline, said national affairs columnist Chantal Hébert — who doesn’t foresee any short-term resolution.
The Northern Gateway Pipeline that would move oilsands bitumen to the West Coast for shipment to Asian markets “is not going to happen, not in its current shape,” said Hébert, who spoke on Thursday as part of Red Deer College’s Perspectives: Canada in the World series.
“That ship has sailed . . . ”
She believes that Harper should have taken former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s advice: “If you want to sell stuff like that, make yourself green.” Instead, Harper’s weak environment policies have made it harder now to convince British Columbians that Ottawa “has the interest of the environment at heart,” said Hébert.
Although the award-winning journalist can’t see Harper pushing the B.C. pipeline through without losing massive voter support in that province, she does see the proposed oilsands pipeline to the U.S. going ahead, no matter who wins the American presidential election next month.
Hébert suggested Alberta Premier Alison Redford is likely waiting for B.C.’s spring election before seriously trying again to negotiate. “No one’s going to sign a deal with someone who’s not going to be able to honour it in five months,” she said, referring to the widely held speculation that B. C. Premier Christy Clark’s Liberal government will go down at the polls.
The growing rift between Alberta and B.C. is a novelty for Central Canada, which is used to doing the squabbling, said Hébert, to laughter from the crowd. “It’s the flip side of what we’ve had . . . (when) Ontario and Quebec were always fighting with each other.”
The political panelist for the CBC and national affairs writer for the Toronto Star talked about Canada as if it were a political snake shedding its skin by discarding decades-long trends.
Among the many “firsts” is Quebec electing a sovereignist government that has no plans to call a referendum on separating from the rest of Canada.
While Harper is very unpopular in Quebec, she noted, so is separatism, receiving only 32 per cent support.
Another big first having the federal Liberals in third place after the Conservatives and NDP, said Hébert, who doubts that Justin Trudeau could single-handedly save the party if he wins its leadership. The biggest hurdle is the lack of Liberal support in the West, which is currently Canada’s economic engine, she added.
Trudeau is young, “has done his homework,” has obvious charisma, and might well live up to his potential. But if Justin were to boost his party “just on the basis of a name, he will have me fooled,” said Hébert, who can’t imagine a government ruling Canada without Western support.
It would be a backwards step, she added, “like having a prime minister who can’t speak French again.”
Ontario-born and raised Hébert, who grew up in a French-speaking family, was back in Red Deer for the first time in 25 years. She told a story about having a telephone conversation overheard by a young motel attendant the last time she was here. She recalled the puzzled girl asking her, “What language was that?”
Now not only is French immersion education growing throughout the country, but most Canadian premiers are bilingual, said Hébert, She added that having leaders like Redford being able to discuss ideas in French with Quebecers makes a “tremendous” difference in narrowing the cultural divide. “It’s harder to think, they’re like this or like that, because you have the person right there, talking in your own language.”
The biggest challenge we face is figuring out how to grow a modern economy that’s not resource based, said Hébert.
If Ontario’s large manufacturing sector doesn’t work, it’s bad for all of us, she said. “It’s like saying my heart’s not doing well, but I have strong arms and good lungs. In a good body, you want a good heart too.”