The West is out.
The federal-provincial narrative of pre-election politics is on.
As it heads into an election, Justin Trudeau’s suddenly trailing government is in the process of passing heavy-handed, rule-laden, jurisdiction-intruding legislation of how Canada reviews its infrastructure proposals, the much-maligned Bill C-69.
Environmentalists quite correctly rejoice, but investors quite correctly will think longer and harder about coming here, while businesses quite correctly worry we will be saying no more than yes when developing resources at the heart of the economy. Where and near where we live are most affected and bound to become most disaffected.
Politically written off.
A letter in the last week from six premiers – five of them conservatives – castigates the C-69 overreach and another law, Bill C-48, to ban oil tankers from northern waters, legislation that formalizes recent practice.
Trudeau had options to keep his cool but demonstrated a certain inherited imperiousness by losing his shoo and incredulously accusing the premiers of savaging national unity. They barked back that he started it, and there we are with the scripted standoff heading into October’s general vote.
To be fair and restrained about the political moment, this was the first occasion for the five conservative first ministers to put joint pen to paper, a first self-serving flag-waving of many in the months ahead. Andrew Scheer might be the leader of the official Opposition, but the premiers are the political equivalent of a football Fearsome Five that Trudeau must navigate to get across the goal line.
Jason Kenney of Alberta, Scott Moe of Saskatchewan, Brian Pallister of Manitoba, Doug Ford of Ontario and Blaine Higgs of New Brunswick – along with a less conservative-leaning Bob Macleod of the Northwest Territories – are in a funk for good reason. They may be over the mountain, but they are not over the top.
These two bills jar the federal-provincial dynamic and at best will help the constitutional lawyers put their grandchildren through medical school. Even if we might disagree with the premiers’ objections, we ought to worry about the thin edge of this wedge the federal government appears to be widening.
The Senate is typically what is fair to call the taskless thanks of Canadian politics, but the Conservative-led committee that proposed hundreds of amendments to Bill C-69 was more right than wrong in its prescription. It was off base to suggest the infrastructure reviews be granted discretion to dodge Indigenous consultation – this is the new normal – but it was on point to suggest the new review agency have profound powers of independence.
As for Bill C-48, it seems incongruent with Trudeau’s bent to enable the same-styled traffic within a golf shot of B.C. cities. No matter. The Senate appears ready to pass it, even if one of its committees says it shouldn’t.
We want our projects to be ultra-safe, to mitigate risk to our marine life, to employ the best technology to minimize the environmental footprint and ideally to have the concurrence of our First Nations or to work through an acceptable settlement. Believe it or not, so do the premiers who signed the letter.
What they don’t comprehend is how we now will play our hand early as the projects are initiated, how we will lay down the cards and lose to other, less savoury players. This is like a negotiation in which you reveal your books and say you will withstand a certain settlement to put you beyond the brink.
The tag-team premiers will not always be right, but they know that we will not move to a greener economy without the most lucrative segue from the lingering messy one. We will not prosper globally if we cannot ship that messy goo abroad and fetch the highest price for it to invest in the new energy forms. On this matter, Trudeau agrees with them in calling the pipeline twinning a national priority. He has also supported the LNG Canada megaproject.
But his law might make it the last gasp of energy infrastructure. •
Kirk LaPointe is editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, at Glacier Media