'Wrong' to use natural resources to divide Canadians: Trudeau
Published Wednesday, October 3, 2012 7:23AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 3, 2012 8:12PM EDT
Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau reached out to Alberta voters Wednesday by assuring them he is different from his father, a line he drew by distancing himself from his national energy policy of the 1980s.
A day after announcing his candidacy to lead the federal Liberals, Trudeau travelled to Calgary before a scheduled event later in the day in Richmond, B.C.
Trudeau told his audience that it is “wrong” to use natural resources riches to pit Canadians against each other, in an apparent nod to the resentment Albertans feel over the NAP, which was seen as a takeover of the West’s natural resource wealth to benefit the rest of the country.
"It is wrong to use our natural wealth to divide Canadians against one another," he said. "It was the wrong way to govern Canada in the past. It is wrong today. And it will be wrong in the future."
Later, Trudeau told reporters that he had “nothing to do with the national energy program. I was 10 years old.”
He said one of his goals is to work out how to manage natural resource extraction with consideration for the protection of the environment.
"It is time to be more honest with ourselves," he said. "There is not a country in the world that would find 170 billion barrels of oil and leave it in the ground. There is not a province in this country that would find 170 billion barrels of oil and leave it in the ground."
Alise Mills, a partner at AGM Communications in Vancouver, said earlier Wednesday that Trudeau will be hard pressed to find traction in Alberta and, to a lesser degree, British Columbia.
Still, Mills told CTV’s Canada AM that it was a smart decision to begin his leadership bid in the West, which has assumed the role of kingmaker in federal politics.
“In the last couple of years there has been a tremendous amount of attention on the power of the Western vote. It is probably a great place for Justin to start. I think a lot of us out here though are wondering if he is going to be able to make that connection,” Mills said in an interview Wednesday.
“His persona, or his brand, from this (Western) perspective is that he is very Montreal-centric, he is very Eastern Canadian or very Central Canada -- that he comes from a world of privilege and he would have a hard time resonating with the middle-class Western Canadian voter.”
Former prime minister Brian Mulroney, though, said observers should not bet against Trudeau.
“Justin is a fine young man, he’s an attractive guy, I’ve known him for a long time,” Mulroney told CTV’s Power Play on Wednesday.
“I was an opponent of his dad who was a tough, able guy. The apple, I’m sure, doesn’t fall too far from the tree. There’s a lot of steel in this. People should not underestimate him in any way. I think they’ll turn out to be disappointed if they do. He’s got a lot of the requirements for leadership and who knows if it catches on? If he can do it, it will be a big success story.”
Trudeau’s connection to his father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, presents both a boost and a challenge for the 40-year-old Montreal MP. The senior Trudeau is best known in the West for introducing the long-expired NEP, which spread the economic benefit of Alberta’s booming oil industry across the country.
When Pierre Trudeau launched the program in 1980, then-premier Peter Lougheed called it a declaration of war and cut oil production. The program was phased out in the following years, but the stigma remained.
Edmonton Liberal Laurie Blakeman said Trudeau would need to address his father’s legacy in Alberta, suggesting the national energy program stigma remains regardless of whether it is warranted.
"The NEP has taken on an iconic status that it doesn't deserve," Blakeman told The Canadian Press. "Most people in Alberta today don't even know what it was. They couldn't tell you what the three initials stood for.
"But it is representative of things that they're unhappy with -- other people trying to take what they believe is theirs."
Antonia Maioni, a politics professor at McGill University in Montreal, said voters in Quebec don’t necessarily see it that way. The senior Trudeau’s legacy in Quebec is also mixed, she told CTV’s Canada AM, and his son is not viewed as a champion of the province.
“Mr. Trudeau’s (leadership) announcement was covered by the (Quebec) media, but it certainly wasn’t the wall-to-wall coverage that it seems to be garnering outside of Quebec,” Maioni said.
“It is interesting to hear that Mr. Trudeau is considered Montreal-centric because he is not really seen as a Quebec candidate in the sense of standing up for Quebec interests, or being a voice for Quebec in federal politics. At least, not yet.”
Anne McLellan, a former Liberal MP in Edmonton during Paul Martin’s tenure, said Justin Trudeau will be ready for the challenge that faces him in the West. She noted that Trudeau’s mother has roots in B.C., and his maternal grandfather was a long-standing MP in the province.
"He's not unaware of the fact the name Trudeau is both a liability and an asset in Western Canada. He's lived with that for 40 years," McLellan told The Canadian Press.
Trudeau is scheduled to appear at a rally in Mississauga, Ont., Thursday evening.