OTTAWA – The morning after former federal Conservative minister Jason Kenney led his UCP party to a majority election victory in Alberta, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau focused his message on the fight against climate change and the value of diversity.
Speaking to Liberal Party supporters in Waterloo, Ont., Trudeau did not address Tuesday night’s results—United Conservatives won 63 of 87 seats, with Rachel Notley’s NDP holding on to the other 24—and instead spoke about the choices voters will have to make in this year’s federal election.
The 28-day provincial campaign was closely watched by the federal political community for a multitude of reasons, from the new challenge Trudeau will face with another provincial foe, to the implications for the upcoming national campaign.
As Trudeau set it up, he sees the coming campaign to be about a choice between “let’s hunker down and hold on to the way things were as long as we possibly can,” versus saying “‘OK, challenges, the transforming world we’re facing is coming at us fast, let’s jump forward to meet it.’”
“The choice Canadians will be facing is one about striving forward confidently into the future and knowing that if we work together we can solve these big problems… we’ll do so if we manage to stay confident, optimistic and focused on being able to work together,” Trudeau said.
One of these “big problems” is climate change, which Trudeau named among the key issues he looks forward to working with Kenny on in his congratulatory message to the incoming premier. But the approach the two leaders have to environmental issues and aiding Alberta’s hurting energy sector are considerably different, and set to soon clash.
Kenney, who drove in front of his cheering crowd of supporters in a UCP-embellished blue pick-up truck Tuesday night, campaigned on making his first order of business the repealing of the NDP’s carbon tax and joining the pact of Conservative premiers who are taking the federal government to court over its climate change plan.
He’s also promised a referendum on equalization—a federal formula that was adopted by the Harper government he was once a top member of— to have Albertans weigh in on the future of the provincial transfer payments, tied to the progress of the Trans Mountain pipeline. And Kenney wants to set up a “war room” to fight against pipeline critics and take on various legal battles.
In contrast, Trudeau and the federal Liberal government have framed adopting more environmentally-friendly policies as an economic opportunity. Though, they have also been condemned by Indigenous and environmental stakeholders for spending billions to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline after being caught in the middle of Alberta and B.C. who were, and remain, at odds about the major energy project between the two provinces.
Wednesday, Trudeau defended his government’s approach of implementing a climate plan that includes imposing a federal price on carbon -- up to $50 per excess tonne by 2022, with a direct refund to residents -- in provinces that don’t implement a plan that suits the government’s criteria. The list of provinces this tax is being imposed in may soon include Alberta.
“The ability to look at this as an opportunity as well, to invest in the kinds of solutions we need is the other thing that I’m excited about in our path forward, and quite frankly those who are peddling the politics of fear or division don’t quite get,” Trudeau said.
'Go forward confidently or to hunker down in fear'
Wednesday morning, Trudeau also spoke at length about diversity being a source of strength, something he said the Waterloo community was emblematic of. While an oft-repeated Liberal message, it comes in contrast to some of the conversations that bubbled up during the Alberta campaign.
During the race Kenney was forced to confront some aspects of his 22-year-long record in Canadian politics, including his opposition to same-sex marriage, while having to defend the hateful and racists remarks some of his candidates made.
“When we look at the choice that the people are faced whether to go forward confidently or to hunker down in fear, it often hinges around that diversity element as well,” Trudeau told the crowd of party faithful. “Diversity is always a source of strength, of resilience, of richness, whether you’re talking about an organization, a neighbourhood, a city, or a country. That capacity to fold together different views… is something we’re going to need to draw on even more.”
Throughout his remarks Trudeau spoke of these two choices, putting his opponents in the category of being the choice for fear, though that’s something Trudeau’s main competitor, federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, has rejected.
He viewed the Alberta race—which was at times consumed by by name calling and personal attacks, prompting criticism of the Notley campaign’s approach—as a lesson for Trudeau’s team, who he thinks are not rising above the politics of fear he often speaks against.
“Negative and nasty personal attacks didn’t work in Alberta. And in October, Justin Trudeau will learn that they won’t work for him. Canadians will see through his fear and smear,” Scheer tweeted Tuesday night. This comment came just after Scheer posted that he’s keen to work with premier-designate Kenney to help get Albertans “back to work and back on track,” a message that the federal Conservative Party is embracing Canada-wide. In a new email to supporters, the party said Kenney’s victory is “the first step towards getting Canada back on track in 2019.”
“Now, we move on to Phase 2 of getting Canada back on track: defeating Justin Trudeau,” the fundraising message said.
With files from CTV News' Amanda Coletta and Brooklyn Neustaeter