Don Martin: Trudeau gambles against his partisan self-interest
Published Thursday, May 31, 2018 5:56PM EDT
I knew Peter Lougheed, having covered him as a much younger journalist.
Justin Trudeau is no Peter Lougheed.
Yet the prime minister invoked the iconic Alberta premier’s memory four times in one Question Period this week to justify his $4.5 billion Trans Mountain pipeline nationalization.
By way of a historical parallel, Lougheed’s government did invest in the fledgling oilsands and more.
The Progressive Conservative premier bought hundreds of railway cars to better connect with a west coast port where his government built its own grain terminals.
He even bought a regional airline because he didn’t believe Alberta was well served by larger carriers.
But Alberta in the 1970s had billions in surplus cash to do it, Lougheed had voters solidly behind him and he wasn’t acting against the wishes of another province.
Unfortunately for Trudeau, his government can’t afford it, the Trans Mountain buy has badly-fractured public opinion and he is steamrolling ahead over the objections of British Columbia with the third largest GDP in the country.
Even so, it’s interesting to extrapolate Lougheed’s fierce and fearless provincial protectionism to a prime minister who insists his costly defense of the national interest is no pipedream.
And it does open up the possibility that Trudeau is more than selfies and socks and may actually have some of that sterner stuff from his paternal DNA.
Love or loath him, Pierre Trudeau did it his way on multiple nation-defining fronts, including the dreadful National Energy Program, even when there wasn’t an electoral payoff.
Similarly, Justin Trudeau’s pipeline nationalization this week took a strong spine and defied electoral logic with less than 18 months before the vote.
It undoubtedly puts some of the 18 Liberal seats in British Columbia at considerable risk, particularly the hapless rookie Liberal representing the pipeline-terminating Burnaby riding. It may cost him support in Quebec, which takes a dim view of federal intrusions. And the party’s Atlantic Canada bedrock probably wonders why their Energy East pipeline didn’t get such exceptional Trudeau attention and financial support.
Meanwhile, it’s unlikely there’ll be any offsetting gain in his current three-seat Alberta holdings.
If there’s any consolation for Trudeau, it’s that he had Conservatives gulping protest against the purchase in the House, knowing in their hearts there probably wasn’t a realistic alternative to the buyout.
He’s a long way from being a Lougheed-calibre politician.
But having acted against his own partisan interests on a critical national file, perhaps Justin Trudeau can look in the mirror and see shadows of Pierre Trudeau looking back. Although being a mirror, particularly when it comes to reflecting Alberta’s interests, it’s a reverse image.
That’s the Last Word.