Don Martin: Does Trudeau love all of Canada? That's a good question now.
OTTAWA -- Midway through the 2008 federal election campaign, a mischievous reporter decided he’d had enough of boring news conferences and asked Conservative Leader Stephen Harper if he loved Canada.
It was more about getting a rise out of the notoriously unflappable Harper and, if memory serves, the leader’s glare of an answer didn’t exactly prove he had a pulse.
But on two fronts - one symbolic, one substantive - it wouldn’t be quite so outlandish to ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that same question today.
First the symbolism: The prime minister’s half-masted flag-flap has gone from empathetic gesture reflecting widespread sympathy for young Indigenous victims who didn’t survive residential school horrors to inducing fed-up antagonism in some quarters and triggering a polarized political debate.
The rest of the democratic world must be slack-jawed to see a Canada where the raging debate of the political moment is whether to briefly raise the nation’s flag after six months at half-mast only to lower it again for Remembrance Day. All this while we wait for permanent flag-raising approval from Indigenous leaders who don’t seem to have a clear position on how and when to end this unprecedented display of Canadian self-shaming.
But, now that I’ve got that vent out of my system, this isn’t the only red flag signal of Trudeau dividing Canada against itself.
His exchange of velvet gloves for brass knuckles by imposing a hard cap on Alberta oil emissions makes one wonder if the most accurate headline would be "Canada Declares War Against Canada."
Nobody can claim with a straight face that the oilsands are anything but blight on Canada’s environmental record and in need of a continued clean-up.
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But Trudeau’s single-minded takedown of oilsands production is like banning Christmas tree sales so he can start delivering on his three-year-old pledge to expand our forests by two billion trees, a promise that has yet to take root.
Canada’s oil emissions problem isn’t domestic production as much as internal combustion.
If we could reduce emissions to zero by shutting down the oilsands, 80 per cent of Canada’s emissions would still be belched out by burning imported oil in cars and trucks. The only tangible result would be the loss of almost half a million direct or indirect Canadian jobs and about $10 billion in government revenue.
It’s tempted to suggest Trudeau also impose a production cap on cars and trucks being built in Ontario, but that would produce an equally-futile net-zero change in our behaviour beyond driving only imported cars.
So we’re left with a Trudeau attack on domestic oil that is counterbalanced by an equal and opposite benefit for foreign oil exporters like Saudi Arabia.
Again, there’s no disputing that the oilsands need political arm-twisting to throttle down its smokestacks.
But no lesser authority than the federal government’s own website gives the oilsands a nod for getting emissions per barrel down almost a third from its peak.
That’s where Trudeau’s economic re-engineering thrust should be focussed, be it actively supporting small modular nuclear reactors to power the oilsands or ramping up the massive potential of hydrogen, which got a multi-billion-dollar Edmonton investment from Air Products Canada last summer.
Trudeau surely knows it’s pointless in the grand global scheme of things to block the tailpipe of a Canadian economic engine like the oilsands, which generates 0.1 of global emissions, when China belches out more greenhouse gases than the rest of the developed world combined and doesn’t even show up for the COP 26 conference.
But he did it anyway, a Jean Chretien repeat of Kyoto in 1997 when the former prime minister caught provinces by surprise with a hard pledge to cut emissions which, his top adviser later admitted to knowing, was just signing-symbolism and not an achievable goal.
To see Trudeau, now "dean" of the G7, delivering another hot-air promise for just-watch-me attention from other world leaders has all the elements of Chretien history repeating itself.
For keeping our proud flag half-masted long after an important point has been made and for vowing to smother Alberta oil production which will be needed for decades to come, the question is now worth asking: Does Justin Trudeau love all of Canada?
That’s the bottom line.