by Tim Harper – Toronto Star
Justin Trudeau makes his most important domestic trip in his short life as prime minister this week when he heads to Alberta.
Prime ministerial visits are usually of the in-and-out variety. Trudeau will spend two days in Edmonton and Calgary, meeting with the oil industry and those providing social services in the province, then sit down with Premier Rachel Notley.
He must bring a lifeline.
He must do so to deal with the immediate economic imperative in the oilpatch, but he must also ensure that he is dealing with a strengthened, not a wounded, Notley, because the two need each other.
Trudeau has to help a province which shed more jobs last year than any time since the early 1980s and is enduring its highest unemployment rate in 20 years. There is more pain in store in 2016 for a province which drove better economic times in this country.
Trudeau can also show he is a leader for the entire country by reaching out to a province which was one of only two to give the back of its hand to the Liberals in last autumn’s election, sending only four MPs to Ottawa as part of a caucus of 184.
But just as importantly, if a pipeline is to be built to get Alberta’s oil to market, Notley needs Trudeau.
And Trudeau needs Notley.
Trudeau needs New Democrat Notley and the cover of her climate plan, a progressive plan for a resource jurisdiction that looks more progressive than it actually is when compared with what had gone before in Alberta.
Notley needs Trudeau to rebuild the trust in environmental regulations lost during the Stephen Harper years when pro-pipeline cheerleading and denigration of opponents resulted in one failure after another.
Under so-called interim regulations last week by the Trudeau Liberals, that means waiting a little longer for Notley. But it might be the price for success.
Ottawa has added another layer of scrutiny to pipeline projects over and above the hearings by the National Energy Board, adding consultations with indigenous peoples along any route and assessing project on the greenhouse gas emissions produced in the extraction and processing of the oil they propose to carry.
Final decisions will rest with the federal cabinet.
There are substantial hurdles ahead, however. The gap between global emissions goals Canada committed to in Paris and the reality in this country remains huge, even with an Alberta plan that does not really bend the carbon curve until 2030.
Trudeau has made climate change a priority, but the country is not on track to meet even the goals set by the previous Harper government which the Liberals had called their “floor.”
But the trust game works both ways, and Trudeau has to convince Albertans to trust him.
In the short term, Finance Minister Bill Morneau is dangling a $250-million stabilization fund for provinces enduring “extraordinarily difficult economic situations,” a figure that would be more symbolic than substantive given the size of the Alberta economy. He also could expedite infrastructure funding for projects in Alberta.
Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci has suggested Ottawa financial aid should arrive “in armoured cars.”
Conservative Alberta MPs here have unhelpfully painted Trudeau and his team as opponents of resource extraction – a perception Trudeau played to in Davos when he urged the world to look at the “resourcefulness” of Canadians, not just our resources – mocking him for choosing selfies over pipelines and demonizing him as deaf to Alberta’s needs.
One suspects Trudeau would like to get the Energy East pipeline built, after winning buy-in from aboriginals, environmentalists and communities along the route, a tall order to be sure – particularly in Quebec.
Notley acted responsibly by essentially leaving the status quo in a long-anticipated royalty review for the provincial oil industry, even if it repudiates years of party policy.
She says her Alberta message will be the same, whether she is talking to environmentalists in Toronto or a prime minister in Calgary.
“We won’t shout at or threaten Canadians in our principal markets,” she said.
But she said Alberta will clean up its own act and act as a good partner with Trudeau.
As long as Trudeau can point to her as an example of 2016 resource stewardship that looks forward, it will make it easier for the prime minister to build the trust he needs to approve Energy East.
A year ago, this would have fallen to Jim Prentice and Stephen Harper. We know their track record. If Energy East succeeds, it will be because Canadians see Notley and Trudeau as our future, two leaders who know resource extraction and the environment are inextricably intertwined.
They just might pull it off.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services