by Chantal Hebert
As British Columbians go to the polls today, government insiders on Parliament Hill and in the provincial capitals of the larger provinces mostly have their fingers crossed in hope of the re-election of the outgoing premier.
That starts with Justin Trudeau’s government.
Tuesday’s vote is the first electoral test – albeit by proxy – of the environment/energy balance the prime minister has been trying to achieve.
To claim some measure of success for that approach in the 2019 election, Trudeau ideally needs at least one pipeline to tidewater to come off the drawing board between now and then and a national consensus behind his plan to impose a floor price on carbon.
The fate of both could rest with B.C. voters. Last fall, the federal cabinet gave the green light to the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline. Liberal Premier Christy Clark belatedly came out in support of the project. Her main rival, NDP Leader John Horgan, is against it.
A New Democrat victory would bolster opposition to the pipeline project. It would also, in a domino effect, weaken Alberta’s NDP government.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has been a key Trudeau ally. Her support for his approach to climate change may be all that stands between his Liberal government and a divisive inter-regional battle over the federal carbon-pricing bid.
Notley has argued that a more proactive climate change mitigation agenda would pave the way to a social licence for the building of more pipelines to get Alberta oil to tidewater through provinces such as B.C. That has also been the rationale Trudeau has put forward both in opposition and in government.
The Alberta conservative opposition will have a field day with that narrative should Clark lose to Horgan. So will their federal cousins. With the exception of Ontario MP Michael Chong, the candidates for Stephen Harper’s succession oppose to various degrees the very notion of a carbon tax.
The B.C. election has divided the New Democrat family in a very public way. NDP MPs from the province have played a support role for Horgan on the campaign trail.
Notley, on the other hand, has instructed her caucus and the strategists associated with her government to steer clear of the NDP campaign.
If Horgan wins, it will be up to Thomas Mulcair’s successor to find a way to navigate between two opposing NDP premiers. Not everyone in the federal caucus finds that prospect alluring.
Notley is not cheering for her NDP counterpart.
Nor are the premiers of Ontario and Quebec.
With their own re-election campaigns on the horizon, Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne and Quebec’s Philippe Couillard have reasons to wish Clark well today.
TransCanada’s plan to transport Western Canada bitumen oil to the Atlantic coast via the Energy East pipeline does not have a lot of overt support in high places in Quebec. The pipeline issue has the potential to become a third rail of the province’s politics.
From Couillard’s perspective, any positive development on the pipeline front in B.C. stands to lessen pressure to get the Energy East project off the ground.
Clark is campaigning for a fifth consecutive Liberal mandate – as will Wynne next year. The B.C. premier went into the campaign dragging a lot of accumulated baggage. She was initially behind in the polls. By campaign’s end, some pollsters were describing the result as too close to call.
Wynne, who will have to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat to win the next Ontario election, could find some solace in a Clark win. She does need all the arguments she can get to bolster hope within her own ranks.
Trudeau has scrupulously kept his distance from the B.C. election, but he did give Clark an assist in the dying days of the campaign. Last month, the outgoing premier seized on the resumption of the softwood lumber war between Canada and the United States to promise to lead a charge against Donald Trump trade’s agenda.
In retaliation, she is calling for a federal ban on thermal coal shipments through B.C. ports. In a letter made public on Friday – on the eve of the last weekend before the vote – Trudeau wrote he would consider her request.
It is a rare B.C. election that causes the federal government to hold its breath as it awaits the result. Tuesday’s vote is one of those.
Chantal Hebert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
Copyright 2017-Torstar Syndication Services