I know it’s a bit of a cliché for some to say, but honestly it’s an amazing time that we live in. Thanks to the technologies at our fingertips and everything that’s flowed from them, it’s really changed how we life, how we share and how we go about just about everything. One of those things that flowed is blogging and social media. When I started blogging for the first time back in 2007, I never imagined where it would lead me and where it would take me. I’ve gotten to experience some cool things and lived out some big dreams thanks to that first blog.
So after my time on Parliament Hill, I wanted to get back to writing and blogging. What can I say, I love it? It’s a chance to share, to give opinions and be a part of the greater conversation out there. For people exiting the political world, having these tools at our fingertips allows us the chance to keep those conversations going, impart our experience and knowledge and participate in a new way.
Over twenty years ago you’d need a friendly newspaper publisher out there to give you some column space every week, and there is only so much of that going around. But thanks to blogging, all we need to do is set up our own virtual shingle and off we go. So it is with that in mind I always like to read the views of people who have also worked on the Hill, had that political experience and to see what their take is. It was with that in mind that I saw a blog post yesterday that really piqued my interest. It makes a modest proposal of sorts, one that provoked a few thoughts from me. But being the Easter weekend, I decided to let it marinate a bit and hold off on replying to it tonight. So what is the piece in question? This one right here:
This piece was written by Jamie Carroll, who worked on Parliament Hill for many years and also spent some time as the national director of the Liberal Party of Canada. He’s someone whose opinions I don’t always agree with, but they are opinions that I respect. In this piece that he wrote, he has a simple thesis: The road to victory for the Trudeau Liberals involves killing the TransMountain Pipeline Expansion. You can read the piece for yourself but boiled down, the idea comes down to no longer having the allies to get the pipeline done with proper social licence (i.e.: no Carbon pricing from the provinces) and the Liberals major road to re-election going through Quebec and British Columbia, where the sentiment on the progressive side is strongly anti-TMX or new pipelines. So the proposal is to say “no new pipeline without carbon pricing”, trying to turn the tables back on the Conservatives.
Now I can’t say that this isn’t theoretically a bad idea; it’s true that after the Alberta Election the Trudeau government lost a lynch pin of support in Rachel Notley; Alberta’s by in on carbon pricing was extremely important. And after losing Quebec and possibility losing PEI tomorrow and depending on their election, losing Newfoundland and Labrador in May, the Liberals would only have one provincial government left in Nova Scotia; That’s a huge change from 2015 when there were seven Liberal governments at the provincial level.
And it’s also true that when it comes to the approval of TMX, it’s all in the Federal governments hands; that’s how our federation works, and this is their power to wield. Justin Trudeau could go to Jason Kenney and say “no pipeline without carbon pricing” and take that to the electorate in October. And yes maybe Kenney and crew blink and back down after losses in court, giving the PM a win. That could all work.
But I see major flaws with this as an electoral strategy and honestly just a strategy for governing. For starters, some have pointed out that this whole situation feels like 1972 over again, when Pierre Trudeau lost his majority, being reduced to a minority. Others have pointed out that Pierre wasn’t afraid to get into a good fight, especially if he felt it could be turned to his electoral advantage. Some have pointed to the repatriation of the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as such an example, in an approving way. And while I am glad we have the constitution and charter that we have today, I would just gently remind everyone that partially because of that political fight that constitution still only has the signature of nine provinces on it. In those fights the elder Trudeau may have won the day, but you could easily argue those fights made the “war” of governing the country all the harder in the long run.
Also I would point out that trying to play a game of chicken with this issue is seriously explosive if it all goes wrong or if even parts of it does. Sometimes in a family you need to just have it out like that, and the same is true with federations, but sometimes those fights can have very serious unintended consequences. Quebec’s signature not being on the Constitution is one such consequence, one that’s remained a fact for close to forty years now. So what might become the similar example for Alberta or Saskatchewan in this case? We won’t know until it comes but it’s good to keep history in mind.
And finally, there is one major sticky-wicket for this suggestion to work; it involves progressive Canadians, NDP and Green supporters, to forget about the Prime Ministers record over the past few years. It requires them to forget about the broken promises around electoral reform, around the purchase of said pipeline, all the political capital that this Liberal government has sunk into this project and yeah, then they also need to forget about the whole SNC/PMO scandal. That is a whole lot to over look based on what would amount to a single gesture and promise, right on the eve of an election when the Liberals need their votes the most.
It is a suggestion that would scream of cynicism and the politics of convenience at a time when the Liberals have themselves getting pulled down in the polls by the SNC/PMO scandal, a scandal that’s been all about old school cynicism. political convince and winning re-election over all else. Mr. Carroll correctly writes that this is far from the “Sunny ways” that the Liberals ran on last time, but I would rebut that by pointing out it was the sunny ways that set them apart last time. Those ways may be gone, but I would suggest that the solution to that problem isn’t doubling down on the same wedges you made your bones raging against.
So as a New Democrat, I would cheer the Liberals on to take this approach; not only do I believe that this approach simple won’t work, that the voters they would try to win with it will not be wooed by these siren calls and would end with giving massive amounts of oxygen and momentum to the New Democrats, who have been saying most of this all along. For the Orange Team the pitch would become much easier: vote for the real thing, rather than the “Johnny -Come-Latelies” pretenders. That would be a great position for the NDP to fight this campaign on.
But as a Canadian, with all due respect to Jamie (and I actually do have a lot of respect for him and his past work), I hope that the Liberals don’t take this advice or path. This might be a more politically expedient path, but it’s the wrong one for the country. Right now we have some serious issues to face, ones that will require creative solutions and outside the box thinking. They will require time and very hard work to arrive at them, and sadly those solutions don’t revolve around an electoral cycle. Going to political war with Alberta (and I would assume all Conservative Premiers in the country as a result) won’t bring any solutions, will not result in tackling the problem and could create unintended consequences that far outlive this Prime Minister and his government.
For me this all comes back to the quote that I keep at the top of this blog: “The greatest way to defend democracy is to make it work.” Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and right now that is the head of Justin Trudeau. While I appreciate the pressures of having to get re-elected, I believe there are limits to how far we bend to that pressure. In this case, I don’t think this proposal will practically work and I believe to try it could end with serious unintended consequences that could be any worse. Here’s to hoping that this advice goes unheeded, no matter how well respected the source is.