“I know Justin. He doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing. This guy is an empty trust-fund millionaire who has the political depth of a finger bowl. He can’t read a briefing note longer than a cocktail napkin.”
The critic was Jason Kenney, leader of Alberta’s United Conservative Party, in an interview with the Calgary Sun in May.
Kenney’s is an extreme view, but with the UCP heavily favoured to oust the Trudeau-friendly NDP government of Rachel Notley in the provincial election next May, his bitchy words are a warning of foul weather ahead.
The political climate of the nation has changed dramatically – on both domestic and trans-border fronts – since his “sunny ways” carried Trudeau and his Liberals to a majority government in the fall of 2015.
Back then, Trudeau and Barack Obama were soulmates and Donald Trump was a bad joke on the fringes of presidential politics. Back then, Liberals dominated Canada’s provincial map; Kenney was simply a former federal cabinet minister while Doug Ford was unknown beyond Toronto City Hall.
The new reality was reflected in last week’s cabinet shuffle in Ottawa. The prime minister opened a new front in the trade war with the Trump administration by taking one of his more effective ministers, Jim Carr, and moving him from natural resource to a new position as Minister of International Trade Diversification. Carr’s job is to lessen dependence on trade with the United States by finding new partners and expanding trade with existing ones.
It’s back to the future for the Liberals, back to 1972 when another Trudeau was prime minister and another Republican, Richard Nixon, was president. After conducting a review of Canada’s foreign policy, the Pierre Trudeau government adopted with fanfare what it called the “Third Option.”
Canada, according to the new policy, would continue to live in harmony with – but greater independence from – the United States, and a “contractual link” would be established with the countries of the European Community.
The “Third Opinion” did not make a dent in the Canadian-American relationship and it faded after 1976 when Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, became president. The same sad fate awaits Carr and his efforts at trade diversification. No amount of shadow boxing by the Liberals can change the pervasive reality of a next-door customer who buys three-quarters of our exports.
On the home front, there was a bit of good news for Trudeau last week. It came from the Council of the Federation, the summer gathering of provincial premiers, held this year in Saint Andrews, N.B.
It was Doug Ford’s first such gathering, and his inexperience on the national stage was quickly exposed. He went to Saint Andrews determined to forge a united front of premiers to fight the federal government’s impending carbon tax in court.
He failed. He went into the meeting with one ally, Scott Moe, the right-wing premier of Saskatchewan, and left with the same one ally. The other leaders agreed with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister that there was no point in wasting money on a legal fight that could not be won.
Ford also learned that the rest of the provinces will not roll over obediently – on issues such as contributing to the costs of refugee resettlement – when Ontario speaks. It’s probably in part due to Ford’s blustering, bullying style. It does not play well among other premiers, and I suspect they take some pleasure in Ontario’s new outlier status.
None of this will make life any easier, calmer or sunnier for Trudeau in the 15 months remaining before the 2019 federal election. Ford and Ontario aside, he may well face in Quebec a new Coalition Avenir Québec government that would like nothing better than to revive the old language wars, reduce the number of new immigrants, and establish “100 per cent francization” of migrants already in the province.
Finally, of course, there is Jason Kenney who treats politics as personal warfare. Trudeau had better get his elbows up.