Trudeau and McKenna are the ones endangering unity, not the premiers

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If the Liberals were truly worried about unbridled partisanship putting the nation at risk, they wouldn’t be doing it themselves

The federal government’s rejection of many of the Senate’s proposed amendments to Bill C-69, which would overhaul how Canada approves energy projects, is disappointing but not surprising. The Liberals did not introduce C-69 in a rush or in ignorance; the anger expressed by many in the energy industry and in the Western provinces was so intense precisely because they knew the Liberals meant what they were proposing. Expert after expert warned the Liberals that C-69, as first written, would derail major energy projects in Canada by blowing up established, understood procedures and precedents for project approvals. Those skeptical of the Liberals’ good will have no doubt wondered if the prime minister sees that as more a feature than a bug.

But the prime minister and his environment minister are not the only people with a say in the matter. The Senate took the bill to the proverbial woodshed and sent it back to the House with almost 200 amendments. It’s not a shock that the Liberals would be unhappy with that, and would reject many of them. The government has said it will accept, in whole or in part, almost 100 of the Senate’s amendments, but will reject the remainder, including the ones that resource-dependent provinces and industry groups had considered the most vital to fixing the worst of the bill.

This was foreseeable. What is surprising, and alarming, is how Justin Trudeau and his government are rejecting them — in the most inflammatory way possible.

Bill C-69, and the similar Bill C-48, the so-called “B.C. tanker ban,” which would prevent tankers from exporting Alberta’s oil from northern B.C. (but not other oil shipments) have understandably infuriated a significant portion of the Canadian public. Canadian energy has become a controversial issue in recent years, thanks largely to the ceaseless efforts of anti-oil activists, many of them foreign-based or foreign-funded, in vilifying it. There are also many forceful arguments in favour of its continued development in our national interest. Environmental sustainability and improving relations with Indigenous communities are something Canadians aspire to, yet Alberta’s energy exports are important to the province and also to the country. The debate is heated precisely because of how weighty the issues are, and because of the natural tensions between competing priorities. But properly balancing these interests is what living in a federation means. Dealing with such matters should not be beyond the ability of a government that truly puts country ahead of party.

If Trudeau and his government could at least claim that they were doing so (even if not everyone believed it), they’d at least be putting in the bare minimum effort to pretend that they view these issues as complicated but important public policy matters.

But they can’t quite bear to do the work of selling that pleasant fiction. Earlier this week, the prime minister — twice! — dismissed a letter from six premiers representing populations as regionally diverse as the Northwest Territories, Ontario and New Brunswick, that urged his government to accept the Senate’s C-69 amendments. He framed it all as some form of right-wing conspiracy. It’s true that five of the six signatories were conservative premiers (the Northwest Territory’s Bob McLeod has no partisan affiliation). But then, most provinces currently have conservative governments. It’s worth noting, as well, that the provincial premiers were not demanding anything that a majority of the Senate, including a good number of nominal independents appointed by this very prime minister, had not already recommended.


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