Chairman's Desk

Justin Trudeau’s fortunes have changed as provincial Liberal allies fall

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks at the political landscape across the country, he must be reminded of just how true is the political axiom that time is your enemy.

When he won a majority mandate just two years ago, the country was in the midst of what could best be described as a love affair with the Liberal Party. Governing in seven provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, the prime minister saw friendly, ideologically aligned colleagues virtually everywhere he looked.

What’s more, things were about to get better. Two more Progressive Conservative governments would soon fall in Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador.

And even if some of those provincial governments had only loose ties to their federal cousins, shared voter bases provided more than enough incentive for everyone to play nicely in the sandbox.

It allowed the federal government to move quickly with minimal pushback on a variety of policy issues. Notably, the government’s commitment to carbon pricing received only a murmur of dissent from the provinces. Issues that have caused great acrimony with provinces in the past, such as health care transfers and immigration levels, caused little more than a peep.

No one, it seems, was going to say boo to this mouse.

For many conservatives, it represented a nadir for the movement in this country. After all, try as he might, Brad Wall, the only right-leaning premier left, could only do so much.

How times do change.

Quebec’s election on Monday evening of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) became just the most recent example of a remarkable shift in Canadian politics over the last two years.

CAQ is now the newest party to come to power eager to fight with the federal government. CAQ is particularly concerned about immigration levels and the federal government’s lack of control over our border, but Premier-elect François Legault is also gearing up for a fight with the federal government over the use of religious garb in official governmental positions.

Other fronts have opened, too. Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives have joined a lawsuit with Saskatchewan to fight the federal carbon tax plan, a fight that Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has promised to join.

Just last week, the Progressive Conservatives, led by businessman Blaine Higgs, bested rising-star Liberal Premier Brian Gallant and his government in New Brunswick. Higgs, too, has complained of the federal government’s overreach on multiple issues and has vowed to fight the carbon tax.

And there is more to come.

Alberta’s leader of the United Conservative Party, and a former Trudeau foe in Ottawa, Jason Kenney, looks set to join the insurrection when the province’s election is held this coming spring.

And trouble doesn’t just lurk on the right: British Columbia elected a New Democratic government last year that has fought with the federal government over the establishment of a pipeline in the province.

It is an ominous scene for a federal government that has prided itself on calming rocky provincial-federal relationships. For a government that has branded itself as a unifying one, it is a new world to have so many fronts open on so many key battlegrounds.

So far, the federal government has done little to tamp down the fight. Premier Ford, in particular, seems to enjoy fighting the federal government on any number of fronts: from the carbon tax to refugee politics to Toronto City Council, the premier seems happy to thumb his nose at a government he sees as deeply out-of-touch with Ontarians.

Ford will soon be joined by Kenney, who is a savvy political operator with a bone to pick with the prime minister. The two together will cause headaches for Trudeau in the run-up to his re-election campaign.

While the other premiers will perhaps not be so bold or so loud, they have indicated that they are far more willing than their recent predecessors to stand with the bucking provincial governments than with Ottawa.

Perhaps, in their own funny way, they are uniters after all.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on October 7, 2018.

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