Trudeau Faces Divided Canada, New Challenges In Second Term
A controversial pipeline, reinvigorated Quebec nationalism and a growing rift with western prairie provinces: voters gave Justin Trudeau a second term in office but with a weakened minority government that will face immediate challenges.
Increased oil exports
The Liberals’s nationalization last year of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project to prevent its collapse under legal challenges and protests has been panned by the eco-friendly wing of the party that sees it as contrary to efforts to curb CO2 emissions.
Canada’s oil sector is the fourth largest in the world, but has struggled under low prices and a lack of oil conduits to new markets. And oil proponents say Trans Mountain, purchased by Ottawa for Can$4.5 billion, would greatly help ease transportation clots.
In order to stay in office, Trudeau will need to form alliances with smaller parties such as the New Democrats (NDP), but they have come out strongly opposed to the project, putting its future in doubt.
“On Trans Mountain, perhaps both sides will have to put water in their wine,” said McGill University politics professor Daniel Beland.
Trudeau must navigate how to “get along with the NDP without taking his centrist party too far to the left.”
Beland noted that the Liberals have governed for much of the past 152 years since Confederation “because it is a party that is pragmatic, flexible.”
A nation deeply divided
Monday night, the Liberal’s small beachhead in the western prairie provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan was completely wiped out, with Conservatives claiming all 48 seats but one in Edmonton that went to the NDP.
The Conservative premiers of these two provinces are openly hostile to Trudeau and his climate policies, and his win Monday has led to talk of landlocked Alberta splitting from the rest of Canada to go it alone.
“It will be difficult to put together a cabinet without any representation from Alberta,” an oil-rich province that’s the fourth most-populous in the nation, Beland said.
“The Liberals are going to have to work with the NDP, which means they will have to track to the left” and take an even tougher stance on the oil sector to accommodate the NDP, he said. “That’s not good news for Albertans and people in Saskatchewan who are already unhappy with Trudeau’s carbon tax.”
Cancelling the Trans Mountain expansion to appease the NDP “would create a huge backlash in these two provinces” and exacerbate regional tensions, he said.
At the same time, moving ahead with the project could make an alliance with the NDP tricky.
The down-and-out separatist Bloc Quebec, led by charismatic Yves-Francois Blanchet, scored a big comeback on Monday, tripling its seat count in parliament to 32. It went from having previously lost official party status in parliament to being the nation’s third-largest party, despite having only fielded candidates in Quebec province.
The Bloc and Trudeau’s Liberals are at odds over a new secularism law in Quebec that prohibits some public servants from wearing religious symbols such as veils or turbans.
It is hugely popular in Quebec, but seen in the rest of Canada as an affront to individual rights and freedoms.
Trudeau is a strong proponent of multiculturalism and has said he would consider fighting the law, depending on the outcome of court challenges brought by individuals and groups in Quebec. The bloc has urged against federal intervention.