Are the Trudeau Liberals Preparing to Play Chicken with Jason Kenney?

Are the Trudeau Liberals about to engage in a high stakes game of chicken to call Jason Kenney’s bluff on the TMX pipeline and his support for climate action?

One of the clear mandates that the Trudeau government has been focused on is climate action, implementing a national backstop price on carbon that has been kicking in for province’s who have chosen not to implement their own “acceptable” pricing programs for pollution.

Subject to court challenges, this is the same treatment that Alberta can expect to face when Premier-designate Kenney takes office and repeals the Climate Leadership Plan in just over a month. Kenney seems to be ok with this though, having stated in an interview on CTV that the Trudeau plan is better than the Notley plan for consumers.

The certainty around approval and construction of the TMX project seems to be a lot less certain though since Kenney’s election. Natural Resources minister Amarjeet Sohi pushed back the timeline for the wrap up of Indigenous consultations to June 18th, a move that Kenney was supportive of when it was announced last week, saying that it was best to get it right this time and dot all I’s and cross all T’s, lest a third reset be required.

But, this week, Sohi has been quoted as saying that while he doesn’t expect the June 18thtimeline to be pushed back any further, he now cannot guarantee that the federal cabinet is going to approve the project before the fall election.

No guarantee of decision on Trans Mountain pipeline before federal election: Sohi

Now rumours are also swirling that the Trudeau government is being urged to and pondering the threat of cancelling the TMX project altogether over Kenney’s planned removal of an emissions cap and the Climate Leadership Plan.

These rumours were lent some credence when former Liberal national director Jamie Carroll wrote about the idea in a blog post.

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As much as Kenney has profited off an adversarial relationship with the Trudeau government in Alberta, could Trudeau utilize the same playbook to profit off an adversarial relationship with Alberta in the rest of Canada?

It’s certainly a bold strategy that could play very well in Quebec and British Columbia which have been the antagonists to Alberta energy for the better part of Trudeau’s term.

With few provincial allies left and the likelihood of a Maritime sweep being nil, Trudeau may just be up to the strategic play, but it’s also fraught with risk considering it would be a $4.5 billion gamble on the taxpayer’s dime.

Recent Ipsos polling, as well as Notley’s own communications, suggest that the majority of Canadians, including in British Columbia and Quebec now support the expansion of the TMX.

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With little incentive (or likelihood) to gain votes in Alberta, and criticism coming from progressive supporters that climate advocates don’t expand non-renewable energy infrastructure, Trudeau may just be pushed into taking a side with environmentalists that could capitalize on an organizationally weak NDP, eating at their base and giving them the boost they need to govern beyond one term.

The risks of triggering a national crisis driven by Western alienation, particularly in energy-rich Alberta and Saskatchewan, could give birth to a vigorous separatist movement that I have no uncertainty would be far more efficient than the national unity crisis we saw in the 2oth century.

When politicians are in desperate situations, they make decisions that don’t always consider all the unintended consequences. Being cornered and desperately looking to change the channel from SNC Lavalin, Trudeau may just be prepared to do battle with Kenney to try and look like a progressive climate hero.

For our bank accounts and the unity of our country, let’s hope this is a game of chicken that doesn’t end up in everyone losing.

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