Peter Watts: What will Trudeau do now?

At left, U.S. President Donald Trump. At right, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
At left, U.S. President Donald Trump. At right, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Reuters

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent Saturday in private meetings, according to the schedule released by his office.

I doubt that any of those meetings had to do with his family. He’s got the Trans Mountain file and the NAFTA file on his desk. He has the return of Parliament to the nation’s business coming up in a couple of weeks, and he has an agenda to present to the country at that time. And, of course, in the background to all of this is what he has to do to get himself re-elected in just over a year’s time.

The files on his desk each got a little bit more complicated this week. The Federal Court of Appeal decision to stop the Trans Mountain project came down on Thursday morning, just before shareholders of Kinder Morgan Canada voted 99 per cent in favour of selling the pipeline to the federal government for $4.5 billion.

Story continues below advertisement

By Friday, it became apparent that Canada and the United States are still not in agreement on how to revise the NAFTA treaty. Canada remains committed to supply management in parts of its agricultural sector. Given the importance of the dairy industry, especially in Quebec, and the need to keep that province politically happy between now and the fall of 2019, this will be a tough position to change. Canada also maintains that the dispute resolution mechanism must remain in place, something which the Americans oppose.

U.S. President Donald Trump has warned Congress not to interfere with his NAFTA plans or he will unilaterally cancel the deal. The president says he will sign a revamped deal in 90 days, with or without Canadian agreement. He also says there is no political necessity to include Canada in a deal after the U.S. and Mexico reached an agreement last Monday.

Commodity groups across Canada as well as Ontario’s auto sector are anxiously awaiting a new deal. As for Trans Mountain, the prime minister has to decide whether to appeal the unanimous decision of the Federal Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada — even though there is no guarantee the Supreme Court would hear an appeal — or he has to decide whether to begin the process of consultation with First Nations groups from the beginning.

Trudeau would also be required to look more closely at environmental concerns with respect to the potential for a spill in the waters off the west coast. That was something the Federal Court of Appeal identified as a weakness of the original approval, even though it was a matter beyond the purview of the National Energy Board.

Story continues below advertisement

There is also another option. As Alberta Sen. Doug Black told me on the weekend, the prime minister could recall Parliament and pass Black’s private member’s bill, which already has Senate approval. It would need additional language to say that Trans Mountain is in the national interest and must move forward. Such an action would apparently trump the Federal Court of Appeal decision, but it would take guts to do that and, politically, it would be taking a chance.

Then again, investing billions in taxpayer money on a project that now might not be built was taking a chance, wasn’t it?

So, you want to be prime minister some day, do you? How do you like the state of this reality show? In just over a year’s time, there’s a real chance Trudeau could hear Trump’s famous line from his own reality program: “You’re fired!”