Just over a week ago, Canadian political gossip was focused on a potential split of Canada’s dominant right-of-centre party.
The angry departure of Quebec MP Maxime Bernier from the Conservative Party of Canada made things a bit anxious for the party faithful that had convened in Halifax for a policy convention.
A poll was quickly done suggesting that a party led by Bernier might take as much as 13 per cent of the popular vote, most of it from the Tories, and, in doing so, guarantee Justin Trudeau’s Liberals electoral victories in 2019 and beyond.
That now seems a century ago.
The week that followed the Conservative convention in Halifax turned out to be easily the worst week the Trudeau Liberals have had in office.
On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto announced an agreement on the framework of a U.S.-Mexico free trade deal. Canada, kept away from the negotiations for weeks by its putative partners-in-trade, appeared to have been frozen out and Trudeau was wearing it.
Then the pipeline file blew up. Almost at the same time that Kinder Morgan shareholders were cheerfully approving the Trudeau government’s offer to take the Trans Mountain Pipeline off their hands for a cool $4.5 billion, the Federal Court of Appeal put a halt to the expansion of that pipeline, mostly for failing to meaningfully consult with affected First Nations.
The acquisition by any government of a multi-billion dollar asset that could be a white elephant is quite one thing. But the court’s commentary on the Trudeau government’s approach to dealing with First Nations was a searing indictment for a prime minister that had promised, time and again, that reconciliation with Indigenous peoples would be the central and defining theme of his government.
Hours after that whammy, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley lambasted the Trudeau government for dropping the ball on the pipeline file and withdrew her province from the federal national climate change plan. Another signature initiative of the Trudeau government was in tatters.
Trudeau’s terrible week ended with NAFTA talks at a standstill. And though, in Donald Trump, he has been dealt the most difficult of partners with whom to negotiate a new trade deal, it will be hard for Trudeau to avoid taking the heat for any economic harm that comes Canada’s way because of the fractured and fractious trade relationship with the United States.
Even if NAFTA survives the week ahead, Trump’s illegal tariffs on Canadian steel, aluminum, softwood, and commuter jets from Bombardier continue to cause harm to the Canadian economy.
In just over a week from now, Trudeau will meet his caucus in Saskatoon, a two-day retreat ahead of the fall Parliamentary sitting.
Liberal MPs may take note that, after three years in power, there have been few significant accomplishments. Trudeau’s cabinet are routinely dispatched around the country, as social development minister Jean-Yves Duclos was late last month, to brag about the enriched Canada Child Benefit. But will there be boasting about the pending legalization of recreational cannabis? And beyond, what else is there?
I suspect the message Trudeau will hear from several of his own MPs when they meet in Saskatoon is that to get re-elected next year, they will need to put much more than that in front of voters.