Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has not shied away from talking about his goal of repealing the federal price on pollution, commonly referred to as the carbon tax.
The Regina MP has made scrapping the tax a central promise in his first campaign as opposition leader. However, even if the Conservatives hold the most seats in parliament once all the votes are counted on Oct. 21, he may not be able to strike down the carbon tax.
Political scientist Duane Bratt does not see a scenario in which the other major parties would allow it in a Conservative-led minority government.
“I think in a minority situation parties can work together, but not on the carbon tax. It’s only Scheer and I guess if you want to count Maxime Bernier of the major parties that oppose the carbon tax,” the Mount Royal University professor said.
“Every other party supports it. In fact, the Liberals and NDP want to make it stronger — not dismantle it. I can’t see how Scheer could get rid of the carbon tax unless he forms a majority government.”
In Bratt’s view, the Conservatives could maybe find an ally in the Bloc Quebecois if they frame it around provincial sovereignty.
It’s this difference of views that has former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall seeing a Conservative-led minority government as highly unlikely. Wall said even if the Conservatives win the most seats, a Liberal government would likely be propped up by the NDP or Greens in a minority situation.
In the event of a Conservative minority, Wall said the risk of increasing western alienation is heightened.
“If, for whatever reason, that change in policy doesn’t come, I’m worried about western alienation. I’m worried about western alienation building into the next step,” Wall said.
“Not just alienation, but people asking themselves, what other options are there? Do we have other options in the west?”
Wall added this is compounded by potential challenges in modifying or repealing Bills C-69 and C-48. The new rules for approving industrial projects like pipelines and restricting oil tanker traffic on B.C.’s northern coast have drawn the ire of Alberta and Saskatchewan’s premiers.
Bratt shares the same worry, especially with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and his cabinet ministers actively campaigning for the federal Conservatives.
“What does it do, in fact, if Scheer wins, but is unable to implement the things that they want? Not just on the carbon tax but Bill C-69 and Bill C-48 as well, that are supported by the NDP and supported by the Greens. It could be a very difficult situation in the federation,” he said.
In this early stage of the campaign, the federal leaders have mostly been focused on the battlegrounds of Ontario and Quebec.
The polls show the Liberals and Conservatives are neck and neck, with the latest seat projection from 338 Canada giving the Liberals the edge. This has Wall hoping the federal leaders take the spectre of western alienation seriously.
“That is a back issue in this election campaign that may get more attention as we go forward. I hope it does,” Wall said.
“Whoever the government is, if there’s no change in policy, Western Canadians are going to ask some big questions about the future.”