Veteran Liberal cabinet minister Ralph Goodale says the government has a big challenge ahead tackling climate change while also addressing the alienation resonating in Western Canada.
Goodale spoke to reporters Thursday ahead of the first Liberal caucus meeting since the election last month in which he lost his Regina-Wascana seat to a Conservative challenger.
It was one of two major surprise defeats that hit main frontrunners in the race — the Tories also lost veteran MP and cabinet minister Lisa Raitt from the Greater Toronto Area riding of Milton to Liberal Adam Van Koeverden.
WATCH: Liberal caucus meets for first time since federal election
When asked why he thinks he lost, Goodale raised the issue of Western economic anxiety.
“It will take some time to sort through all of that detail but people were obviously concerned about economic uncertainty,” he said.
“That is the issue that was raising the anxiety level across Western Canada and it will be very important for the government to provide the necessary reassurance with respect to economic security prosperity and growth.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won his first election campaign in 2015 on a pledge to toughen environmental protections while also developing the Canadian economy and later approved — and purchased — the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion after its private sector owner abandoned the project.
The project had been mired in regulatory delays and became the target of opponents to further development to the oilsands in Alberta. The province has an unemployment rate above the national average and has been grappling for years with the lingering effects of the steep drop in the price of oil in 2014.
Trudeau promised in the 2019 campaign to go further and has repeatedly insisted that the “environment and economy must go hand in hand.”
But the question is, can they?
“There’s a very challenging circle to square,” Goodale said when asked that same question by reporters.
“A majority of Canadians on election night voted very clearly for the completion of the Trans Mountain expansion. A very strong majority of Canadians also voted for more vigorous ambition with respect to climate change and finding ways to bring all of that together.”
Pressed again on whether it is really possible to pursue tougher environmental protections while also also addressing Western alienation, Goodale was blunt.
“We have to demonstrate that it is. Yes.”
Trudeau and the Liberals were returned to government but with a reduced minority compared to the majority they won in 2015.
However, the election last month resulted in the party being entirely locked out of Alberta and Saskatchewan. That means Trudeau has no members of Parliament from his party that he can include in his cabinet to provide a voice from either of those provinces.
Since the election, Trudeau has continued to face questions about how he plans to ensure a voice for the West around his cabinet table and in his government more broadly, given the rejection of his party by voters in those provinces.
He used his first speech to media since the election to say that he hears the anger and alienation of those in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“Albertans and people in Saskatchewan have faced very difficult years over these past few years because of global commodity prices, because of challenges they’re facing, that for a long time they weren’t able to get their resources to markets other than the United States,” he said in that speech on Oct. 23.
“We are moving forward to solve some of those challenges but it’s going to take all Canadians sticking together, helping out folks who are struggling in places like Alberta and Saskatchewan. This is what Canadians expect of their government.”
Days later, Trudeau tapped former Edmonton Liberal MP and cabinet minister Anne McLellan to join his transition team in what was widely viewed as a nod to Alberta while also naming a prominent Quebec business leader and Canada’s current ambassador to France, Isabelle Hudon, to that team beside her.
Goodale says Trudeau is taking seriously the need to reach out to Western Canadians and has been doing so.
But he gave few hints about what comes next for himself — or whether he thinks he can play a role in being a voice for the West in his party.
“I’ve always been very anxious to help the process in any way that I can. Sometimes as a member of Parliament, sometimes not,” he said.
“We’ll see what the future holds but right now I’m focusing on making sure the transition from minister to private citizen goes smoothly, that my staff are properly dealt with, that all files are properly signed off. I’m focused on that right now.”