Braid: As Trudeau Liberals near-death experience deepens, they race around in vain hunt for allies

Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault is now losing support from the public, provincial governments that once were at least neutral, and, crucially, the powerful climate action lobby

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Chickens with their heads cut off run around in circles. In politics, the federal Liberals are starting to exhibit this post-mortem behaviour.

Their electoral chances are as good as dead, and their head, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, seems only tenuously attached to his party.

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Still, they dash around crazily, patching this and launching that, all while sticking to their unpopular policies, ministers and leader.

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Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault, the core cabinet fowl who said no new roads should be built in Canada, continues to press his climate extremism.

The result is political fiasco.

Alberta and Saskatchewan have always been bitterly opposed to many measures. But Guilbeault is now losing support from the public, provincial governments that once were at least neutral and, crucially, the powerful climate action lobby.

The disasters are self-inflicted. Trudeau and Guilbeault stuck to the carbon tax even after the policy’s disastrous deflation by the “carve out” for home heating oil, a benefit mainly to Atlantic Canada.

Their faux-tough response — nobody else gets that, dammit! — actually cost farmers a break that had been planned, but suddenly looked like another exemption.

The carbon tax, revealed as a purely political tool, is ripe for axing by a potential new leader like Mark Carney. Even New Democrats have argued that the tax should exit, stage left.

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Now, Guilbeault has introduced amendments to the Impact Assessment Act, allegedly bringing it into line with the Supreme Court ruling that found the law seriously intrudes on powers rightly belonging to the provinces.

Guilbeault has never acknowledged this was a defeat. He treats the ruling as a simple policy problem rather than a 5-2 thumping by judges not usually known for hostility to federal power grabs.

Alberta was predictably furious about the amendments. Premier Danielle Smith always said Guilbeault would make a gesture and proceed as usual, forcing yet another court challenge.

“When you look at the unconstitutionality of the first draft, you can’t just make tweaks and bring this in line with the Constitution,” says Rebecca Schulz, Alberta’s minister for environment and protected areas.

“That’s really the issue here. Minister Guilbeault still has the ability to involve himself in projects that are within provincial jurisdiction.

“In the end, this piece of legislation remains unconstitutional. We are going to be taking this back to court and I’m confident in our position, because their changes don’t actually address the issues that we’ve raised.”

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Rebecca Schulz
Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Protected Areas Rebecca Schulz said the Impact Assessment Act “remains unconstitutional.” Gavin Young/Postmedia

The trouble is, legal uncertainty causes still more delays in building crucial projects. Ottawa imposed a ban on designating new major projects after the court ruling. It has been in effect for seven months.

The Impact Assessment Agency, the powerful regulatory body that oversees all this, said in a statement: “No decisions to designate projects will be taken. Consideration of any new designation requests will only resume, as appropriate, once amended legislation is in force.”

Most striking is the fury from the climate action lobby toward Guilbeault’s amendments.

“Overall, the bill is a complete federal abdication to address proposed high-carbon projects such as in situ oil mines,” Steven Hazell, a retired environment lawyer and federal regulator told the National Observer, Canada’s best chronicler of climate stories and policy.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May said the government was “erring on the side of stupidity.” May sees the court decision as an opportunity to go further with legislation, not retreat to meet demands of provincial jurisdiction.

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She’s the politician who believes the country should be put under virtual martial law to deal with the climate emergency, with all power to Ottawa.

Elizabeth May
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. Bryan Passifiume/National Post/Postmedia Network

And those people are, more or less, the Liberals’ natural allies.

That’s where Trudeau and his crew have got themselves as they race around, trying to find a murky middle ground on everything from climate action to taxation and Israel’s war against Hamas (no major religious group in Canada now favours the Liberals, according to a new poll from the Angus Reid Institute).

Dumb clucks, dead ducks — pick your avian analogue.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

X: @DonBraid

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