In my first column following the election, I want to start by saying how honoured I am to remain the Member of Parliament for Durham and how much I appreciate the support of my community. Thank you. Whether I earned your vote, or whether you voted for someone else, I pledge to work hard to serve everyone in our community. I also pledge to be an informed and respectful national voice for our community and the issues impacting our country. Canada is an incredible country and is the envy of the world, but as citizens we must constantly recommit ourselves to its ideals and its great promise.
“We are a great country and shall become one of the greatest in the universe if we preserve it; we shall sink into insignificance and adversity if we suffer it to be broken.”
This quote from Sir John A. Macdonald is my favourite because he was being both aspirational and cautionary about the country he helped create. Sir John saw the tremendous potential of Confederation, but he also recognized that challenges would be ever present because the country was forged from very different constituent parts. Vast and challenging geography coupled with the diverse Indigenous, linguistic, cultural origins of its peoples meant that the federation of Canada held unbridled promise and immense challenges for the government. The first Prime Minister of Canada knew that preservation of this great new country would be the central task of its leaders and this is still true today.
Our geography is still incredible to consider. Canada is the 2nd largest country in the world bordered by three oceans and the great lakes, but we rank almost last (222nd) in population density and have 90% of our population living within 100 miles of the U.S. border. We are home to hundreds of different Indigenous, Inuit and Metis communities across the country, and while many have treaty relationships that pre-date Canada, others are still negotiating land claim agreements over a century and a half later. Canada was a federation of smaller colonies with mixed English and French histories, so they have the languages, cultures and legal traditions of both founding nations woven into our history and constitution. Sir John A knew that the richness of these challenges presented great opportunity, but also potential pitfalls to national unity. This is why he made preservation of unity his clarion call.
This history lesson is important because confidence in our federation has been eroding in the last number of years and we must seek to understand the reasons why. Alberta and Saskatchewan have been frustrated by actions of the federal government that they believe have undermined their economic progress. They feel that the economic success of the west has been shared with the entire country over several decades through royalties, jobs and equalization payments, but that the federal government has been absent when the west needed them most. The global downturn in resource prices and subsequent regulatory changes from the Trudeau government created a crisis in confidence as billions in capital investment left Canada and their boom turned into a prolonged bust. Direct job losses in Alberta have been in the 50,000 range with tens of thousands more lost from the trickle-down impacts. To put it in perspective, the country was gripped by the prospect of 3,000 jobs being lost at GM Oshawa in our area, but this represents a fraction of what Albertans have been witnessing almost every month for the last few years. They all know family or friends who have lost their jobs. The losses have been deep and very real.
Perhaps even more troubling than the erosion is confidence in the federation has been the condescension from many national voices who have dismissed western concerns without even trying to understand them. Some even accuse western politicians of fabricating or exacerbating this crisis of confidence and that is undermining an important national dialogue that needs to take place. Therefore, I intend to use my platform to attempt to bridge these differences, build understanding and push for plans to help alleviate concerns and preserve our great country. Are the central frustrations of the west valid? Yes, they are. I will briefly explain their origin.
Canada and its resource producing provinces lose billions of dollars each year because there is a discounted rate paid for Canadian oil. This discount stems from the fact that we can only trade our resource with a single customer (the US) and a pipeline to tide water is needed to access global markets and the global price. When Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister, there were three such tidewater pipelines in various stages of regulatory approval. Energy East, Northern Gateway and the Trans-Mountain Expansion (TMX). TMX included an existing older pipeline and the plan to build a twin pipeline. At the end of his first year as Prime Minister in a move that was purely political, Trudeau cancelled the Northern Gateway pipeline. The following year, Trans Canada Pipelines abandoned the Energy East line because of Bill C-69 brought forward by the Trudeau government. The following year, when the owner of TMX was looking to exit the Canadian market because of uncertainties (largely caused by the Liberal government), Trudeau bought the TMX pipeline for $4.5 Billion. In three years, he had painted himself into a corner by directly and indirectly killing two projects and was forced to overpay by a billion dollars to salvage the third and final line. Since that time – May 2018 – not a single shovel worth of work has been done on the TMX line and many people in the west have lost faith in the Trudeau government. Understandably in my view, many in the west do not believe the person that helped cause or deepen the present crisis is going to be the one to set things on a course to resolution.
As I have said in many speeches and columns over the last few years, the success of one province or one part of our country should be celebrated as a success for all. We all benefit in our federation, so we all need to commit ourselves to helping one another overcome challenges. I know that we can meet our climate change targets without pitting one part of the country against another. I know that we can balance resource jobs alongside new areas of growth in the knowledge economy. Economic growth, opportunity and job creation in Canada should not be viewed as a zero-sum game where we end resource jobs for magical “green jobs” that are often just buzzwords from this government. It is possible to do both and bring our ingenuity to mitigate against some of the environmental impacts of the resource economy. This has already happened and Canadian companies are known as innovators.
Preservation of this great country is the responsibility of all Canadians and it starts with listening, mutual respect for our economic diversity and a commitment to trying to understand frustrations rather than dismiss them. I truly hope that Prime Minister Trudeau rises to this challenge. He should start by taking a lesson from Sir John himself.