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TMX gets the nod from Justin Trudeau's cabinet -- masterstroke or master blunder?

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Prime Minister Trudeau speaks with journalists during a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa. Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

With his cabinet's second approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has either proved the Liberal Party of Canada's old mojo is still intact or blown it all to smithereens.

It's too soon to tell.

Alberta Conservatives and their legion of media cheerleaders obviously feared the first explanation was the truth, that Trudeau had somehow found the magic middle on this contentious issue and voters throughout the land would soon be flocking back to his side.

Why else would they be so cranky about an outcome that should have been easy for them to portray as a huge victory for their side?

Rather than celebrate, the Conservative commentariat spent the afternoon carping and moaning that Trudeau didn't really mean it (a patently false narrative), that he didn't go far enough and drop other legislation they don't like (an argument you can make, I guess, but so what?), or that he didn't look cheerful enough at his news conference in Ottawa.

The latter point is just pathetic. What was the prime minister supposed to do? Dance a jig? If he'd done that, these nabobs of negativity would have complained he was nothing but a flaky drama teacher!

The general tone was set by the Calgary Herald's Don Braid, who had the cheek to publish his attack on the prime minister for doing what the columnist had demanded before the decision had even been announced. "Ottawa won't deserve Alberta's thanks for pipeline OK," barked the headline, neatly summarizing this province's inevitably ungracious reaction to anything Trudeau does.

But the idea yesterday's decision was a strategic masterstroke by the Liberals, long faces and all, is based on the assumption there is a middle left in Canada, and that we're not becoming as polarized as Donald Trump's America thanks to the efforts of those now-worried conservative bloviators.

It certainly assumes that no one is paying any attention any more to what Trudeau said the last time his cabinet approved the TMX, back on November 29, 2016 -- to wit, that "we could not have approved this project without the leadership of Premier (Rachel) Notley and Alberta's climate leadership plan."

"We said that major pipelines could only get built if we had a price on carbon and strong environmental protection in place," Trudeau said then. His assembled cabinet ministers that day, then including Jody Wilson-Reybould, didn't look all that cheerful either, whatever that meant.

For those who do remember such things, this would suggest that Liberal talk is as cheap as gasoline in Edmonton after Premier Jason Kenney tore up the NDP's carbon levy.

And there are plenty of people in parts of Canada that, unlike Alberta and Saskatchewan, are inclined to vote Liberal in a pinch, who now likely won't.

They won't vote for Andrew Scheer's Conservatives either, of course. But this does suggest that if Jagmeet Singh and the NDP can't come up soon with a compelling pitch, a lot of them are going to vote for Elizabeth May's Green Party, perhaps providing it with the breakthrough May keeps predicting.

Well, like I say, it's too soon to tell. I've been wrong about this stuff before, but you'd have to put me in the group that wonders if Trudeau has just blown it all to smithereens.

Two things are guaranteed, though:

  1. Building a bigger pipeline to "new markets" via the West Coast will never raise the price of Alberta bitumen as long as the law of supply and demand remains in effect.
  2. Shipping more bitumen from Alberta's tarsands through a bigger pipe to whatever markets will buy it will not lower Canada's carbon emissions.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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