EDMONTON – Justin Trudeau moseyed into Harper country Tuesday and accused the prime minister of being “all hat and no cattle” when it comes to pipelines.
The Liberal leader and his three dozen MPs were in the capital of Alberta, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s home province, to plot strategy for the coming pre-election year.
The Liberals have high hopes of making a breakthrough in Alberta, long a rock-solid Conservative fortress, in the 2015 election. The province has been a wasteland for Liberals for decades, particularly in the wake of the reviled national energy program, introduced by the government of Trudeau’s late father, Pierre, in 1980.
But Trudeau insisted Tuesday that Albertans are more interested in current issues, like pipelines, than they are in the past.
And on that score, he said Harper has failed to protect the interests of Alberta, which desperately needs pipelines to get its oilsands bitumen to offshore markets.
“There is a concern, especially here in Alberta, about energy policy, yes,” Trudeau said outside the caucus retreat.
“But it’s very much focused on the fact that, for all Mr. Harper’s talk about the economy and natural resources, he’s been all hat and no cattle on pipelines.
“We are no closer to getting the two main pipelines that he’s been pushing — Keystone XL and Northern Gateway — passed than we were on the very first day he was in office. Indeed, we’re further (away).”
Keystone, which would pipe oilsands bitumen to the U.S. Gulf Coast, is stalled pending approval from President Barack Obama, who is under pressure from environmentalists to nix the project.
Trudeau said Harper has botched the Keystone file and mismanaged relations with the United States by failing to demonstrate he’s serious about developing the oilsands in an environmentally responsible way.
Harper has also bungled Northern Gateway, which would pipe oilsands crude to Kitimat, B.C., Trudeau asserted. He said the prime minister has been little more than a “cheerleader” for the project “rather than being a responsible referee” dedicated to ensuring the concerns of First Nations and other effected communities are addressed.
Trudeau is an enthusiastic supporter of Keystone but is adamantly opposed to Northern Gateway. He’s willing to consider the proposed Kinder Morgan trans-mountain pipeline to Burnaby, B.C., provided it passes environmental muster and gets buy-in from effected communities.
The Liberals currently have no seats in Alberta but are hoping to win as many as six of the 34 seats that will be up for grabs in 2015. Trudeau acknowledged his party, reduced to a third party rump in 2011, still has “a lot of work to do,” both in Alberta and the rest of the country, to win the next election.
He brushed off questions about lingering resentment in Alberta over his father’s national energy program, which he disavowed almost two years ago at an event in Calgary, one day after announcing his bid for the Liberal leadership.
Still, he repeated the vow he made then to never use “western resources to buy eastern votes.”
Trudeau said he’s more preoccupied with his children’s future “than my dad’s legacy.” Nor are Albertans interested in rehashing the past, he argued, adding that only journalists and political opponents raise the national energy program.
“I think they’re running against the wrong Trudeau.”
The biggest challenge for Liberals in Alberta and elsewhere, Trudeau said, is overcoming cynicism about politicians.
“The challenge is to restore trust in federal politics … For too long, we’ve seen federal politicians fighting each other and taking positions based on vote-catching rather than the public good.”
But while Trudeau was espousing a more positive, sunny approach to politics, Harper’s Conservatives were pumping out partisan attacks on the Liberal leader.
Moments before Trudeau spoke outside the caucus retreat, the prime minister’s office rushed a statement from Alberta Tory MP Chris Warkentin to the press gallery in Ottawa.
“Needs to move quickly, as a presser is about to start!” PMO aide Stephen Lecce urged gallery officials.
Warkentin’s statement rehashed comments from Trudeau and some of this candidates which Conservatives have ridiculed repeatedly in the past. It concluded with: “Justin Trudeau and his team have consistently demonstrated one truth: they lack the judgment to lead.”
In an email later, Warkentin also countered Trudeau’s criticism of Conservative energy policy with some broadsides against Liberal energy policy.
“The Liberals have a long record of undermining the Canadian energy sector and the hundreds of thousands of Canadian livelihoods that depend on it,” he said, citing the NEP and Trudeau’s support for putting a price on carbon as examples of why “the Liberals cannot be trusted.”
The Conservatives also issued a fundraising email blast under the name of another Alberta MP, Blaine Calkins, who urged supporters to make a donation “to help us keep Alberta Liberal free.”
Calkins accused Trudeau of being all talk on pipelines, noting that the Liberal leader has not asked Adam Vaughan, who won a June byelection for the Liberals in Toronto, to retract his opposition to Keystone.
Under the fixed date election law passed by Harper’s government, the next election is scheduled for Oct. 19, 2015. But Trudeau said Liberals are preparing for an election as early as next spring.
“Mr. Harper has not once followed his own fixed-election-date law in the setting of elections, so I think it’s only prudent to try and make sure that we’re going to be ready,” he said.
On a personal note, Trudeau refused to say Tuesday whether he believes he and his family need a police security detail after his Ottawa home was broken into on the weekend while his wife and three young children slept.
The RCMP are investigating the incident and conducting a threat assessment, at Trudeau’s request, to determine what, if any, special protective measures should be taken.
“I certainly am not going to second-guess the RCMP’s expertise and look forward to the results of their investigation,” Trudeau said.