Does approving TMX do anything for the Liberals?

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A man listens near an effigy of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as protesters opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion rally ahead of a decision by Liberal cabinet on the project, in Vancouver, on Sunday June 9, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The 2019 election campaign is already underway — the CBC News Canada Votes newsletter is your weekly tip-sheet as we count down to Oct. 21.

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Decision time for Trans Mountain

Vassy Kapelos, host of Power & Politics

Less than 48 hours from now, a decision years in the making will be announced.

On June 18, the Trudeau cabinet makes its go/no go decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. If I were a betting woman, I’d say the decision will be ‘go’. (Putting aside the merits of the decision one way or the other, they own the freaking thing – how can they not build it?)

For those who aren’t familiar with this particular pipeline saga (there are others, just think back to Northern Gateway, Energy East and Keystone XL), it began about two and a half years ago. That’s when the federal government approved the expansion, which is basically the twinning of a pipeline that already exists.

The pipeline runs from just outside Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, B.C; a distance of over one thousand kilometres. It carries about 300 thousand barrels of oil, but the expansion would triple that capacity.

The idea is to bring that Alberta crude to B.C. where it can be shipped to Asia. Nearly all of Canada’s oil goes to the U.S.; because of that and a few other factors, Canadian oil is sold at a discount compared to the price of oil everywhere else. The pipeline is supposed to change that by opening up a new market and getting a better price.

So, back to 2016. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet approved the pipeline, but – like all pipelines projects over the past decade – it faced a lot of opposition. B.C. is worried about the sevenfold increase in tanker traffic that the expansion will bring, the corresponding effect on marine life and the potential for an oil spill. Some First Nations along the route are also worried about the impact of the pipeline on their land and water supply, and the potential for an oil spillalong the route.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comments on the government’s Trans Mountain Pipeline plan as he makes his way to caucus on Parliarment Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday, October 3, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Last spring the company behind the pipeline (Kinder Morgan), sensing the gridlock was permanent, threw their hands in the air and decided to peace out. In came the feds with a $4.5 billion cheque. And just as the deal to buy the pipeline was greenlit, along came a court decision that put the breaks on the expansion. The government launched new consultations and had the National Energy Board review the impact on the marine environment.

After all that, decision day is here again – and it just seems bizarre to think the federal government would reject a pipeline after spending billions of dollars to keep it alive.

What happens if (when) the Trudeau government does approve the pipeline? The political calculations aren’t pretty. I’d wager (I’m a betting woman again) the federal Liberal Party won’t earn a single vote in Alberta with this decision. I can’t entirely explain it, but saying the name Trudeau in Alberta right now is like being a Golden State Warrior fan in Toronto after Game 5.

Trust me, if you live outside the province, you’re underestimating how visceral the anger is in Alberta. I’m not justifying it, I’m just saying it’s there. Consider a recent conversation I had with someone in Calgary, someone who voted for the NDP provincially:

Person: “Justin Trudeau just wants the oil sands to disappear, he could care less.”

Vassy: “Why do you think that?”

Person: “Look what he’s doing with C-69, I just know he can’t stand us.”

Vassy: “The feds did buy the pipeline …”

Person: “He was forced to, it was the last thing in the world he wanted to do.”

You get the drift. Approving this pipeline will do the Liberals no favours in Alberta. The bigger question, the one that has more variables, is whether it will cost them any votes in B.C. Looking at Éric Grenier’s poll tracker numbers, the next election could put us in minority government territory, and what happens in every region and province – including B.C. – could really matter to the outcome.

You can see how the Liberals are trying to cushion the blow. C-69 and C-48, the government’s two marquee pieces of environmental legislation, probably will pass before the House rises this week. It’s easy to picture the sales pitch: ‘We approved a pipeline but waiiitttt … we also did all this other stuff!’ You know, environment and economy go hand in hand, we can do both, etc, etc.

Will that be enough? It’s hard to say, especially with the Green Party nipping at the Liberals’ heels.

The Conservatives say they’ll build that pipeline and others. But will they force one through Quebec to do so? Or avoid the courts? And the NDP is staunchly opposed to TMX, but what about the LNG project in B.C.? It’s supported and championed by the provincial New Democrats, which seems to put the provincial party at odds with its federal cousins. As the Rachel Notley-Jagmeet Singh experience taught us, that likely won’t end well.

Will the politics of pipelines play out in this election? Bet on it.

Vassy Kapelos is host of Power & Politics, weekdays at 5 p.m. ET on CBC News Network.


Have a question about the October election? About where the federal parties stand on a particular issue? Or about the facts of a key controversy on the federal scene? Email us your questions and we’ll answer one in the next Canada Votes newsletter. Scroll down to see the answer to this week’s question.


Power Lines

The Power & Politics Power Panelists on where the big parties will be focused this week

Amanda Alvaro  president and co-founder of Pomp & Circumstance

The Liberals will focus on the Prime Minister’s meeting with the U.S. President to discuss the ratification of the new NAFTA and continued work to stand up for Canadian jobs. As the parliamentary session comes to a close, Liberals will also contrast their plan to invest in the middle class with the Conservative plan for Ford-style cuts to services Canadians rely on.

Rachel Curran  senior associate at Harper & Associates Consulting

ConservativeLeader Andrew Scheer will release his long-awaited environmental policy this week, focusing both on action to address climate change and tangible measures to protect and conserve Canada’s natural environment. The Conservatives will also be preparing to respond to the government’s decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline, aligning with western premiers to urge approval of the project.

Kathleen Monk  principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group

New Democrats are saying “game on” this weekend with the release of their vision document, a ‘New Deal for People.’ The NDP will outline their commitments to Canadians and signal what they want the campaign to be about. After a weekend of candidate training, New Democrats will hit the hustings to sell their single-payer Pharmacare for All plan to Canadians.


Poll Tracker Takeaway

Éric Grenier’s weekly look at key numbers in the political public opinion polls.

There’s one question people ask me all the time.

Who’s going to win the election?

My stock answer is that, if an election were held today, the Conservatives probably would win it. That’s what the Poll Tracker shows.

But people want to know who will win in October. My answer to that question?

I don’t know.

That’s not the cop-out that it sounds like, because there have been elections in the past where I have been comfortable with saying who I think will probably win.

Take the last Alberta provincial election. As soon as the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose merged into a single party, the writing was on the wall for Rachel Notley’s New Democrats.

Ditto for the last Ontario vote. It wasn’t a certainty that Doug Ford’s PCs would win by any stretch, but even before he took over the party it looked like the most likely outcome of that election.

But there are a lot of reasons to reserve judgment on what will happen this fall.

The Conservatives hold a lead in the polls and have for months. But it isn’t that wide of a lead. And in terms of the party’s ability to win seats, it’s rather fragile. Their edge in Ontario remains relatively narrow. Flip a few points over to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and dozens of seats flip, too.

Andrew Scheer’s approval ratings are mixed and a lot of Canadians still don’t hold very strong views about him either way.

There’s also the history of incumbents at the federal level. Single-term governments are rare.

And while the Conservative vote has been pretty steady, the vote on the centre-left is fluid. What will happen to the NDP if labour backs the Liberals, the Greens present a credible option for environmentalists and strategic voters choose to cast a ballot for Trudeau to keep Scheer out of the Prime Minister’s Office?

That could shift the numbers and the electoral map in unpredictable ways.

So, if an election were held today, the Conservatives probably would win it. But will they win the election that will be held on Oct. 21? I don’t know. That’s the honest answer.

And considering all the other questions that won’t be answered for another four months, it’s also the smart one.

Canada Votes Poll Tracker Federal Averages as of June 14, 2019 (CBC)

Tap here to go to the full poll tracker


Ask us

Jack Brezina asks: I watch the poll tracking you do very carefully. However, I wonder how to compare the BQ’s strength, which I presume is based exclusively on Quebec polling, with the other parties, whose polling, again I presume, is done nationally. Wouldn’t it be more meaningful to give us, as a sidebar, the other parties’ Quebec polling numbers to compare with the BQ’s so we can gauge the relative strength of support in that province alone?

If you’re curious about where each of the parties stand in different parts of Canada, you do have that option in the Poll Tracker. Just scroll down to the “Trend over time” section, and choose the region you’d like to check out.

But if you just see topline numbers for the Bloc Québécois in a poll — or in our updates — there’s an easy rule of thumb for calculating the Bloc’s support in Quebec. The province represents about a quarter of Canada’s population, so if you multiply the Bloc’s national score by four, you’ll get a rough idea of where the party stands in Quebec.

Five per cent nationwide, for example, means about 20 per cent in Quebec.

The national score the party puts up, however, isn’t a meaningless number. It actually could decide whether a Bloc leader gets to participate in the leaders debates.

Parties need to meet two of three criteria to be in the debates, according to the new rules drawn up by the Liberal government. One of those is to run candidates in at least 90 per cent of ridings across the country. As the Bloc only runs candidates in Quebec, it doesn’t meet that condition.

Having an MP elected under their banner is one condition the Bloc does meet. The last? Having a reasonable chance of winning seats or obtaining at least four per cent of the vote in the last federal election. The Bloc got 4.7 per cent in 2015.

So, even if the Bloc’s support was plummeting and the party was no longer a contender to win a seat, its leader would still get to participate in the debates in both French and English.

– Éric Grenier, CBC’s polls analyst  

Have a question about the October election? About where the federal parties stand on a particular issue? Or about the facts of a key controversy on the federal scene? Email us your questions and we’ll answer one in the next Canada Votes newsletter.


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Big week ahead for Canadian pipelines, as key moves loom on TMX, bill C-69

Two decisions next week will provide more answers on the future of energy projects in Canada. The federal cabinet will announce Tuesday if it will approve the Trans Mountain pipeline, while the Senate will take a final vote on the Liberal government’s controversial overhaul of federal environmental assessment legislation — bill C-69.

NDP’s 2019 election platform promises mental, dental, hearing coverage for all

The NDP will be the first political party to unveil an election platform that promises to drastically expand Canada’s health care system to include not just pharmacare, but mental, dental, eye and hearing coverage for all citizens.


The 2019 election campaign is already underway — the CBC News Canada Votes newsletter is your weekly tip-sheet as we count down to Oct. 21.

Reading this online? Sign-up for the newsletter and receive it every Sunday.

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