Make no mistake: the federal cabinet’s approval of Malaysian state-owned Petronas’s $36-billion Pacific Northwest liquefied natural gas project is a template for things to come. The Liberals’ longevity in power depends on it — and they know it.
Whether the plan unfolds as designed remains to be seen. But the political reality changes immediately. With New Democrats and Greens hollering “slow down!” and Conservatives shouting “speed up!,” the Liberals are now precisely where they want to be on energy. The opposing lines of attack stand to solidify the government’s position, not hurt it.
It is the fruition of a strategy that dates to 2012, before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau became Liberal leader, when he and his team were casting about for a lever by which to persuade skeptical kitchen-table conservatives in Ontario — yes, there are many such beings, provincial politics notwithstanding — to take him seriously.
The gambit needed to appeal to economic pragmatism. It needed to be pan-Canadian, at least enough to resonate in southwestern Ontario without annoying Quebec or the West. And it needed to account for the blast residue of Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program of the early 1980s, which had transformed Alberta into a barren moonscape, from a Liberal electoral point of view, for decades thereafter.
The solution they arrived at was both novel and obvious: cast Justin Trudeau as a champion of resource development, within an environmentalist frame.
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