How Justin Trudeau can win the hearts of Albertans

Getting the big economic and social picture right will go a long way to getting Albertans onside

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CALGARY, AB Oct. 22, 2015 /Troy Media/ – For many Canadians, the afterglow of the federal Liberal election victory will linger for some time.

Albertans will be less patient for tangible evidence that prime minister-elect Justin Trudeau will keep his promises. They will watch warily for signs that his management of the economy can gain, and sustain, traction.

In a province that has not wavered substantially from its conservative roots during federal campaigns for four generations, the distrust of Liberal governance is palpable.

Less clear is whether that distrust is legitimate, or simply the product of long-ago fissures.

The proof will be in the agenda Trudeau sets out: its urgency and its efficiency.

Chief among Alberta’s concerns is ongoing federal government support for one of the pillars of this province’s economy: oil sands development, and the delivery of bitumen, preferably refined, to national and international markets.

Justin Trudeau claimed during an election debate that Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper “made the oil sands an international pariah”, and failed to get critical pipeline projects underway.

His tough talk – “With friends like Stephen Harper, Alberta doesn’t need enemies” – suggests that Trudeau has Alberta’s best interests in mind. But that will mean getting pipelines built to move Alberta’s oil, and encouraging oil sands development and pipeline construction in ways that reduce, or remove, the international stigma surrounding environmental impact.

To that end, he has said he will develop climate change strategy in concert with the premiers, and set national targets for emissions that provinces would be responsible for meeting on their own terms.

Trudeau claimed that Harper failed Alberta because he couldn’t manage economic growth and protect the economy at the same time.

His aggressive words map out a tricky route: continued oil sands development under strict environmental guidelines, and pipeline development with national and international endorsement.

But that is just one of the many tasks that await Canada’s new leader.

He has also pledged to reform taxation and to protect and grow the middle class in the process. In Alberta, where the drop in world oil prices has most dramatically hit the middle class, that should be good news – particularly in concert with the promise to keep corporate taxes steady as we crawl out of a recession.

Trudeau’s approach – running a $10-billion annual deficit over three years to invest in infrastructure – should also be welcomed. Boosting the Building Canada fund from $60 billion to $125 billion over the next decade can have a lasting economic impact.

Certainly, the Toronto Stock Exchange’s major players have been buoyed by the Liberal victory – construction, resource and transportation stocks chief among them.

But what if this proposed infrastructure spending just re-creates the Liberal sink holes of the past? What if the money never makes it to the intended recipients or – worse yet – what if the spending is regional, based on political support?

Certainly, Alberta has shown some inclination to bend: there are four Liberal MPs in this province, for the first time since 1968 when the country first elected a Trudeau: Justin’s father, Pierre. And the popular support for the Liberals in this province has crept up.

And certainly, Trudeau has talked repeatedly about inclusion, about creating a new sense of national community.

We don’t yet know whether Albertans will be embraced by this community, or embrace it. But putting Alberta’s Liberal MPs in prominent caucus and cabinet roles will speed the process.

Operating the kind of open, consultative government that we have lacked for much of the last decade under Harper would also speed the process of national bonding.

Finally, brokering legitimate Senate reform would also help. Trudeau has said that he wants to appoint senators on a merit basis and do away with partisanship in the upper chamber.

But that can only be part of the democratic reform that Justin Trudeau has promised.

It is also well past time that the lives of every Canadian mattered. Trudeau has said that he will adopt the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s package of recommendations in its entirety. He has promised to inject funds into First Nation schooling and infrastructure. And he supports an inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women, something Harper steadfastly refused to endorse.

There is much more on the Liberal agenda: legalizing marijuana, abandoning the F-35 fighter jet program, ending the bombing of Islamic State targets in Syria in favour of training missions and aid in that region, and upgrading financial support for seniors.

But getting the big economic and social picture right will go a long way to getting Albertans onside. No one in this province wants another era of political isolation.

John Stewart is former managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate. To book John click here.

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