Credits: Chris Roussakis/QMI Agency
Federal Liberal leadership contender Justin Trudeau was certainly dumb to say in a 2010 interview that Canada works better when Quebecers are in charge rather than Albertans.
In politics, this is known as a gaffe, described by journalist Michael Kinsley as what happens when a politician accidentally says what he really thinks.
As gaffes go, this one ranks right up there with Trudeau’s more recent musings that he might become a separatist if Prime Minister Stephen Harper keeps changing Canada in ways he doesn’t like.
While Trudeau belatedly apologized for his latest blunder, his remarks aren’t surprising, given the Liberals’ long history of dissing and dismissing Alberta.
For example in the 1980 federal election won by his late father, Pierre Trudeau, the Liberals’ unofficial motto was “screw the West, we’ll take the rest”.
Following that election, in which the Liberals won a majority government, Pierre Trudeau imposed the economically devastating National Energy Program on the West, which has turned Alberta into a killing field for Liberal political aspirations ever since.
As for Liberal MP David McGuinty’s resignation last week as his party’s natural resources critic, after he accused Alberta Tory MPs of shilling for the oil and gas industry, that’s typical of stuff the Liberals used to say all the time, back when they regarded themselves as the natural governing party of Canada.
In the 2000 election, for example, then prime minster Jean Chretien, on the way to his third straight majority government, mocked Albertans by observing, “I like to do politics with people from the East. Joe Clark and Stockwell Day are from Alberta. They are a different type ... I’m joking ... I’m serious.” In the real world, Day, a social conservative who was leader of the Canadian Alliance, and Clark, a Red Tory virtually indistinguishable from the Liberals as leader of the Progressive Conservatives, couldn’t have been more different.
But in Chretien’s view, they both deserved ridicule simply because they were from Alberta.
So the fact Justin Trudeau is the latest Liberal with leadership ambitions to put his foot in it when it comes to Alberta, is hardly earth-shaking.
It’s also not something that should disqualify him from becoming Liberal leader or prime minister.
After all, following the 2000 federal election in which Chretien won his third straight majority, Harper, then head of the National Citizens Coalition, joined with other western Conservatives in calling for the creation of a “firewall” around Alberta.
This to protect the province from what they viewed as a rampaging federal government out to arbitrarily redistribute Alberta’s wealth to poorer regions of the country.
Two years later, as head of the Canadian Alliance, Harper lowered the boom on one of those poorer regions — Atlantic Canada — when he slammed what he described as its “culture of defeatism”, brought about by an over-reliance on government spending and programs.
Given Harper’s political success since then, it’s obvious that in Canada, you don’t always have to sound like a prime minister to become one.
Finally, why is it considered a bad thing for federal MPs to put the interests of the part of the country they come from first?
Isn’t that what we elect them to do?
Indeed, the one good thing you could always say about Bloc Quebecois MPs back when they were a force to be reckoned with in Parliament, was that at least they stood up for Quebec.
By contrast, Ontario voters delivered majority governments to Chretien in 1993, 1997 and 2000 by overwhelmingly electing Liberal MPs, only to have them go AWOL when it came to fighting for Ontario’s interests in Parliament.
Maybe that’s why the federal Liberals get so upset when they see Alberta’s Conservative MPs fighting for Alberta’s interests in Parliament.
Maybe it’s because they’ve forgotten that representing your constituents is actually part of the job description.