If his strategy is to declare war on everyone, Scheer will pay a price in next election

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The hardline, anti-Ottawa stance by Jason Kenney and Doug Ford should help Justin Trudeau make inroads with women and young voters, two key elements to his last majority.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on April 22, 2019.

OTTAWA—Conventional wisdom dictates that Jason Kenney’s Alberta victory will boost the fortunes of Andrew Scheer in the upcoming federal election.

I beg to differ.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau now has two aggressive, anti-environmental foils to run against in an election.

The more Kenney fights with the rest of the country, the more people will worry about putting his cousin in the federal driver’s seat.

His opening salvo focused on Quebec, demanding the province get on board with pipelines in return for equalization transfers coming from Alberta.

His bombast worked very well on the campaign trail, and will certainly shore up his support with those United Conservative Party supporters who view the rest of Canada as the enemy.

But it set off warning bells in more than one province.

The British Columbia New Democratic Party premier is already planning to put up his dukes to Kenney because he knows it makes for good local politics.

In Atlantic Canada and Ontario, those threats are reminiscent of a time when the survival of Canada hung in the balance.

The Parti Québécois, on life supports in most of the province, is thrilled to have an anti-Quebec foil to rail against. Nothing will bring erstwhile separatist followers back to the fold more quickly than another province threatening Quebec’s sovereignty on energy policy.

Kenney and Ontario Premier Doug Ford rode to big victories based on an electoral appetite for change.

That change message presents the biggest risk to Liberal re-election hopes.

But Kenney and Ford’s declaration of war on the federal environmental agenda could easily take precedence over the change mantra.

Both premiers are pushing back on the federal government’s plan to fight climate change. Trudeau is characterizing the federal plan as putting a price on pollution.

Kenney and Ford are calling it a simple carbon tax grab.

They are banking on the fact that voters are more motivated by pocketbook issues than global problems. But that could be a pretty big gamble.

Young people, the key to Trudeau’s stunning turnaround in the last election, are much more motivated by environmental issues than their parents. They see the benefit of acting now because they do not want to be left with the mess later. They have borne witness to the cost of climate change in their lifetime.

Women, another key element in Trudeau’s last election victory, are generally more supportive of pro-environmental planning than their male counterparts.

Trudeau took a huge hit with females because of Liberal infighting with two former, high profile female ministers, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott.

The arrival of the Ford-Kenney duo will give the Grits an opportunity to hit the reset button and start road testing an environmental electoral message.

Do Canadians want to put a price on pollution or do they want to oppose a national plan for climate change?

Alberta spoke loud and clear on that issue last week. But voters in Alberta are not the tipping point in the next federal election.

On the contrary, the electorate in Ontario, Quebec or British Columbia will likely tip the balance in favour of Liberals or Conservatives in this election.

The hardline, anti-Ottawa stance by Kenney and Ford should help Trudeau make inroads with women and young voters, two key elements to his last majority.

Kenney rode into a big majority largely on his campaign promise to fight Ottawa, British Columbia, Quebec, and whoever stands in his way.

Scheer made sure he was in Alberta supporting Kenney because at this stage in his trajectory, he needs Kenney more than Kenney needs him.

But Kenney’s opening salvo against Quebec puts Scheer in a very difficult position.

Kenney tempered his message by delivering a bilingual victory speech, a first for the United Conservative Party.

But the substance was clear. Get on board with pipeline construction or else.

Former Quebec premier Philippe Couillard quickly countered with the fact that 52 per cent of Quebec’s petroleum already arrives by pipeline, and he was open to more gas pipelines, but the Quebec social consensus opposes oil pipelines.

Does Kenney really think that he is going to get other premiers on board by bombast?

Election night was his victory to savour. But the clock starts ticking now on whether Kenney can deliver on all his promises.

If his strategy is to declare war on everyone, Scheer will pay the price in the next election.

Most Canadians expect governments to get along.

Kenney’s fight worked well for him, but it could kill Scheer’s chances of replicating his victory.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.