Prime Minister Justin Trudeau celebrates a Liberal Party win on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. (The Canadian Press)

‘Inconsistent’ message on climate change hurt Liberals at the polls: prof

Trudeau government will have to make concessions to hold onto power

Climate proved to be a critical issue in Monday’s election, even if the winning Liberals’ compromise didn’t score them many votes on either side of the issue.

Prior to the election, climate was polling as the No. 1 issue among voters but a Simon Fraser University professor said Justin Trudeau tried to play both sides, and lost.

“They tried to provide what they would view as a compromise; trying to build a pipeline and at the same time doing their carbon tax,” said Tom Gunton of SFU’s Resource and Environmental Planning Program.

But their “inconsistent message” didn’t sit well with those worried for the climate, Gunton said.

“It was very difficult for them to portray themselves as deffenders of the climate, while at the same time people would just point out ‘well, you just bought an oil pipeline.’”

That flip-flopping message didn’t help them get the Prairies either, he pointed out, as the Liberals were completely shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The Liberals hung onto 157 of their 184 seats, but were downgraded to a minority government, while the Conservatives jumped from 99 seats to 121 and actually won the popular vote.

But while the Prairies were an obvious loss for the carbon tax touting party, they also lost seats to the east.

“Opposition to pipelines is high in Quebec,” Gunton said, where the Bloc Québécois jumped to 32 seats from just 10.

“That was a liability for the Liberals.”

READ MORE: Trudeau has won the most seats — but not a majority. What happens next?

But the Liberals weren’t the only ones to try and play the middle when it came to climate change.

The Conservatives, Gunton said, tried to keep Alberta and Saskatchewan happy with support for pipelines, but lost in places like Ontario and Quebec.

Gunton said the results of the elections paint a divided picture of Canada, with the Prairies and B.C.’s interior painted Tory blue, while more climate change focused parties scooped up the rest of the country.

The NDP, who nearly halved their ridings down to 24 this election, could play a more significant role than their seat count suggests.

“The continuation of this government will depend on the support of the smaller opposition parties; the NDP and the Greens,” Gunton said. Added together, Liberals, the NDP and the Greens have 184 seats – a significant majority.

“There will certainly be some concessions.”

In the news: Liberals eke out a win, but will need NDP, Green support to pass bills

As to if the Trans Mountain pipeline will be one of them, Gunton said it’s hard to tell if it’s politics or economics that will hold it back the most.

“The costs of building it has doubled,” Gunton said. “There’s an economic problem Trans Mountain faces.

“You add to that the political dimension, as the Liberal government does not have a majority and the parties it depends on for support are clearly opposed to Trans Mountain.”


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