Could Alison Redford be the next Trudeau minister from Alberta?

Justin Trudeau has a problem on his hands. The Liberal caucus that formed a majority government in 2015 for Trudeau has been reduced to a minority. The new distribution of seats has exposed troublesome regional divisions in Canada. The separatist Bloc is back in Quebec, while Alberta and Saskatchewan formed its own block of Conservative seats, save one lone NDP MP.

The prime minister faces the prospect of forming cabinet without regional representation in either Western province. With such regional divides and alienation rising, this is an issue that Trudeau cannot ignore.

There are a few options that have been bandied about in the establishment press about how Trudeau can begin to address the resentment felt by these two Western provinces. Some have been tone-deaf, and most have been poor ideas. From opposition MPs, Senators, or even former Premiers, what will Trudeau do?

Floor crossing or outsourcing?

In the end, Mr. Trudeau will need lone Alberta NDP MP Heather McPherson to cross the floor, or he will need to appoint an unelected Canadian into his cabinet. The federal NDP agenda is antogonistic to Western Canadians who voted for the development of energy projects and thus would be a non-starter. Prime ministers have appointed unelected Canadians to serve in ministries before. Stephane Dion and Pierre Pettigrew were initially unelected members of cabinet in Paul Martin’s government.

Ralph Goodale’s name has been offered up. The stalwart Liberal who was a sure-thing for Liberal cabinet makers finally went down in defeat on October 21st. His appointment to cabinet would ignore the outright rejection of a Trudeau mandate on the prairies. Goodale’s appointment wouldn’t be a surprise, however his presence would do little to stem the tide of resentment in this part of Canada.

Surely, not the non-partisan Senate!

Trudeau will also find it difficult to appoint a Senator to his cabinet. Though Stephen Harper appointed Senator Michael Fortier to the 28th ministry in order to reflect Montreal representation in his government, Trudeau has made a large show of the ‘non-partisan’ nature of the Senate. An appointment from the Upper Chamber to the government would shred the rest of his credibility on this file.

That brings us to an uncoventional appointment which would satisfy regional representation and complicate matters advantageously for Trudeau.

Red, Redder, Redford

Allison Redford is the former Premier of Alberta. She is seen by the central Canadian establishment as a ‘Tolerable Tory’ and the kind of ‘Conservative’ that Albertans should be sending to Ottawa. Of course, Albertans disagree. Redford’s popularity in that province plumetted to 18% after a series of entitlement and travel scandals, before she faced a caucus revolt and was forced to resign.

However, to those that matter to Trudeau, the prime minister would sell such an appointment as ‘reaching across the aisle’ and to bridge the divide between Ottawa and the West.

Redford would jump at the chance

For Redford’s part, she would say yes to such an appointment. Having felt unceremoniously spurned by a province that rejected her, Redford has been re-emerging in media and has been spotted testing the waters on re-establishing the esteemed reputation of an ’eminent Canadian’ among the Laurentian consensus.

Alison Redford
Alison Redford during governing times

Redford has indicated that she is willing to help the Trudeau government in an advisory capacity. Redford told CTV News, “I am happy to help in any way. This is something Canadians have been thinking about for a long time and I think the key is that there has to be a lot of voices at the table.” She added, “If there’s something I can do, I’m happy to help.”

Kenney conundrum

Redford’s appointment would be a fly in the ointment to the current Premier, Jason Kenney. Though 95% of PC and Wildrose members voted for merger that Kenney orchestrated, many saw the outcome as a Wildrose takeover by the PC party.

Kenney is wildly popular in the province, especially as the province wars against another Trudeau. As a former PC Premier, Redford could be a complicating factor for Kenney. This would be especially true if Redford were appointed to the post of Minister of Natural Resources.

Despite her reputational damage, the gravitas of a former Premier in Trudeau’s cabinet would put up an Albertan dissenter and appellative equal versus Mr. Kenney.

The 44th General election

Let’s not forget that with this minority Parliament, we could be back into an election soon. The longer that western alienation is left to fester, the more the ballot question will become about who is best suited to address regional anger and unite the country.

Liberals have had poor showings in Alberta for so long that we can easily say that they are traditionally unpopular in that province. A party cannot credibly govern a country if it has a deep-rooted antagonistic relationship with a significant portion of it.

For the Liberal Party of Canada, either the future looks like more of the same with an aloof attitude toward the West, or that party’s unsustainable track is addressed and they finally produce a plan for allowing Alberta to play to its economic strengths.

Would Alison Redford be the awkward beginning of such outreach to the West? We remain highly skeptical of her benefit to Alberta and to Canadian unity, but it certainly would do more for Trudeau’s cabinet recalculation than adding with zeroes.

Christy Clark’s missed opportunity

Tom Mulcair has had a busy week. In his first real outing on the national stage on any policy issue of pan-Canadian importance he chose to entangle energy, regions, the manufacturing sector, and the environment. Melange became malaise as Mulcair designed his prognostication to polarize.

In short, according to Mulcair, manufacturing jobs in central Canada suffer from a high dollar caused by energy exports. Exploiting the oilsands in Alberta and building pipelines to ship processed bitumen south and west is boosting the strength of the dollar. Mulcair calls it ‘Dutch Disease’.

Though without a reasonable diagnosis or plan for treatment, his strategy is quite transparent. The NDP has a tenuous hold on the seats from what many have called an accidental victory for the party in Quebec. Showing up as Quebec’s defender is a role conceded within the last decade by the federal Liberal Party, and Mulcair is digging in, and pouring the concrete to reinforce the foundation.

The NDP leader’s wedging from Outremont was a welcome opportunity for western premiers, whom Mulcair dismissed as “messengers” for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall warmed up his twitter and Facebook accounts to throw haymakers in defence the prairie province’s resource extraction industry.

For Wall, whose party captured 64.2% of the popular vote in the last provincial election, standing up for his province was more of a pleasure than a necessity, as his main opponents in the Saskatchewan NDP are lagging far behind.

Moving west, Alberta’s newly elected majority Premier Alison Redford — comfortably settling without much concern for imminent electoral survivability — passively mustered that Mulcair’s comments were “divisive and ill-informed”.

Yet, westward still, where we see a Premier in the fight for her political life in BC, with a surging NDP topping 50% in provincial polls, with an economy fixed firmly in the resource sector pipelines ready, it’s mostly quiet. Christy Clark’s finance minister did dismiss the “ignorant” remarks of Tom Mulcair, and the premier did call Mulcair’s position “goofy”, however, she has been absent from the province on a trade mission overseas and comparatively absent on the issue.

Resource sector jobs are inextricably linked to the BC economy. There have been talks or rebranding Clark’s party to recapture the pro-business and pro-development segments of the successful coalition that has kept her party in power. A perfect opportunity was presented to allow Clark to emerge as the most vocal defender of Western interests. Clark wasn’t just weak on brand, she was largely off-grid.

The federal NDP leader is making shrewd if cynical strategy dividing regions against each other but in the end it will likely pay political dividends for him. The other winners in this dance have been the Premiers with the least to gain while Premier Clark — facing a desperately dire political situation at home — has missed her chance to enrich her electability from this latest entanglement.

One or the other

There’s an election in Canada. And the classic divide is between two parties.

One party has been endorsed by the National Post, the other by the Globe and Mail.

One party accuses the other of racism, sexism and homophobia, while the other party acuses the other of runaway spending, patronage and corruption.

One party is supported by Preston Manning, the other by Joe Clark.

One party is looking to end a political dynasty, the other is desperately looking to hold on to the same.

One party advises voters cast ballots based on their values, the other urges voters to vote strategically to stop their opponents.

One party raises issues relevant to the actual interests of the electorate, the other raises red herrings such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

One party has support in a diversity of places, the other is dug in in urban centres.

One party has the support of small business owners and frontline workers, while the other has traded favours for union support.

One party is rooted in Alberta’s character, while the other takes direction from downtown Toronto.

One could have been describing the past,

or the present.