Aline Chrétien has died

Aline Chrétien, the wife of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has died at the age of 86. Chrétien was an audidact, having spoken five languages and teaching herself piano in her 50s. Like her husband, she could also handle herself, defending the Prime Minsiter’s life at 24 Sussex when a knife-wielding intruder broke into the official residence; Chrétein wielded an Inuit stone carving until the RCMP arrived.

Tributes from across the political spectrum have been posted today to honour the life of the partner of Canada’s 20th Prime Minister.

Warren Kinsella is one of Jean Chretien greatest defenders and has a touching blog post about his memories of Aline.

In the thirty-plus years I have worked for him and supported him – because I have never really stopped doing either – there has been always one truth about Jean Chretien, Canada’s twentieth and best Prime Minister: he would have never been Prime Minister without her.  He would have never achieved the great things he achieved without her.

But she loved people, and people loved her.

Warren Kinsella

Former Harper minister and current Alberta Premier also memorialized Aline Chrétien.

Former Primer Minister Stephen Harper and his spouse Laureen Harper sent their condolences.

Kathleen Monk was a CTV producer and is now an NDP strategist and public affairs consultant at Earnscliffe. She remembers the ‘remarkable’ nature of Aline Chrétien.

Our sincere condolences to the Chrétien family and those who are grieving today.

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.

CNOOC bid presents imperfect conservative decision-making

Some political issues are black and white, many others aren’t so perfectly distinguishable. The Conservative Party in Canada has had a long history of its prominent members opposing the communist Chinese regime. From MP Rob Anders’ alarm-raising of Chinese tactics that try to lure Canadian government officials with junkets to — and honey traps in — the world’s most populous nation, to Jason Kenney’s visit China to the home of Zhao Ziyang, a former senior Chinese official who was under house arrest for his push for democratization. The flare-up of the conservative base against spending tax dollars to build a visitor’s centre for the Bethune Centre in Tony Clement’s riding was but the most recent example. The most notable prior commemoration of Bethune in Canada had been fully funded by the Chinese Communist Party — a statue in Montreal.

Senior Canadian politicians — after retirement — have been actively engaging with China. Jean Chretien is said to have active business interests in the country, while Stockwell Day is the latest to add heft to the building of business relations with the Middle Kingdom.

One senior official in the Harper government remarked to me that Canada’s position on China is changing and the latest outreach to China indicates an ability to “walk and chew gum” at the same time. Presumably, Canada remains committed to human rights in China while looking to build Canada’s long-term economic interests in that country.

One result of walking the economic relationship along has been the announcement of China’s state-owned CNOOC announcing a $15 billion bid for Canada’s Nexen, an energy company actively developing Canadian oilsands. Such a sale would increase Chinese control to a 20% level of all Canadian oilsands projects.

Many factors are at play here. Regarding foreign investment in Canadian natural resources, the sought to formalize the policy in legislation.

The Canadian government has yet to approve the Nexen sale under the Canadian Investment Act, however, it appears that it is bullish with respect to Sino-Canadian capital investment.

“Canada is a country that welcomes foreign investment,” International Trade Minister Ed Fast said in Toronto on Tuesday. “We have rigorous review mechanisms in place that ensure that any investments that are made in Canada are in Canada’s net benefit and in our national interest and I’m confident the process will work.”

That’s certainly clearer signally from the government than we saw in the weeks leading up to the Billiton decision.

Clearer still is the Harper’s aggressive tack since on natural resources since forming a majority just last year. A key theme has been a full-speed ahead order on oil, gas, and mining (codenamed “Responsible Resource Development” in EAP-speak). Besides shepherding a projected doubling of oilsands projects over the next ten years, finding new markets and building transmission capacity (read: pipelines) are the domestic economic issues that are keeping the Prime Minister up at night.

And what of Stephen Harper’s small-c conservative base on the Nexen sale? No doubt, the business community welcomes open borders on trade. Yet, the anti-communists cannot be too happy about the PM’s softening stance on China. We’ve seen some deft manoeuvring by a few conservative editorialists to stake out a principled position on the issue. Conservative-minded individuals abhor the nationalization of anything, let alone Canada’s natural resources. But conservatives must stress that Canada is open for business. The CNOOC bid is therefore seen in an anti-market, state-corporatist light: this is the nationalization of Canadian natural resources by a foreign nation.

It is largely expected that the sale will be approved.