Outrageous: Seamus O’Regan is Canada’s next Natural Resources Minister

The appointment of Seamus O’Regan as Canada’s next Natural Resources Minister shows that Justin Trudeau has clearly not learned his lesson from the 43rd general election.

Electors returned zero seats to Trudeau in both Alberta and Saskatchewan when all the votes were counted on October 21st.

These two prairie provinces are blessed by oil and gas but are desperately frustrated by their inability to get their resources to market.

Seamus O’Regan is best known for having a morning show on CTV, and and for being in Justin Trudeau’s wedding party.

So it stood to reason that O’Regan would be either a close advisor or something more formal when Trudeau won the 2015 election and O’Regan won his seat in St. John’s South—Mount Pearl.

Seamus O'Regan is the Minister of Natural Resources
Seamus O’Regan Natural Resources Minister

Enter Seamus O’Regan

As Veterans Affairs Minister, O’Regan tried to relate to his stakeholders by comparing the sunsetting of his own career as a broadcaster to the challenges faced by active military service personal as they transition to civilian life.

Not great.

But Justin Trudeau indicated that veterans aren’t on his priority list anyway as he famously remarked to a veterans that his brothers and sisters are “asking for more than we are able to give“. So Seamus coasted until the Trudeau inner circle had another problem to solve.

When Gerald Butts shuffled Jody Wilson-Reybould out of Justice where she was making too much trouble for Trudeau’s principle secretary, she was moved to the Indigenous Services ministry. Butts argued argued that the best person should take over the file. Wilson-Reybould flatly refused the position.

Enter Seamus O’Regan.

O’Regan’s tenure at Indigenous Services was marked by gross insentivity, tweeting a glamour shot of himself being pensive about reconciliation next to a passenger of his Challenger private jet.

Seamus O'Regan tweets about reconciliation from a private jet
Seamus O’Regan later deleted the tweet

The Trudeau government has not made reconciliation with First Nations a priority. While they’ve paid a lot of lip service to the issues and the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, O’Regan fights compensation for First Nations childrens services in court.

Alberta and Saskatchewan have found themselves in a polarized position against Justin Trudeau and his backers in the rest of Canada. The prime minister’s failure to build pipelines and his failure to negotiate right-of-passage to tidewater for Canada’s energy infrastructure are problems that are worse enough. He also insists that his ultimate goal is to ‘phase out’ the oilsands. This attitude is fomenting Western alienation.

Will Justin Trudeau’s government be humbled by being shut-out in these two Western provinces? Will Trudeau hold out a fig-leaf and appoint a Minister of Natural Resources that will hit the ground running and fight for Canadian energy workers?

Enter Seamus O’Regan.

At Natural Resources, Trudeau has appointed O’Regan to take over one the prime minister’s most neglected files. Predictably, Conservatives and media observers have reacted with shock and exasperation.

Michelle Rempel reacts to Seamus O’Regan’s appointment as Natural Resources Minister
The National Post’s Chris Selley is shocked by the O’Regan news

Canada’s energy workers will be the most affected by the shuffle of O’Regan to Natural Resources. They are already indicating that the appointment does not give them much confidence.

A western geologist and exploration worker weighs in

Justin Trudeau views the oil and gas sector in opposition to his agenda of renewable energy and reduced carbon emissions. Yet, the sector makes up for 15% of Canada’s GDP and spins off hundreds of thousands of primary and secondary jobs. Meanwhile, Canadian innovation continues to drive down the CO2 emissions produced from the extraction of oil from Canada’s bituminous sands.

Trudeau would not be so cavalier and neglectful of carbon-intensive industries such as auto-making in southern Ontario and cement production in the Gaspé region of Quebec.

With Seamus O’Regan’s appointment as Minister of Natural Resources, Justin Trudeau is presiding over more-and-more division among Canada’s provinces.

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.

We need exit polling for Canadian elections

On October 21st, Justin Trudeau was reduced to minority government status with stronger Conservative opposition forming dominant regional representation in the west and a resurgent Bloc Quebecois spoiling the night for federalist parties in Quebec. Yet, despite this black eye for Trudeau, much of the focus has been on Andrew Scheer’s campaign. Why did he come up short? What held him back? Why could this new opposition leader not do something unprecedented in Canadian history and unseat a one-term majority Prime Minister on his first outing?

Was it Mr. Scheer’s social conservatism? Was it the well-worn Liberal narrative in Ontario that Doug Ford’s “cuts” would be a template for a federal Conservative government? Was it climate change? Many theories abound among jaw-wagging pundits angling for clicks and among Liberals looking to introduce discord into the Conservative party. But why is there such a cottage industry of political know-it-alls offering up theories?

We lack useful data when it comes to why people vote the way they do in Canadian elections.

American context

In the United States, exit polls are conducted the day of the election as voters leave the polls. They are asked who they voted for and why they voted as they did. Their demographics, districts, and psychographics are jotted down and they are asked the kind of questions we are only speculating about in Canada today.

American pundits and commentators are able to appreciate why women in Wisconsin rejected one candidate, while college educated men in Colorado supported another. Depending on the depth of the survey, illuminating results can be derived that can have a real impact on representation and outreach.

So, why don’t we do exit polling in Canadian elections?

It mostly comes down to cost. Pollsters typically take 1000 person samples for their polls on the best of days. This sample is distributed across the country. A person’s reasons for voting Liberal may differ significantly in one part of the country and among one demographic than it may among others in another part of the country. These divisions raise the margin of error among an already small sample. Nik Nanos has an alternative approach where he queries a rolling sample of a few hundred people per day and then pools the result.

Pollsters are already preoccupied with making the best showing as confirmed by the actual electoral result. Exit polls, by contrast, do not have a comparative check on accuracy and therefore don’t award reputational kudos.

Yet, this missing data creates a huge blindspot and hurts our ability to understand the result. Currently, we add up the seats and speculate from there.

Better understanding leads to better representation

Furthermore, it is important to appreciate late-breaking issues that were determining factors in why electors cast their ballot. Vote-switching is also a phenomenon not well-quantified in Canada one that becomes more and more important as Canadians vote strategically in a fractured multi-party system that elects a candidate under first-past-the-post.

Of course, it is illegal to broadcast or disseminate an election survey during the blackout period defined by Canada’s elections regulator. Most importantly, this includes election day itself.

No person shall cause to be transmitted to the public, in an electoral district on polling day before the close of all of the polling stations in that electoral district, the results of an election survey that have not previously been transmitted to the public. 

Canada Elections Act

However, polling can be conducted with the results held until the polls close. Canadian elections and exit polling – it’s long overdue.

So, what halted Andrew Scheer’s victory in Ontario? In Quebec? For that matter, why did Singh lose his caucus in Quebec? Why did Trudeau lose his majority? Without exit polling, we are left to rely on speculation and hot air from pundits.