Trudeau to meet potential bridge-builder Pallister during cabinet retreat

WINNIPEG — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet today with the least hostile of conservative Prairie premiers, Manitoba's Brian Pallister.

The tete-a-tete comes on the second day of a three-day federal cabinet retreat, being held in Winnipeg as part of a bid to reach out to a region that spurned Trudeau's Liberals in the Oct. 21 election.

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The election reduced the Liberals to a minority; they were entirely shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan and lost three of seven seats in Manitoba.

Pallister has signalled his willingness to act as something of a bridge between the federal government and the other two, openly hostile Prairie premiers, Alberta's Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan's Scott Moe.

They blame federal environmental policies for gutting their provinces' energy industries. Since the Liberals were re-elected with a minority, talk of alienation and even outright separatism has ramped up in the two oil and gas-producing provinces.

But while the cabinet retreat is an exercise in outreach to the discontented region, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson signalled Sunday that the government's plan to combat climate change, including the centrepiece national carbon tax, isn't likely to be modified to mollify westerners.

"We need to ensure that as we develop climate policy that we are being sensitive to the concerns and aspirations of all regions of the country," said Wilkinson, who grew up in Saskatchewan.

But while he said the government is "always open" to conversations about improving public policy, Wilkinson added: "I would tell you that we just came through an election campaign where the price on pollution was a key part of the discussion and two-thirds of Canadians voted for parties that support a price on pollution.

"It is the most effective and efficient way to reduce emissions."

At the same time, the government is hoping that western tempers will cool off now that construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project is underway and the Supreme Court last week cleared away another legal hurdle.

Ministers were given an update on the project Sunday by Trans Mountain Corp. CEO Ian Anderson, who later estimated the project will be completed by mid to late 2022.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan argued that expanding the pipeline — which is to carry diluted bitumen from Alberta's oil sands to B.C.'s coast for export overseas — is not incompatible with the government's long-term objective to wean the country off fossil fuels and attain net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

"I know that there are a number of people who have questioned whether or not we were sincere in our objectives (to expand the pipeline) and now it's happening," O'Regan said.

"And I hope it does ... change the temperature somewhat because we are going to need all of us, every part of this country is going to need to be involved in achieving net zero. There's no two ways about it."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2020.

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