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: SFU prof

Trudeau government will have to make concessions to hold onto power

The environment proved to be a critical issue in Monday’s election, and the Liberals’ compromise didn’t score them many votes on either side of the issue.

Climate change was polling as the No. 1 issue among voters prior to Oct. 21 vote, but one Simon Fraser University professor said Prime Minister 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 defenders of the climate, while at the same time people would just point out ‘Well, you just bought an oil pipeline.’”

It especially didn’t help them in the Prairies, he pointed out, as they were completely shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan, and suffered losses in Quebec, where the Bloc Québécois jumped to 32 seats from just 10.

“Opposition to pipelines is high in Quebec,” Gunton said. “That was a liability for the Liberals.”

Overall, Trudeau hung onto 157 of 184 seats, but was downgraded to a minority government, while Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives jumped from 99 seats to 121 and actually won the popular vote.

The Liberals tried play the middle when it came to climate change, while other parties had a clearer goal.

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

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

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

The NDP, which nearly halved their ridings to just 24 this election, could play a more significant role than their seat count suggests, he added, because of the minority result. Together, the Liberals, NDP and Greens have 184 seats – a significant majority.

“There will certainly be some concessions.”

As for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Gunton said it’s hard to tell if politics or economics will hold it back the most.

“The costs of building it has doubled,” he said. “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.”

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


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