OTTAWA–The issue of Western alienation will loom large over the Prime Minister’s Office Tuesday as Justin Trudeau holds meetings with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe.
Trudeau and Scheer are scheduled to meet for the first time since October’s federal election, which returned Trudeau’s Liberals to power with a minority government.
Moe, a key voice for the anger and frustration felt by Western Canadians, will meet the prime minister after the two federal politicians speak.
Despite voters having humbled Trudeau’s Liberals, it’s Scheer who is fighting for his political life. The Conservative leader has faced vocal criticism from within his own party after his campaign lost ground in both Ontario and Quebec. And with Moe visiting the capital on the same day as Scheer meets with the prime minister, it will be more difficult for the Conservative leader to position himself as the champion of Western Canadian anger.
Scheer survived his first meeting with the Conservative caucus last week, but MPs and party activists are still angry with his campaign’s perceived failings — everything from lacklustre organization in identifying and mobilizing supporters to Scheer’s inability to clearly answer questions about his socially conservative beliefs.
Trudeau, meanwhile, must reckon not only with a diminished mandate but with the very real anger directed at him from Alberta and Saskatchewan. As Trudeau goes about assembling a new cabinet to be unveiled on Nov. 20, he’s faced with the issue of having no Liberal MPs elected in either of those provinces.
How both leaders navigate the anger in Alberta and Saskatchewan could have far-reaching consequences.
“Our approach is to be open-minded and work together on issues that matter to people right across the country, and we are committed to making Parliament work for Canadians,” Trudeau spokesperson Cameron Ahmad said in a written statement to the Star.
“The PM has spent the past few weeks speaking with premiers, mayors and MPs and will continue those conversations, including one-on-one meetings with premiers at the earliest opportunity.”
Trudeau has already met with two Conservative premiers — Brian Pallister of Manitoba and Dennis King of Prince Edward Island. His office is in talks with Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s office to schedule a meeting after a federal campaign in which Trudeau repeatedly used Ford as a political punching bag, but a meeting between the two men is not expected this week.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Scheer will demand that Trudeau bring back the House of Commons on Nov. 25, the Monday after the prime minister names his new cabinet. Scheer spokesperson Simon Jefferies said the Conservatives believe MPs must return to Ottawa as soon as possible to address pressing issues facing the country.
“Our country is more divided than ever before. Families are struggling every month to make ends meet. Our energy industry is bleeding jobs,” Jefferies said in a statement to the Star.
“Justin Trudeau needs to bring the House back immediately to address these issues … We need to roll up our sleeves to get to work on behalf of Canadians.”
Moe was not immediately available for comment Monday night. The Saskatchewan premier has been a standard bearer for the anger and frustration coming out of the West.
“The path our federal government has been on the last four years has divided our nation,” Moe said in a statement after the Oct. 21 federal election.
“Last night’s election results showed the sense of frustration and alienation in Saskatchewan is now greater than it has been at any point in my lifetime.”
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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has convened a panel led by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning to examine ways to make the oil-producing province more independent from Ottawa. Kenney is Scheer’s former colleague, while Manning was both a political role model and a former boss to Scheer.
For his part, Trudeau has tried to signal that his Liberal government is listening to that sense of frustration growing in the Western provinces. Soon after the election, Trudeau appointed former attorney general Anne McLellan — a Nova Scotian who represented an Alberta riding during the Chrétien and Martin governments — as his adviser on Western alienation.
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