Federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s intransigence on carbon pricing and support for the Energy East pipeline could be the death knell for his party’s hopes of picking up seats in Quebec in next year’s federal election, veteran columnist Chantal Hébert suggests this week in the Toronto Star.
“In Quebec, the anti-carbon pricing platform Scheer has been spending the fall shoring up is dead on arrival, both in the National Assembly and on the ground,” Hébert writes. And his support for Energy East “amounts to a target on the back of his candidates, as well as an incentive for Quebec’s premier to keep a safe distance from the federal Conservatives.”
Hébert points to the 50,000 people who marched in Montreal over the weekend for provincial climate action, and the 150,000 who signed a pledge in just one week, promising to reduce their own carbon footprints and demanding more effective government leadership on climate.
“Those numbers provide an answer of sorts to those who wondered whether Quebec’s culture of political mobilization had waned along with the sovereignty movement,” she writes. “Some of the activism and the passion that for so many decades attended the debate over the province’s political future has shifted to the environmental front.” And the right-of-centre Coalition Avenir Québec government has taken notice, even if Scheer has yet to get the memo (or has had trouble getting it translated).
“Whether (newly-elected Premier François) Legault can keep his government on the good side of an ever-expanding climate change movement is an open question,” Hébert notes. But at least he’s trying. After a provincial election campaign that made scant mention of climate or environment issues, Legault admitted his party’s platform had fallen short and promised improvements, reversed his position supporting shale gas exploration on Anticosti Island, sent three ministers to attend the weekend march in Montreal, and met with one of its lead organizers on Friday.
“The same cannot be said of Scheer’s CPC,” she writes. “If the past is any indication, the first inclination of Conservative strategists will be to dismiss the ongoing Quebec developments as the work of an elitist cohort of left-wing activists. They will find plenty of punditry in support of that take.”
And yet, the Transition Pact that now counts 150,000 signatures features “more Quebec household names than Scheer can ever hope to get to know between now and the federal election. Together, they command a larger audience than he ever will. In the recent past, more formidable leaders than Scheer have taken on similar Quebec coalitions…and lost.”
Which means that, just as a relatively modest reduction in culture budgets likely cost Stephen Harper the Quebec votes he needed to form a majority government in 2008, climate change is the issue that could undercut Scheer’s political ambitions in 2019. The difference, Hébert says, is that “climate change is in a different, more powerful, league.”