Justin Trudeau’s Liberals survived more than won the federal election, helped of course by the four PEI incumbents, another clean sweep. The Greens can also take some satisfaction with 20% of the vote here, well above the 6.5% the party received nationally. The Conservatives and NDP will be disappointed they didn’t do better. For the Island’s farming community the national results, I think, are generally favourable.
The most obvious winner here is the dairy industry. PEI has always had a strong connection to Quebec’s milk sector. Producers in both provinces depend a lot on the “industrial” side of the dairy business, products like butter, cheese and ice cream rather than the fluid milk we put on the table to drink. PEI’s population is just too small to use all of the milk produced here, so truckloads of cheeses are produced and exported elsewhere.
The return of the Bloc in Quebec, who’s only concern is protecting that province’s interests, will do their part to maintain the regulated system that assures farmers fair prices. As well, supply management’s biggest opponent Maxime Bernier, didn’t win his seat in the Beauce. (The Bloc and Quebec’s support for equalization, also so important to PEI, will blunt attacks by Jason Kenny and Alberta).
But there’s one more element at play. The NDP will almost certainly be needed to provide the additional support the Liberals will require to govern in a minority parliament. The NDP agriculture critic Alistair MacGregor was re-elected in his BC riding of Cowichan-Malahat-Langford. He told the Western Producer just before the election that protecting supply management was the NDP’s top priority.
“In a minority situation, if we were able to have some influence over government policy as a condition of our support, I would certainly like to see that, starting off with supply management that we actually honour the promises that we make.” Here he’s talking about the concessions made in trade deals involving the European Union, the United States, Mexico and Pacific nations, and the compensation programs the Liberals have promised.
Stability in the dairy industry is important to producers, and to ADL which has invested heavily over the last two years counting on maintaining its markets in Canada and not being swamped by cheaper imports.
The NDP has also promised a federally funded school meal program which I’ve argued several times is badly needed. Canada is the only G-7 country without a policy like this, and the consequences of not feeding kids from food insecure homes, or with busy/absent parents, are just too big to ignore. Hungry students behave badly and simply don’t learn. Will the NDP make this a condition of support? I hope it does.
Both the former Liberal Agriculture and Fisheries ministers, Marie-Claude Bibeau and Jonathan Wilkinson, won their seats and could well retain these jobs. Will Lawrence MacAulay keep the Veteran’s Affairs portfolio? He just might because the PMO’s office will be more focused on developing working relationships with the NDP, Bloc and Greens, and the very real need to scale back the anger and cynicism coming from Alberta and Saskatchewan following the vote.
If Trudeau does pay attention to PEI, or MacAulay asks for a less rigorous role, many think Wayne Easter deserves the cabinet seat this time around. He’s next in seniority to MacAulay, and would certainly give PEI’s farm community a strong voice. Easter has gone from a radical national president of the National Farmers Union decades ago, to an elder statesman in the Liberal party now, but his knowledge and instincts about what works for family farmers has never wavered.
The other positive thing coming from the vote in my opinion is that efforts to curb climate change will continue. I kept having uncomfortable flashes of Andrew Scheer, Doug Ford and Jason Kenney on a stage presenting Canada’s views on climate, trying to turn the clock back to the 1970’s, while the rest of the world wonders what happened here. I know carbon pricing and other policies aren’t accepted by everyone, but our coast lines, and the ability of farmers to navigate highly unstable weather patterns, deserve our best effort.
I’m also pleased that despite attempts by a small minority, using all of the social media tools now available, to stoke populist sentiment on curtailing immigration, denying climate change, trying to scale back women’s rights and so on, Canadians basically maintained who we are: a lucky bunch of people from different countries, enjoying vast resources and political structures that mostly work.
That’s not to say that there aren’t deep divisions between east and west that the election did nothing to paper over, in fact just etched them a little deeper. It’s been widely reported that Alberta feels any deal the Liberals make with the NDP/Greens to govern will include a promise not to build the Trans Mountain pipeline.
Some columnists are calling for an “energy summit” to sort through the divisions. This will be the first challenge for the minority Liberals, and may well determine how long before we go to the polls again. Expect to hear a lot of talk about “Alberta separatism”, and challenges to Canadian unity.
Justin Trudeau starts his second mandate with far less goodwill than in 2015, and a much cloudier forecast.