Justin Trudeau has been carefully putting the pieces in place for a climate-change and energy policy to be tied together next month. Now, Donald Trump has thrown the puzzle in the air.
For all the questions about what Mr. Trump will do as president, one thing is pretty clear: He won't advance climate change policies. He will cancel Barack Obama's major emissions-reductions program. He will withdraw from the Paris accord. Both steps are very doable, with two strokes of the new president's pen.
That will unsettle the careful planning behind Mr. Trudeau's single largest domestic policy initiative. He has worked to hammer together an emissions reduction agreement with (most) provinces and balanced that with work toward the approval of an oil pipeline. All, it seemed, was proceeding according to plan.
On Monday, the day before the U.S. election, Mr. Trudeau was touring Vancouver's harbour before announcing a $1.5-billion marine-safety plan. Oil-spill cleanup resources are a key condition set by B.C. Premier Christy Clark for accepting the Trans Mountain pipeline. So the marine safety plan makes the pipeline possible. And the pipeline, in Mr. Trudeau's political calculation, makes an emissions-reduction possible.
The key milestones come next month: Mr. Trudeau hopes to seal a federal-provincial emissions-reduction plan at a meeting with premiers and then must make the decision on approving Trans Mountain. That would be the culmination of a carefully constructed plan, combining emissions deal and pipeline, with one political step built upon another. Mr. Trump's election could shake its underpinnings.
Mr. Trudeau's strategy has been about balance. He not only promised that cutting greenhouse-gas emissions and exporting Alberta oil could go together, he said they must. The public would not support emissions reductions if they hobble the economy, he argued, and foreign buyers won't accept Canadian oil unless the country acts on emissions.
The political calculus seemed to be confirmed when Mr. Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline just as Mr. Trudeau took office. The moral, it seemed, was that without climate policies, oil sands exports would be constrained.
Alberta's NDP Premier Rachel Notley used the same argument – and that was critical because Mr. Trudeau's national plan depends on Alberta restricting emissions.
But now there's president-elect Trump. He said he would approve Keystone XL, and cancel Mr. Obama's Clean Power Plan. In other words, Mr. Trump is telling Canada there's no need to reduce emissions, and the United States is still happy to let Alberta oil exports flow.
That undercuts Mr. Trudeau's arguments. And it undercuts Ms. Notley. Opponents, such as Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jason Kenney, are already opposing her emissions-reduction policies. And if a new Alberta government elected in 2018 repeals her promise to cap oil sands emissions, then Mr. Trudeau's national emissions plan will unravel.
Mr. Trudeau's government assumed that a president Hillary Clinton would be pushing climate policies.
Now there will be no co-ordination with our major trading partner. Individual states will set climate policies, but not Mr. Trump. And the Paris climate agreement that Mr. Trudeau touted as the standard for global action will be gutted by U.S. withdrawal.
That shakes the politics. Mr. Trudeau was hoping he'd get credit for striking an emissions-reduction plan and at the same time opening a blocked path to oil exports.
But there's a new U.S. president who would approve a pipeline, anyway – one that wouldn't increase tanker traffic in Vancouver's harbour.
Mr. Trudeau was hoping he could sell the emissions-reductions as a necessary step to keep oil exports flowing. Now, with Mr. Trump, critics will argue they put Canadian industry at a disadvantage.
The Trudeau Liberals hoped they could craft a finely balanced climate-change coup. Now, Mr. Trump's election threatens their calculations.