Cleo Paskal
Associate Fellow, Energy, Environment and Resources
Canada's partners are about to see a sea change in policy from the new Liberal government on a range of issues, especially relating to energy and the environment.
Canadian Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau arrives to give a press conference in Ottawa on 20 October 2015. Photo by Getty Images.Canadian Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau arrives to give a press conference in Ottawa on 20 October 2015. Photo by Getty Images.

The Liberal Party likes to think of itself as ‘Canada’s natural governing party’. Though they have been out of power for 10 years, and newly elected prime minister Justin Trudeau is relatively inexperienced, the party has deep and old networks across the country. The backroom is full of experienced old hands, including former prime ministers who have known Trudeau since he was a toddler. With a number of bold shifts promised in Canadian foreign policy, and a willingness to be fiscally expansive (Trudeau has said he is willing to run deficits for three years to implement their policies), the change is likely to be dramatic, fast and unrelenting.

International engagement

The Liberals’ proposed new Canada has a hint of nostalgia for a time when Canadians thought of themselves as a force for good in the world. There is likely to be a large-scale reengagement with the international community, especially the United Nations, not only on climate policy, but also peacekeeping and disaster response. Canada’s French-speaking experts make it well placed to engage in crisis-hit French-speaking countries while carrying somewhat less colonial baggage. Meanwhile, the Liberals have promised to withdraw Canadian forces from the combat mission against ISIS in Iraq, pledging instead to reorient their focus towards aid.

Science-based policies

Trudeau has the backing of a very deep bench of experienced parliamentarians, some of whom have been waiting a long time to get back in the governing game. They include Stéphane Dion, the former environment minister who gained respect for his chairing of the 2005 UN climate change conference in Montreal, and Marc Garneau, former astronaut and president of the Canadian Space Agency. This will be a government that understands and values (and has promised to restore funding for) scientific research.

This means more investment in climate resilience, renewables and other forward planning policies, but also a reexamination of some of Canada’s long-standing strengths, including Canada’s fisheries. Under the previous government, over half-a-dozen critical fisheries research libraries were shut down, in some cases with large-scale loss of data. A more science-based fisheries policy, combined with the promised funding to the Royal Canadian Navy, may result in a reinvigorated and coordinated Canadian fisheries policy. This would become particularly important in a time of global food constraints.

‘Nation-to-nation’

Trudeau’s stated goal of establishing ‘nation-to-nation’ relations with Canada’s indigenous peoples has potentially global implications.

Through treaties, Canada’s First Nations can stake a claim to about a third of Canada’s landmass, including resource rich areas. They own or control access to land that contains oil, gas, uranium, gold, diamonds and much more. China, for one, realized the potential power of First Nations as far back as 2008, when Beijing invited over two dozen indigenous leaders to China to talk business. During that trip, Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson explained that the trip was ‘an important step for us in moving forward. Our future is not only in Canada, but partnering with other countries.’

Trudeau’s ‘nation-to-nation’ statement acknowledges the strengthening role of First Nations in Canada’s resource policy. Indigenous communities have been among the most adversely affected by oil sands development and, in other parts of Canada, have successfully blocked resources extraction or transit. For example, in May, the Lax Kw'alaams Band refused to allow a proposed multi-million dollar Petronas LNG project to be developed on their land over concerns it would affect their economically and culturally important salmon runs.

Real First Nations engagement with resource management has the potential substantially change Canada’s energy, environment and resources profile. First Nations in eastern Canada have already blocked hydro development that could power much of the northeastern United States and, in a time of pipeline expansion, First Nations might become instrumental in deciding if more pipelines will run north-to-south, towards the border with the United States, or east-to-west, towards the Pacific and the markets in Asia.

Energy sector

At the same time, while Trudeau said he was against the Northern Gateway pipeline, in large part because of how it would affect the people of the Pacific coast, he backed Keystone XL. However, he is unlikely to push for it in the face of a veto by President Obama. Also, low fossil fuel prices contributed to the election in May of a left-leaning provincial government in the badly hit oil heartland of Alberta. If prices stay low, that could very well combine with Liberal campaign promises to put a coordinated national price on carbon and to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, additionally reshaping Canada’s energy landscape..

Agriculture and the Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Liberals also have a stated goal of investing in a more innovative and safe agricultural sector, while defending the interests of Canadian farmers. This dovetails with their promise to openly examine and discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) before ratification. Canadian dairy farmers in particular were concerned about some of the TPP provisions but, without access to the details of the text, it was difficult to estimate how the sector would be affected.

One proposed agricultural policy that may have widespread economic implications is the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana. As some states in the United States have found, this has the potential to be economically beneficial and, for Canada, a possible major boon to cross-border tourism.

In a myriad of small ways, and a few big ones, the new Liberal government plans to change Canada’s international role and domestic landscape. This is one to watch.

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