'The damage done is significant': Scheer blames Liberal government for national unity 'crisis'

'The damage done is significant': Scheer blames Liberal government for national unity 'crisis'

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said today the Liberal government is to blame for fomenting a national unity "crisis" and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "hasn't learned a thing" since the election returned him to office with a reduced mandate.

Scheer delivered his response to Thursday's throne speech in the House of Commons this morning, saying the speech did not adequately address economic anxieties in Alberta and Saskatchewan at a time when commodity prices are stagnant and pipelines are at capacity.

Scheer tabled an amendment to the speech, arguing the Liberal government must reverse course on its climate policies or risk fanning the flames of western alienation.

"A national unity crisis requires respecting provincial jurisdiction and scrapping the carbon tax and stopping the attack on the Western Canadian economy," Scheer said.

Scheer blamed Liberal policies during the first four-year term for whipping up discontent in Alberta and Saskatchewan. He accused the government of being more willing to listen to "foreign-funded activist groups" than energy workers and said two pieces of legislation — Bill C-69, the environmental assessment overhaul, and the northern B.C. oil tanker ban — have sent the wrong signals to energy investors at a time when oilpatch investment is at its lowest levels in a decade.

After the Liberal government introduced these measures, widely perceived as an affront to the country's natural resources sector, voters this October turfed all Liberal MPs between Manitoba and B.C.

Critics of C-69 oppose the legislation's elimination of the "standing test" — the rule that used to determine who could participate in regulatory hearings on major natural resources projects. Opponents of the legislation claim this will lead to hearings being overrun by activists opposed to development. Scheer has said he'd ban climate activists from the process.

"I want all our colleagues from across Canada to not underestimate the deep alienation and anger the people of my province, along with our neighbours in Alberta, currently feel about their deal in Confederation," said Scheer, a Saskatchewan MP. "The damage done over the past four years is significant."

Scheer said the Conservative Party would be the champion of Western Canada in Parliament. "We're going to fight for pipelines, lower taxes and reduced regulations to make Canada the best place in the world to invest, start a business and create jobs."

Well over 100,000 oilpatch employees have lost their jobs during this downturn, according to estimates by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and the Canadian Society of Unconventional Resources (CSUR).

Beyond his full-throated support for the natural resources sector, Scheer called on the Liberal government to endorse large sections of the last Conservative election platform — returning to a balanced budget, developing a more "disciplined" foreign policy to more closely align Canada with Israel and protecting Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.

Asked in question period if he'd amend Bill C-69, Trudeau said the government would be open to changes to the legislation "if necessary."

But Trudeau said the past environmental assessment process was deeply flawed and failed to actually see major pipeline projects through to completion.

"After many years of trying and failing by previous governments, we're moving forward with building the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion," Trudeau said. "There are shovels in the ground and thousands of people newly hired to make sure we can get our energy resources to new markets responsibly and sustainably."

Trudeau said his government understands the plight of unemployed energy workers in Alberta and Saskatchewan and accused the Conservative leader of "fear mongering."

"In the speech from the throne, we recognized the challenges facing workers in our resource sector with the lower prices on international commodities. There have been some very difficult times for workers, particularly on the Prairies," the prime minister said.

"We need to work to allay those fears. We need to do things like point out the Trans Mountain pipeline is being built as we speak — which many people on the Prairies still don't know about," Trudeau said.

Work on the rail and marine terminals began in the summer, and the Crown corporation that now owns the line began laying pipe on Tuesday. However, a Federal Court of Appeal challenge of the project's cabinet approval is still pending.

Another Conservative MP, Michelle Rempel Garner, went even further in her pointed criticism of the prime minister's energy policies. Rempel Garner accused the Liberal government of cheering on the end of the oil sector in Alberta.

She said "kale-smoothie [drinking] hypocrites" on the Liberal benches just don't understand how dire the situation is in her province.

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

"Yesterday's throne speech was a slap in the face. It was tone-deaf. I don't know, maybe they want this. Maybe they're finishing the job that the prime minister's father started in the 1980s. It sure feels like it," she said, citing former prime minister Pierre Trudeau's controversial National Energy Program.

She dismissed Trudeau's argument that commodity prices are to blame for the industry's disruptions. "If it were commodity prices, why is the U.S. doing so well with its industry?" she asked.

The U.S. became a net exporter of crude oil for the first time this year since the 1940s, thanks to the continuing boom in shale drilling.