Justin Trudeau makes his last stand
Winning four elections in a row is a rare feat in Canadian politics, and it’s one Justin Trudeau seems determined to match. But with his party trailing Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives by as much as 10 points, it’s increasingly clear that the prime minister had to do something drastic. And yes, pulling the trigger on one of the biggest cabinet shuffles we’ve seen in decades certainly meets that test.
There’s no shortage of change in the changes. Seven new MPs joined his cabinet, replacing the seven that were booted out, with 23 getting their job descriptions changed and just eight emerging unscathed. But for all the churn, little has changed when it comes to how this government actually operates. Trudeau’s longtime chief of staff, Katie Telford, remains firmly ensconced in her job. So do Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, his two most likely successors as leader. His longtime friend Dominic LeBlanc, meanwhile, will take on an even bigger role as minister of public safety, democratic institutions and intergovernmental affairs.
Even some of the new ministers have long-standing ties to the prime minister. Ya’ara Saks, the new minister of mental health and addictions, is the prime minister’s long-standing walking partner. Arif Virani, the new minister of justice, is his former classmate at McGill (class of 1994). They join a group of former classmates and staffers that includes Marc Miller and Mary Ng. It’s a safe bet that Anna Gainey, the newly elected MP for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount, will join them in cabinet in the not-so-distant future.
The gang, in other words, is still very much together. As Paul Wells wrote on his Substack, “this prime minister really doesn’t do shakeups. He keeps his chief of staff, his indispensable deputy, his own way of thinking and talking about his government. Everything else swirls around. He came to office promising real change. Increasingly what’s real is what doesn’t change.”
In fairness, there’s a certain logic here. Loyalty goes a long way in politics, and that’s especially true when your back is against the wall the way Trudeau’s is right now. Surrounding yourself with people you can trust is an understandable instinct, and it speaks well of Trudeau’s instincts as a human being and friend.
As a politician, though, it could be a trap of his own making. After all, these are people who see him as much as their friend as they do their boss, and they may not be able to see him and his decisions in the sort of neutral light that tends to illuminate the truth. Even if they can, they might not be able or inclined to share that truth with him given how uncomfortable it’s becoming.
If this government is going to last beyond the next election, it has to do more than wait for Poilievre’s Conservatives to step on its own feet. As I’ve said before, with more than 80 per cent of Canadians wanting some form of change, the Trudeau Liberals have to find a way to give it to them. And while a few new faces is a step in that direction, it’s not nearly big enough to get them where they need to be.
They need new energy, new ideas and a team that Canadians can trust to deliver on them. As former Trudeau adviser Tyler Meredith tweeted, “ultimately renewal comes down to ideas. And new Ministers can bring new ideas.” Perhaps. But that’s only true if they’re actually willing to speak truth to his power, something that can be hard for old friends and colleagues to do.
In hindsight, then, this shuffle could easily end up looking like so many deck chairs being rearranged rather than a new path being charted to avoid the Poilievre-shaped iceberg lurking out there. But if the prime minister has to go down with the Liberal ship, as seems increasingly likely, at least he’ll be surrounded by plenty of familiar faces.
The anti-EV campaign has begun
Electric vehicles may be taking the world by storm, but it’s not happening without a fight. A rearguard battle against the electrification of transportation is well underway, with fossil fuel companies — surprise! — playing a major role in the campaign. A new ad from ExxonMobil takes pretty clear aim at EVs, suggesting its product — gasoline, to be clear — helps people break free of all the cords and connections in our lives these days.
This caught the eye of American climate reporter Amy Westervelt. “It looks like the first big public rift between two industries that have spent a century working side by side,” she wrote. “Automakers and oil companies first joined up to bust unions in the early 1900s, then to push infrastructure and culture toward car dependency in the 1950s and, in the 1980s and ’90s, to block climate policy.”
Now, it seems, the two giants are squaring off. And Christine Arena, a former advertising executive turned whistleblower who used to help the fossil fuel industry, didn’t pull her punches when talking with Westervelt. “This ad illustrates the regressive shift from excessive greenwash back to blatant climate denial…high on war profits, Exxon is done pretending to be advancing climate solutions. By celebrating oil as freedom and condemning clean energy as a kind of captivity, it demonstrates the classic propaganda tactic of warping the truth and cloaking its polluting product in a universally accepted ideal.”
We can even see the incipient anti-EV campaign bearing fruit here at home. The Globe and Mail ran a curious op-ed about unsold electric vehicles “piling up” on dealership lots. The story was built on the foundation of a single report from an American auto industry consultancy — and has been picked up by anti-EV advocates everywhere. That it makes no mention of Tesla, the top-selling automaker in places like California and Europe, is one clue about its credibility. Another is the fact that the photo attached to the story is of EVs sitting in a parking lot in China in 2019, not America in 2023.
But make no mistake: The war here is only just beginning. Buckle up.
Hot air on heat pumps
If the fossil fuellists are looking for inspiration for their next bad-faith marketing campaign, they ought to cast their gaze over the United Kingdom. Over the last two years, the Energy and Utilities Association Association has apparently been paying a public relations firm to sully the reputation of heat pumps. They’re a key tool in the decarbonization of heating and cooling systems, and they’ve been deployed to great effect in western Europe after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That’s something the legacy gas industry over there clearly can’t abide.
As DeSmog reported, “Negative stories about electric heat pumps have featured in outlets such as The Sun, Telegraph and The Express, in which damning headlines dub the technology ‘Soviet-style’, ‘financially irrational’ as well as ‘costly and noisy’. Broadcast media has amplified similar messages on BBC 2’s Newsnight, LBC, TalkTV and GB News.” The same agency has also been lobbying the Conservative government in Great Britain, which was until recently in the midst of public consultations over proposed timelines and targets for heat pump installations.
This campaign might have worked, too. Martin Freer, a professor and the director of the Birmingham Energy Institute, told DeSmog that his country’s “glacial” uptake of heat pumps can be at least partially attributed to the confusion among consumers. “The homeowner is confused by the mixed messages from government, industry and the sector around which low-carbon heating solution is best. This same confusion does not exist in countries such as Italy and Poland and even France, Germany or the Netherlands.”
We’d do well to remember this here in Canada and get out ahead of any similar campaigns before it’s too late.
Sending a message, CPC-style
You probably don’t know much about the riding of Calgary-Heritage, and with good reason. It came into being in 2015 as a result of the 2012 federal electoral boundaries redistribution, and while former prime minister Stephen Harper held it briefly after his defeat to Justin Trudeau, he quickly resigned the seat and faded into the corporate bushes. A byelection was held in 2017, and to absolutely nobody’s surprise — the riding is in south Calgary, which has always been reliably Conservative at the federal level — the Conservative Party of Canada’s Bob Benzen won.
Benzen, a former businessman who “specialized in data storage and information management for energy companies,” was not what you would call a star candidate. A supporter of Erin O’Toole in the 2017 and 2020 leadership races, he ended up being one of the MPs who helped engineer his ouster after the 2021 election. Why? Because he supported a watered-down version of a carbon tax.
Shuvaloy Majumdar, his new replacement as the Conservative MP in the riding, is a bird of a very different feather. A former foreign policy adviser to John Baird and Stephen Harper, Majumdar is widely considered one of the brighter intellectual lights in an increasingly dim conservative movement. The former Munk Institute senior fellow has an impressive track record as a pro-democracy, pro-pluralism advocate in the Muslim world, and his sophisticated understanding of freedom seemed like it could be an important counterweight to Poilievre’s reductivist conception.
Well, so much for that. On Monday, after winning the byelection, Majumdar told the audience: “We sent Justin a message tonight, didn’t we?” That message couldn’t have much to do with federal politics, given the riding’s well-documented safety for conservative candidates and his underperformance compared to Benzen’s in 2017. But there was another message in Majumdar’s victory speech, one that doesn’t augur well for his ability to bring some sense and sophistication to his new workplace. “I wanted to go over to Liberal headquarters to invite them to participate in our celebration here tonight,” he said. “The only problem was there were no direct flights from Calgary to Beijing."
Right, of course. One can hope that this was a temporary lapse, and that Majumdar’s pedigree will win out in the end here. But when the party’s Twitter account bills you as “our newest common sense Conservative MP” who will “join the fight to bring back the common sense of the common people,” maybe playing down to their level is the right professional move.
Because I’m a glutton for punishment, and because (more importantly) I still think there’s value in talking to people who don’t share your view or perspective on things, I joined Derek Fildebrandt — yes, that Derek Fildebrandt — for the first episode of our experimental new project, Fawcett vs. Fildebrandt. You can see the results here.
I’m sure I’ll get plenty of mail from people asking me if I’ve lost my mind, just as I’m sure Derek will get some from his audience. But the premise of my podcast — on hiatus for the summer! — was getting outside of silos and engaging with different perspectives, and this is an obvious continuation of that work. We’ll see where it goes from here, but I thought we had an interesting conversation with our guest Jen Gerson about the fate and future of the legacy media and what can (and should) be done about it. If you have any thoughts on this, please let me know.
Last Thursday, meanwhile, I joined CBC Calgary for its evening news political panel and had an absolutely delightful time calling out the Pathways Alliance — the new public face for the oilsands companies — for its inaction on carbon capture and decarbonization investment.
I also took a run at a Globe and Mail column from Calgary Chamber of Commerce CEO Deborah Yedlin over on Twitter — or, fine, “X”. Yedlin tried to suggest that oilsands companies deserve the same largesse as the new battery plants in Ontario, and I pointed out that a) they’re already getting it, and b) their real issue is with the United Conservative Party government in Alberta. There were no fun GIFs this time because apparently Elon’s social media site can’t support them any more.
Oh, and columns: I wrote about what happened in Belleville and why conservatives shouldn’t be complaining about getting attacked by the face-eating leopards they’ve been feeding, as well as a sizzling hot take on why Jagmeet Singh needs to step away from the NDP before he does any more damage to its prospects.
That’s all for this week. Stay safe out there, friends.