Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre on Tuesday morning, after interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose called Coderre's remarks about the Energy East pipeline "insulting" and said they threaten national unity.
The meeting between the prime minister and the former Liberal cabinet minister was held at Montreal City Hall. A range of topics, including Energy East, was on the agenda.
Speaking to reporters after, Trudeau said it's not up to the federal government to push for certain pipeline projects, but he was focused on putting in place a clear process for assessing the proposal.
Coderre said the city would participate in this process and stressed the need to strike the right balance between economic and environmental concerns.
Ambrose said Monday that Quebec-based opposition to the west-to-east pipeline project is reminiscent of a time when Trudeau's father was in office.
"I'll tell you that I'm hearing from Albertans, and people in Saskatchewan, that this is just like the [National Energy Program]. That's what they say," Ambrose told reporters Monday, the day Parliament returned for its winter sitting after a prolonged Christmas break.
Coderre, and 81 other mayors from surrounding municipalities, came out against TransCanada's pan-Canadian pipeline project last week — which would convert an existing natural gas pipeline to one transporting crude oil — setting off a war of words with political leaders in the West.
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"This is just like back in the 1980s when the last government opposed, put strict measures in place that deflated the Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. economy," Ambrose said of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau's attempt to nationalize parts of the oil and gas sector, and levy larger taxes on producers.
"My concern is ... this is affecting national unity," Ambrose said, adding that some Westerners feel betrayed by Quebecers after shouldering the burden of equalization payments Quebec has relied on for decades.
Ambrose doubled down on her criticism in question period, while taking aim at the prime minister's trip to Davos for the World Economic Forum last week.
"The prime minister should stop using his cellphone for selfies with Leo DiCaprio and pick it up and call Denis Coderre to fight for natural resource jobs," Ambrose said, reminding the prime minister that more than 100,000 people have already lost their jobs in the energy sector.
"Does [Trudeau] understand his lack of leadership on this issue is creating divisions in the country?"
Trudeau batted away the question, telling the Tory leader it was unreasonable to expect his government to greenlight a pipeline project in such a short time frame.
"It's interesting Mr. Speaker that the members opposite are criticizing us for not getting done in 10 weeks what they were unable to do in 10 years.
"We are working very, very hard right across the country with municipal leaders, with provincial leaders, to make sure we're creating the social license, the oversight, the environmental responsibility and the partnership with communities to get our resources to market in a responsible way," Trudeau said.
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr added the government was working to modernize the regulatory process at the National Energy Board and restore its reputation among Canadians before moving ahead with new pipeline projects.
Coderre whipping up Western alienation: Ambrose
In her earlier comments, Ambrose called on Trudeau to rein in his "friend," Coderre, himself a former Liberal cabinet minister, before he further whips up Western alienation.
Coderre took a shot at Brian Jean, the leader of the opposition Wildrose Party in Alberta, in an interview with Radio-Canada.
"You have to allow me a moment to laugh at a guy like [Jean], when he says he relies on science," Coderre said. "These are probably the same people who think the Flintstones is a documentary. But that's another story."
Jean dismissed the remark as "gutter politics."
Ambrose invited Coderre — and the other mayors who oppose the project — to come to Alberta to better study the province's new climate change plan, and review its record on pipeline safety before lobbing any criticism at other projects.
"The key to long-term growth for the energy sector across the board is pipelines and, yes, everyone across the country demands that they be build in an environmentally safe way," she said.
"But for Mr. Coderre to come out and insult Albertans and oppose a pipeline that hasn't even been built yet is unfortunate. This isn't the spirit of Confederation, it's not in the spirit of national unity."
Trudeau's Davos remarks 'insulting'
Ambrose also condemned Justin Trudeau for "insulting" Canadians working in the energy sector when he said last week in Davos that he wanted world leaders to know Canada more for its "resourcefulness" than its resources, a comment she said denigrated the work Canadians do in the extraction sector.
"[If] he thinks somehow if you work in the natural resources sector that you're not educated, or these are not high tech jobs with high value added components to them, he's wrong.
"[Trudeau] has not shown yet that he cares about this issue and he cares about the people that are suffering, and that's my concern."
The prime minister said Monday that Ambrose had misinterpreted his remarks, adding that workers in the extraction sector should also be lauded for their resourcefulness.
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The Edmonton-area MP said Trudeau needs to take a stand once and for all on the Energy East pipeline to help an industry that is in dire straits, but also to send a message to his "friends at Queen's Park" that bashing the industry is the wrong move.
"There is no light at the end of the tunnel for people. When I was in Calgary [last week], I heard the words 'panic' and 'despair,' and I'm not exaggerating," she said. "I don't think some people realize how dire the situation is in Western Canada. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs."