House essay: East meets West redux

Evan Solomon, host of CBC Radio's The House, reflects on comments made by Liberals Justin Trudeau and David McGuinty, in his weekly radio essay as heard on Nov.24, 2012.
Liberal leadership contender Justin Trudeau speaks to reporters outside a hotel in Vancouver on Friday. Trudeau offered an apology for comments he made about Albertans two years ago. (Richard Lam/Canadian Press)

Evan Solomon, host of CBC Radio's The House, reflects on comments made by Liberals Justin Trudeau and David McGuinty, in his weekly radio essay as heard on Nov.24, 2012.

Justin Trudeau is in full damage control mode after comments he made during a 2010 French television interview resurfaced this week.

In the interview Trudeau said, "Canada isn't doing well right now because it's Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn't work."

For Trudeau, the timing couldn't be worse. Earlier in the week, Liberal MP David McGuinty apologized and resigned from his natural resources critic role after telling Alberta MPs to "go home."

With Monday's hotly contested byelection in Calgary-Centre on the line, will the comments fire up the Conservative base? Or tip undecided voters? It's too early to say.

Is it fair game to dredge-up comments made two years ago?

The truth is, in politics, words are like tattoos. They're hard to remove and opponents will notice them.

For years, Liberals denounced Prime Minister Stephen Harper for calling for a firewall around Alberta, or famously for making these comments about Atlantic Canada on May 29, 2002: "there is a dependency in the region that breeds a culture of defeatism."

That comment still hurts Harper in Atlantic Canada and this latest episode may hurt Trudeau for a long time too.

But beyond the tactical analysis of self-inflicted wounds, is there something more disturbing going on here?

Is what some might dismiss as political gaffe actually part of a political game, a strategy?

I spoke to a senior adviser on background who said that the media are missing the real picture here, that a Liberal election victory goes through Quebec, he said, not through Alberta.

In the same way, he argued, that Conservatives won without winning Quebec.

Quebecers, he said, will likely agree with Trudeau's comments!

I might have been shocked by the raw politics of that analysis but then I remembered back in 2008, that then premier of Newfoundland and Labrador Danny Williams revealed  that Stephen Harper had told him in a closed door meeting, "I don't need Newfoundland and Labrador to win."

Is a scorched regional tactic really now the unspoken strategic reality of Canadian politics?

Has the regionalism that has for so long threatened our Confederation now become entrenched as a tactical necessity?

Write off a region, flip a few targeted seats, and win the election?

If that's really true, and you sure hope it isn't, it might need more than just an apology to fix.