Trudeau's energy policy fuels resentment in provinces
Prime Minister Pierre trudeau, despite fierce attack from all parts of Canada , is pushing ahead with a bold attempt to assert his government's authority over the country's strong provincial governors.
The battle, which has inflamed deeply rooted and longstanding quarrels between the Trudeau government and the 10 provinces, is being fought over constitutional and energy issues in an atmosphere of great political uncertainty.
Tensions rose another notch on Oct. 28, when the Trudeau government, carrying its fight to the provinces on the energy front, announced it was imposing its own tax on natural gas production over the objections of leaders in Canada's western, energy-producing region.
The western provinces, where Trudeau's Liberal Party has little support, have been fighting to ensure local control over oil and natural gas in hopes of building a strong industrial base in their largely agricultural region before the nonrenewable resources run dry in coming years.
Though the provinces have clear title to their resources under Canadian law, the Trudeau government has invoked its right to tax oil and natural gas trade to raise billions of dollars in much-needed revenues.
The dispute has sparked widespread resentment in the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. In fact, it has reached such a point that threats that these two provinces may pull out of Canada are no longer just the ravings of fringe groups.
Reacting to the natural gas and other energy measures imposed by the Trudeau government in the Oct. 28 federal budget message, an Alberta government spokesman said, "The budget is clearly a massive discrimination against the province of Alberta and it amounts to nothing more or less than an attempted takeover of the ownership of the depleting resources owned by the people of this province."
Alberta has already hinted at strong retaliation and is expected to announce its countermoves against Ottawa any day. These could include a decision to begin cutting back oil supplies to the rest of Canada. Such a move would quickly cause shortages in the east. It would also set off a confrontation with the Trudeau government -- posing a real threat to Canada's future as a federation.
TRudeau, who is plunging ahead daringly in what are considered that last years of his 12-year career as prime minister, also electrified Canadians Oct. 28, by announcing government plans to engage in multimillion-dollar takeovers in the near future of "one or more" foreign-owned multinational oil giants.
The acquisitions will be necessary if the Trudeau government is to meet its goal of reducing mostly US-held foreign control of the oil and gas industry in this country to 50 percent by 1990. The current level is about 70 percent.
Though related, the spiralling energy dispute had until Oct. 28 been secondary to the larger conflict between Trudeau and many of the provincial premiers. These premiers felt Trudeau had shunted them aside a month ago in the preparation of a new Canadian constitution that included a bill of rights and other important and contentious items.
Many of the premiers feel trudeau's action is an attempt to ram a new governing charter down the throats of the provinces, with a consequent loss in power. Rene Levesque, the premier of the eastern, French-speaking province of Quebec asserted recently that Trudeau's action amounts to nothing less than "a coup d'etat."
Quebec is one of three provinces launching court actions intended to hold up Trudeau's constitutional plans. Similar actions are being undertaken by the provinces of Manitoba and Newfoundland, with the support of British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, and Alberta.
Trudeau's attempt to push through a new constitution also touched off one of the most tumultuous sessions in recent history in the Canadian House of Commons last week. In a move that attracted national attention, the opposition Progressive Conservative members of parliament capped a day of raucous protest by singing the national anthem, "O Canada," as the majority Liberal Party, led by Trudeau, imposed a little-used rule to cut off debate on the government's constitutional proposals.