Justin Trudeau says his new government has a lot of work to do to ensure it is governing for the entire country, but his MPs are warning the prime minister not to go too far to placate regions that spurned core Liberal policies and values.
On his way into the first gathering of re-elected, newly elected and defeated Liberal MPs since the Oct. 21 vote, Trudeau said that western alienation is a "significant issue" for his government.
"That continues to be a significant issue that we're talking about, that I've been reaching out to premiers, to mayors, to business leaders, to colleagues and former colleagues on," Trudeau said Thursday (Nov. 7).
"There's a lot of work to do to ensure we're governing for the entire country."
The Liberals were shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan but held onto enough seats elsewhere, particularly Ontario, to continue governing with a minority of seats in the House of Commons.
Trudeau's name is politically toxic in the two resource-dependent prairie provinces, where most voters believe the Liberal carbon tax and other policies aimed at fighting climate change are detrimental to the already-hurting oil patch.
The Liberals also lost some seats and failed to make hoped-for gains in Quebec as the separatist Bloc Quebecois staged a resurgence, in large part due to the popularity of the provincial government's new secularism law banning individuals in positions of authority, including teachers and police, from wearing religious symbols on the job.
Of all the national leaders during the campaign, Trudeau took the strongest stance, refusing to rule out federal intervention in court challenges to the law.
Various current and former MPs said they expect Trudeau to expand his inner circle of advisers, which has tended to be dominated by people who previously worked for Liberal governments in Ontario, to include more westerners and Quebecers, and to find other ways of consulting people in those provinces.
Some Liberals tout veteran cabinet minister Ralph Goodale, who was defeated in his Saskatchewan riding after more than 25 years as an MP, as a valuable addition to the Prime Minister's Office.
He said he has not had time to seriously reflect on his future but added: "The first duty of every member of Parliament should be the unity and cohesion and success of the country and any way that I can make a contribution to that in my post-parliamentary life, I'm happy to do."
But beyond the "structural" issue of how to include western views in government, Goodale said it's more important that the government demonstrate an understanding of the economic insecurity felt by westerners and make sure it's addressed "in a conscientious way that builds Canadian unity."
He noted that a majority of Canadians voted for parties (Liberals and Conservatives) that favour completing the expansion of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline but a majority also voted for parties (Liberals, NDP, Greens, Bloc) that promised tougher action on climate change.
"There's a very challenging circle to square here," he said. "We have to demonstrate that it is possible to simultaneously protect the environment and promote economic growth."
But re-elected Montreal MP Anthony Housefather said there must be limits to how far the government goes to reach out to voters who rejected the Liberal message.
"I think you've got to look at engaging but at some point in time you've got to stick to your core values," he said. "We're not going to stop wanting to have a greener, cleaner Canada and we're not going to stop being against bills that are violating the charter. So there's a limit to accommodation."
Housefather said talking to one another and handling disagreements in "a respectful way" will go a long way to bridging divides exposed by the election results.
David Graham, who was defeated in his Quebec riding, attributed his loss at least in part to the Liberals' opposition to the province's secularism law. But he had no regrets about the stance he and Trudeau took.
"If I lost the election because I defended people's rights then, damn, I lost for the right reason," Graham said, adding that Trudeau must "continue to stand for what he believes in, what's good for the country as a whole."
Earlier Thursday, Trudeau met with P.E.I. Premier Dennis King, whom he said he hopes to learn from when it comes to working well with others in a minority government.
The meeting was just the first of several the prime minister has planned with premiers in the coming days.
Trudeau said it was opportune that King is the first premier he has met with post-election, given his success in leading a minority Progressive Conservative government and collaborating with the official Opposition in P.E.I. — the Green party.
"As I reflect on the need to work well with others, your example of how you've managed a minority government, working with the Greens in a very constructive, productive way, for Prince Edward Island, I look forward to picking your brain on how you're working so well with others because that's going to be important to me," he said.
Such lessons would be good for everyone on Parliament Hill, King suggested.
"As one of the provinces who are leading the country in exports, I really hope we can export our style of politics," he said, eliciting a chuckle from Trudeau. "I think it will actually be refreshing, maybe for you and all of the parties in Ottawa."