Unpressurized, general service tank cars of a type common in North America. (Photo: Roy Luck, Creative Commons).

Having bought Canada a pipeline it may or may not want at considerable expense, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to spend political capital on Alberta as well, now saying the federal government is prepared to help the province finance the purchase of additional railroad tanker cars to raise the volume of crude it can ship to foreign markets.

Mr. Trudeau made the comments in a CBC interview that will be broadcast in full on Sunday. “We’re there to be a partner, to help,” he said, the national broadcaster reported yesterday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It’s not clear whether Mr. Trudeau’s political strategists think this is a viable strategy for the federal election expected in the fall of 2019, if they feel they’re in too deep to back out now, or what. My guess is that, right or wrong, they have concluded it’s the best thing for the country.

What is pretty clear, though, is that this effort won’t win the prime minister many friends in Alberta.

Around here, the only thanks he gets comes pretty much in the form of a stream of abuse from everywhere on the political spectrum, New Democrat and United Conservative Party alike. That, plus frivolous Tory lawsuits against other Trudeau Government policies financed from Alberta’s bottomless conservative PACs that aren’t allowed to directly contribute to the UCP and have to do something to show they’re busy.

Opposition Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer (Photo: Marcos Oliveira, Creative Commons).

It’s remarkable when you think about it. Every time Mr. Trudeau shows up in Alberta, there are demonstrators yelling at him. His predecessor, Stephen Harper, almost never showed up, and didn’t buy us a pipeline either, and there were never any demonstrations. What’s with that?

The eventual result of this kind of reception, as I speculated earlier this week, will be centrist governments in Ottawa that simply forget about trying accommodate the wishes of voters in resource dependent, Conservative-voting regions like Alberta.

If you don’t believe this can happen, consider another emotionally charged, but financially less significant issue that may be about to ricochet onto the national stage: much-needed restrictions on handguns and assault rifles.

Mr. Trudeau chose yesterday, the 29th anniversary of the gender-based mass shooting at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal, to announce on a Quebec radio station that his government will confront gun violence in Canada by acting to control possession of handguns and assault rifles. He refused to rule out a complete ban.

This, of course, will send Canada’s small but noisy cadre of “law-abiding gun owners” into a full-blown swivet. Stand by for a fusillade of enraged screeds packed with dubious statistics “proving” gun ownership prevents crime. Members of the Conservative Party of Canada base every one, they are determined they have a right to practice their anti-social hobby come what may.

The late Pierre Elliott Trudeau, prime minister of Canada (Photo: Archives of the City of Montreal).

The tone will be much uglier, of course, on their private online bulletin boards and at rural UCP meetings where, I kid you not, nowadays folks are standing up and seriously proposing a Florida-style “stand your ground” law for Alberta, which, thankfully, doesn’t have its own Criminal Code.

A significant portion of these LAGO screeds will insist that AR-15s, the weapon of choice of American mass murderers, aren’t really assault rifles and that anyone who doesn’t know any better is just a blubbering snowflake.

We can debate these points, especially the one about how anyone who supports a ban on such firearms is a snowflake, but it’s hardly worth the effort to try to change the minds of the Canadian right-to-bear-arms crowd. This group seems to have missed it that the Canadian Constitution gives them no such right, and that you can’t just make up Common Law because you feel like it.

But that’s not the point of this commentary. The point is that Mr. Trudeau seems to have figured out that the number of Canadian LAGOs is small, and that gun nuttery in this country is located almost exclusively within the loving embrace of the conservative movement in general and the Conservative Party of Canada in particular.

As a result, nothing the prime minister does will win any votes from the gun-rights-are-human-rights crowd anyway. So why not just go full steam ahead for an outright ban on handguns and assault rifles, including “hunting rifles” designed to look like assault rifles?

Seriously, a majority of Canadians would welcome this, no matter how many fanciful and unconvincing statistics the wannabe NRAs of the Canadian gun lobby spew out, or how hysterically they spin them. That includes a majority of residents of Alberta cities, I’d wager. Significant numbers of gun-control supporters feel strongly enough about this to make it an election question.

Count on Andrew Scheer, the brainiac leader of the Opposition in Ottawa, to miss this and walk right into the trap the Liberals are setting for him.

I think there’s a good chance we will see this tested in the 2019 federal election. If it is, I think there’s a very good chance it will work.

If it does, it will deliver a sound policy from which Canada will benefit. But, perhaps more important, it will also demonstrate that a political strategy that has long worked for the right – forget about what your opponents have to say and rile up your base – may be starting to go mainstream.

So forget about guns. Polarization on environmental issues is not likely to be good news for Alberta. Think rail cars, guns and Liberals … this stuff will hit the fan!*

What gives? Conservatives keep calling for a return of the NEP

Brian Jean, former leader of the Wildrose Party and erstwhile aspirant to lead the UCP, editorialized in the Edmonton Journal yesterday that Alberta should create its own strategic oil reserve, “so that we can properly weather, and even profit from, temporary supply and demand imbalances.”

Presumably Mr. Jean doesn’t mean the strategic reserve that Alberta already has – you know, the one under the ground.

Former Wildrose Leader Brian Jean (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

At any rate, he doesn’t explain exactly how he sees this interesting idea working, in particular how or at what price the oil companies that pump the stuff out of the earth would be compensated for their efforts. Perhaps there’s a model that would work in the U.S. Government’s strategic oil reserve mentioned by Mr. Jean, who is also the former Member of Parliament for Fort McMurray.

One thing is an absolute certainty, though, and that is that this would amount to massive interference in the market by a Canadian government, unprecedented since Pierre Elliott Trudeau was prime minister of Canada and Peter Lougheed was premier of Alberta. Neither of those two politicians was a shrinking violet when it came to state interference in markets.

So what’s happening? Have Canadian conservatives (other than Maxime Bernier and Derek Fildebrandt, of course) lost their faith in the magic of the market, or what?

I used to be joking when I suggested that what Canadian conservatives really want is the reimposition of Trudeau the Elder’s National Energy Program. With every week that passes, I wonder more if I actually got this right.

We’ll know we’ve hit that magic moment when Mr. Jean or anther conservative grandee demands the creation of a national petroleum company, perhaps called Oil-Can or some such, so that we can have some much-needed influence over the oilpatch.

* With apologies to the late and great Warren Zevon.

NOTE: Because this blog involves the topic of legal controls on firearms, the proprietor intends to suspend his usual lenient approach to comments and restrict answers to 300 words. Since all comments on this blog are moderated, this is specifically intended to save the author the pain of having to read the usual reams of questionable statistics from U.S. sources that appear when anyone suggests reasonable legal controls on the “right” to own military-style firearms and handguns. If you can’t say it in 300 words, save yourself the effort. This may be unfair, but so is life. Gun advocates have plenty of places to publish their views. After 300 words, such comments will simply disappear into thin air. Lengthy and multiple comments on other topics will continue to be tolerated, although they are discouraged. DJC

Join the Conversation


  1. I think you might be on to something here. The Conservatives may want to talk non stop about carbon taxes, pipelines and refugees thinking these are the Liberals weak points, but hey the Liberals can play that game too.

    The Conservatives have some weak points too, for instance, how about guns or more specifically assault rifles? How is that for a channel changing topic? One that the Conservatives will probably end up shooting themselves in the foot with, politically speaking.

    Trudeau’s new found openness to more rail cars for Alberta oil is not as clear. Perhaps the message of extreme frustration from Alberta finally got through to Ottawa, but I think there is something more to this. Maybe by trying to appear helpful and accomodative now he is trying to make the Conservatives appear rigid and hysterical. I have a feeling some of the mostly new Conservative group of Premiers eageness to gang up and try bully the Prime Minister now at their first opportunity might be about to backfire spectacularly in public opinion. Yes the honeymoon is over for Trudeau, but he still comes across as decent and likeable while some of the Conservative Premiers and their want to bees often just come across as mean spirited and petty. They would be smart not to go to their first big meeting with Trudeau with all their guns a blazzing, but I have a feeling they will.

    1. Never underestimate Justin Trudeau. Harken back to his pre-2015-election boxing match with Senator Patrick Brazeau. In the first round he took Brazeau’s best shot and survived. In the second and third rounds he pummelled Brazeau to the extent that had the referee not stopped the fight Trudeau might have killed him.

  2. It’s foolish to think that by punishing law abiding citizens you will stop gang bangers with guns. If you don’t like guns don’t buy one. But don’t take away my right to.

    1. The Canadian Constitution “gives them no such right.” Would that be the same Canadian Constitution that the Supreme Court, in two rulings, has said gives RCMP Officers and Postal Workers the right to free collective bargaining? A Constitutional “right” which was just whipped out from underneath the Postal Workers once again?

      1. That’s a fair point, in the sense that even if the Canadian Constitution did include a right to bear arms, as was included in the U.S. Constitution to make sure slave revolts could be put down, there would be at least two ways it could be circumvented. One is, of course, the Notwithstanding Clause, Section 33 of the Charter. The other is Section 1, which specifies that the rights and freedoms set out therein are “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” This, of course, gives plenty of scope for interpretation by the courts, especially in a case like collective bargaining, which was “read into” the Constitution by jurists and is not in the original draft. It’s a question for debate whether postal service in the digital age is an essential service, but if it is, I think the federal government has a case that can be reasonably argued. At least with this government, they’re unlikely to try to 33 it out of the Constitution. DJC

  3. Oh dear, more trouble. There you go again, Mr. Blogger, opening up the shooters’ rights can of worms. “A significant portion of these LAGO screeds insist that AR-15s, the weapon of choice of American mass murders aren’t really assault rifles…”

    A sampling of Wikipedia’s mass murder highlights
    Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, 26 dead, semi-automatic rifle and pistol
    Las Vegas concert shooting, 59 dead, semi-automatic rifles (plural) and pistol
    Parkland, Florida high school shooting, 17 dead, semi-automatic rifle and pistol
    Orlando Night Club shooting, 50 dead, semi-automatic rifle and pistol
    Sutherland Springs Texas church shooting, 27 dead, semi-automatic rifle
    San Ysidro California McDonald’s massacre, 22 dead, semi-automatic rifle, pistol and shotgun
    Add our Quebec City Mosque shooting, 6 dead, 8 wounded, semi-automatic rifle and handgun

  4. Well, I can tell you David that my old neighbour Jeff is pretty dam excited about your column. Now, we really don’t care about guns but the “oil on rail” thing got Jeff all excited. He thought it might it might be a Trudeau plot to make cheaper feed grain, ‘cause, ya know, the oil might clog up the grain pipeline.

    I had to calm Jeff down by explaining to him that last year 464,000 rail cars of grain went to port, mostly travelling west. That works out to about 1,300 cars a day.
    Now Jeff is not too great with numbers and started to roll his eyes, but he seemed to focus a bit when I told him that the National Energy Board said that 42,879 cubic m / day of oil was exported in Sept 2018 by rail. He thought I said National Energy Program and that got him riled right up, I can tell you.

    I had to calm him down by doing some math. Each DOT-111 rail car carries about 28,700 Imperial gallons (at the mention of Imperial Jeff stood to attention and sang God Bless America – he’s none too good on history). I calmed him down again by saying the 43,000 cu cubic m / day of oil converted to about 9 and a half million Imperial gallons.

    Well now with that big number, Jeff was thinking of running off to the oil circus for a job. I had to dash his hopes by doing the division which showed only 328 oil cars a day going on rail and that mostly going south. Not much compared to the 1,300 rail cars of grain a day, mostly going west.

    So there ya’ go David. Just fewer than 300 words and I only mentioned guns once.


    1. Please move to North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia or China. All great countries where their leaders have banned guns. Leave my Canada they way it is.

  5. Handguns have been required to be registered since 1934. At present it is only legal to transport a handgun to a gun range and back home. Therefore anyone carrying or transporting a handgun for any other purpose would be breaking the law. Banning handguns will not take the guns out of the hands of criminals.

    As for Justin Trudeau I would certainly agree there is little he can do to improve his popularity in Alberta. Myself, I didn’t vote for his father and never did and never would vote for him. Running a deficit when we have the lowest unemployment rate in 40 years is extremely bad policy. Enjoy your day

    1. “Banning handguns will not take the guns out of the hands of criminals.”

      Except for the handguns that are stolen from the LAGOs.

      What would happen if the government directed gun ranges to expand their business to also offer secure gun storage services as well? That way there would be no need to transport the guns and store them in the home.

      1. Government directed (or, preferable) government operated gun storage is probably not a workable solution. In the case of the former, gun range owners would simply refuse to co-operate. The cost of forcing them to do so would be formidable. As to the latter, the infrastructure required would be enormously expensive, literally in the billions of dollars, and the operational costs would be extremely high as well. Better to ban them outright with a six-month to one-year amnesty during which the newly illegal weapons could be turned into police or some central location. A compensation formula could be established – and, rather than cash payments up front, it could be paid in the form of an income tax rebate after the weapon had been determined to be legally owned before the ban. After that, no mercy.

  6. The Las Vegas shooting was done by a fellow set up as a sniper on the 32nd floor of an adjacent hotel in 2017.

    The NRA’s position on the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut in 2012 was what was needed was more good guys with guns.

    Too bad the NRA couldn’t have been having a convention on the 31st floor of the hotel at the same time, so they could look out the window and happily watch as thousands of LAGO invoke their right to defend themselves.

  7. The argument that “Banning handguns will not take the guns out of the hands of criminals.” is false.
    Cutting the supply would affect them too. Also our friend’s “statistic” tells us that many shootings aren’t ‘criminal’ but domestic.
    The purpose of a gun is to kill. Why do you want to kill?

  8. David,
    As someone always appreciative of your blog’s existence here in AB, I wonder if you are telegraphing or unwittingly adopting the elite strategy of distracting from substantive examination of issues (energy, climate, neo-liberal capitalism for the poor, socialism for the rich) with the potential to disrupt the permanent state by throwing out gibbets of ideological red meat to the partisans of the Right (TM) and Left (c). As an example of the latter, I would propose the symbolics of identity — sexual orientation, gender, immigration (btw, on all of these issue I lean to the left) and of the latter, guns. On this issue, I am a lifelong gun owner, Alberta born, of a family of hunters, who nonetheless sees the outrage over reasonable gun controls as largely a manufactured partisan issue rather than a real political one. Unless of course, opponents of controls on concealed carry and automatic weapons will do so explicitly to preserve the right to defend themselves against the state. On this point, we might at least have a more authentic debate.

    Meanwhile, as we stage another round of moronic faux-debates on gun control, we allow the the public examination of our intersecting economic, energetic and ecological collapse trajectories to be driven by whatever mainstream-mediated incoherence that those with access can find to throw up at us. For the present, not to mention the future, can we keep talk of guns out of it?

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