Leyland Cecco: “Western provinces are getting increasingly frustrated with how Trudeau is handling things”

Justin Trudeau got reelected. Cole Burston/Getty Images

Leyland Cecco studied Philosophy and soon after he graduated started teaching history in Egypt. It was during and because of the Arab Spring, back in 2011, he started doing journalism on the weekends. He claims that his students prompted his journalism career, because “they had a lot of questions about what was happening in Cairo at that time”. He started as a freelance photojournalist there. He has covered the Arab Spring, Palestine, the Turkish-Syrian border, Kashmir tensions between India, Pakistan, China and now covers Canada, where he moved back in 2015. He first freelanced for Al Jazeera America, then became a staff reporter at The Globe and Mail and shortly after ended up back to being a freelancer. 

    “Being a freelance journalist can be scary and it requires to stomach ups and downs for a few years”, says Cecco. However, he now has “his feet on the ground” and he’s found some sort of stability. He writes for The Guardian 5 times a week focusing on the intersection of culture, economics, and the environment, and is also featured in The Globe and MailBBC and The Walrus Magazine, to name a few. We talk through a Whatsapp call about Canada.

[This interview was edited and condensed for clarity]

In the “Today In Focus: Is it over for Justin Trudeau?” podcast episode by The Guardian, you said we had to wait until election day to find out if Justin Trudeau survived the scandals he has faced this year and got reelected. He did, but some call it an “anemic victory”. How do you read it?

It depends on the part of the country you’re looking at. When you look at where his support was, he still was able to hold a lot of seats in Ontario, in Québec and the Atlantic provinces but lost a lot of support in Western Canada. It’s a difficult result because even though he still won the election he’s showing signs of weakness, cracks in the armor in terms of how he’s conceived by the public. However, he still has a lot of support from the Liberal party and I wouldn’t be surprised if we get at least a few years out of this minority government.

Speaking of cracks in the armor, are those cracks reputation Trudeau has now to recover after the major scandals he’s faced this year? 

I find it tricky to get a sense of how much these scandals matter to voters a few weeks or months after. When the story about blackface broke, there was a lot of news that followed but, speaking to voters, some of which are in the South Asian community, many who identify to be within a number of minority groups in the country, there was frustration, but also a willingness to overlook that for the broader hope that the conservatives wouldn’t win. He has bigger problems now, and that is that the Western provinces are getting increasingly frustrated with how the Prime Minister is handling a lot of the issues going on there.

Now that you mention these issues, let’s talk about them, let’s talk Wexit. Wexit supporters claim to “Make Alberta Great Again” and even the region is sometimes known as “the Texas of Canada”. What are the key points of this movement? What do they want and where does it come from?

This isn’t the first time that Canada has had to deal with a separatist movement within the country, so around 1990 Québec came very close to separating, but its desire for independence was driven by a cultural difference with what they saw with the rest of anglophone Canada. With Alberta what we’re seeing is that it is not a new thing for the West to be frustrated with Eastern Canada, there’s a lot of geographic diversity and there are two places in the country where oil is produced. One is the Atlantic coast, what we’ve called “the Texas of Canada”, Alberta. And historically there’s been frustration there. Alberta is the most oil-rich part of the country and in the mind of albertans, so much of that money is being sent to the federal government in Ottawa in order to distribute and send it off to other provinces.

What’s the other aspect?

Alberta has struggled since 2014 when the last energy crisis happened. Global oil crisis took a huge dive back then and still now Canadian crude oil sells for much less than the American oil. The reason why is because there are no pipelines, unlike in the United States. There’s a big surplus of oil in the Western part of the country, and they’re trying to figure how to use that out. Alberta feels like it’s hurting and they lost more than 130.000 jobs, without getting the help they feel they need from Ottawa. With that being said, the majority of people in Alberta do not want this separation from Canada. For now, it is a fringe movement, but it is increasing in popularity and is taping into a broader frustration that a lot of people in the West feel.

“By trying to please both sides, Trudeau ended up angering both.”

Cecco on Trudeau and his decision to expand the Trans National pipeline

Trudeau, who defends the fight against climate change, is less backed in those oil-producing regions, yet he is building oil pipes. Is he trying to make everyone happy? 

The pipelines proposed have been politically divisive, there’s a lot of court challenges and protests over the construction of those. A lot of Canada’s economy comes from the oil industry and I think Trudeau has been a very vocal proponent of fighting climate change whether or not his tactics or his policies are effective or they could be better we’ll only get few pipeline projects. His government bought the pipeline in order to get it built and I think by doing that he angered people who were environmentally conscious voters, or younger voters who are critical of investment in oil. He also angered the oil industry, people in Alberta who said there had to be better things that you could be doing with that money than buying the pipeline. By trying to please both sides, he ended up angering both.

What about Bloc Québécois’s growth, is it also because of that anger? Is it nationalism growth? 

I spoke with a few people all of who had different suspicions of why what happened happened. Historically Québec has not been very sympathetic to the conservatives. Not very sympathetic to the New Democratic Party either except for the 2011 election. What you had was a Trudeau that was probably not as strong as he was in 2015 up against a brand new Bloc Québécois leader who’s very well-spoken, energized. Voting Bloc Québécois, to the people who did, means getting a voice for Québec. And they think it will be better for our parliament if they vote this way. 

What does Bill 21 [a bill that bans religious symbols passed in Québec] mean to Canada as a whole and Trudeau? Does the fact that a bill like that has been passed take away power from him to create real change and a more inclusive society?

Bill 21 has frustrated the party leaders… none of Trudeau’s team wanted to speak poorly of it. And the thing is that the Bill is popular in Québec, so they didn’t want to criticize it much during the election for fear of losing races within the province. Trudeau has said it’s going through the courts right now and they may support that when it reaches a certain level, but I think it has kind of highlighted the divisions of Québec and the rest. A lot of people are worried about the impact that it can have on Québec’s minority communities and people who identify as part of a religion with visible items of clothing.

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