Former Liberal cabinet minister Ralph Goodale says his party has a lot of urgent work to do to prove to western provinces that the Trudeau government understands their needs.
Goodale, who has served as an MP on and off since 1974, lost his Regina-Wascana seat on Monday night as the Liberals were swept out of much of Western Canada while hanging on to a minority government.
Conservatives say the fact the Liberals were rejected in those regions shows the party has failed to connect with western voters. In an interview with CBC Radio’s The House airing Saturday, Goodale said the party does have a problem west of Ontario.
“We need to really go to work on that very issue,” he said.
“It’s not healthy for the country to have a major national political party without elected representation across one region of the country.”
The Conservatives swept all 14 seats in Saskatchewan and took all but one of the 34 in Alberta. No Liberal MPs in those provinces means no elected representatives from that region will be in cabinet. The Liberals may have to resort to other options to add regional representation, such as appointing a senator to cabinet.
After the election, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer laid the blame for Canada’s east-west division at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s feet and told residents of Alberta and Saskatchewan that the Conservative Party hears them and will “fight” for them.
Communicate, listen, understand
With few practical options to bring a major part of the country into government, Goodale said, Liberals must “take the time” and open up lines of communication in the West at the local riding level and with provincial governments. Consultations, conversations and cabinet representation should follow, he said.
“The more important thing will be getting to the issues that need to be addressed and demonstrating … that Western Canada is having an impact and being listened to and being responded to appropriately,” he said.
Mending fences won’t be easy. Ottawa has been at odds with Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan over the carbon tax and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has made no secret of his disdain for the prime minister.
What’s next for Goodale?
Goodale was in a tight race against Conservative candidate Michael Kram. He lost by 16 percentage points on election night after holding the seat for 26 years straight.
Opposition to Goodale ramped up during the campaign. Billboards — funded by a third-party advertiser called the Canada Growth Council — went up around the Regina-Wascana riding, urging residents to vote out the veteran MP to send a message to Trudeau.
“It clearly had some impact,” Goodale said, adding that after the billboards went up, doorstep conversations with voters felt like “carpet bombing.”
It was frustrating, he said, but it also raised an important question about the divisive nature of modern Canadian politics.
“How can we fill the gaps and address the issues that created the circumstances for that carpet bombing in the first place?” he said.
When asked if he blamed the prime minister for his defeat, Goodale said all the parties are evaluating their weaknesses.
“We wanted a majority, we didn’t get it,” he said. “So we felt we fell short of of our ultimate goal.”
Goodale said he isn’t sure what will come next for him, but he’s sanguine about his future.
“Governments come and go and majorities come and go, and personalities come and go,” he said. “And that’s good and healthy and positive for our democracy.”