Over the past few weeks, a lot of ink has been spilled about what the Kinder Morgan pipeline could mean for Prime Minister Trudeau’s political fate in 2019.
We’ve heard about how the issue could put Liberal seats in B.C. at risk and how pipeline politics could turn Quebec against the prime minister. Some have argued that when it comes to voting day, Kinder Morgan won’t even matter.
I’d like to offer another take: the prime minister should be thinking about the threat of an active and dedicated opposition, rich in the very demographics he’ll need to win when Canadians head to the polls next year.
During the 2015 election, I managed Vote Together, Leadnow’s campaign to help defeat the Harper Conservatives. We worked with thousands of volunteers across Canada who used every tactic in the book — knocking on doors, making phone calls, fundraising hundreds of thousands of dollars — to turn out voters for the candidates most likely to defeat Stephen Harper. In the 29 ridings we targeted, we helped elect 24 NDP and Liberal Members of Parliament.
We weren’t alone. A handful of other groups ran similar campaigns, leading many, including the Conservative Party of Canada to name (or blame) third party campaigns for contributing to the outcome of the 2015 election: a Liberal majority elected with just 39.47% of the popular vote.
In 2015, a dedicated, energized volunteer base campaigned relentlessly for change. On Election Day, whether it was a vote for change or a vote for their (now broken) campaign promises, many of those people voted, or encouraged others to vote, for Liberal candidates. They came from all walks of life but in my experience with Vote Together, an overwhelming majority of our supporters and volunteers were millennials, students, and retirees — the very same people who are turning out in big numbers to oppose the Kinder Morgan tar sands pipeline.
This should have Prime Minister Trudeau and his party worried. Whether it’s because of climate change, tanker traffic or Indigenous rights, more and more people are getting involved in the fight to stop Kinder Morgan. This energy could easily translate into an organized, active opposition willing to spend the time and energy necessary to cost the Liberals big time in 2019.
This lesson, that electoral politics comes down to who is ready to organize, was something Barack Obama learned near the end of his first term. In the year leading up to the 2012 presidential election, immigrant rights activists unleashed a wave of pressure on the president, calling for executive action to stop the deportation of undocumented immigrants. Nearly six months out from voting day, two of those activists, themselves undocumented migrants, began a hunger strike in the Denver “Obama for America” campaign office. They were out of patience for the president, and made it clear that Latino youth would either turn out and help — or hurt — his campaign. Within days, the president took executive action on what has now become known as the DREAM act.
I don’t have a crystal ball but one thing I know for sure is that when it comes to elections, what matters is whether or not you can convince people to get behind your vision so that they’ll spend their limited free time helping you win.
In 2015, the Liberals campaigned on a progressive vision. They promised to bring in electoral reform, to tackle climate change, to respect Indigenous rights, and to overhaul environmental reviews. As the opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline grows, the Liberals would be wise to note that many of the people who supported them in 2015 are hellbent not just on stopping the pipeline, but on making the prime minister pay for breaking one promise after another.
Amara Possian is a campaigner and organizational consultant from Toronto, Ontario. She ran Leadnow's 2015 Vote Together campaign and serves as the board chair for the Center for Story Based Strategy.