Today’s rally at the Alberta Legislature in support of the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline was one of the strangest rallies in recent memory.
Maybe it was because in the crowd of 600 or so Albertans I was standing between one guy who kept yelling “Free Alberta from Canada!” and another who was yelling “Go back to Ottawa you Commie!”
Or maybe it was because as this was happening, there were a dozen New Democratic Party cabinet ministers and MLAs standing beside the podium, with most of the United Conservative Party caucus standing beside them.
We are through the looking glass.
Organized by the pro-pipeline Rally 4 Resources group, the event was promoted by both the NDP and UCP, and included speakers ranging from NDP cabinet minsters to UCP leader Jason Kenney to Edmonton mayor Don Iveson.
Despite the presence of senior NDP cabinet ministers and backbench MLAs, and two mass emails promoting the event sent by the NDP caucus, one from Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson and one from Calgary-Shaw MLA Graham Sucha, the crowd did not feel like an NDP friendly group. Or at least not any type of NDP-friendly group I would recognize.
Cries of “bullshit” could be heard as Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous spoke at the mic. The crowd booed, jeered and heckled federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi, a popular former Edmonton city councillor, as he spoke about the Trudeau government’s commitment to the pipeline expansion.
A small group can be heard on video trying to begin a chant of “NDP, NDP, NDP” as Kenney spoke, but it didn’t catch on.
While the rally was billed as a non-partisan event, it felt like the NDP showed up to a UCP rally, or at the very least an anti-NDP rally.
Premier Rachel Notley is on a roll as Alberta’s top pipeline champion, but this rally should give the NDP pause about whether hitching the final year of their first-term as government to the pipeline issue was a smart move.
As a government in Alberta, being anything but pro-pipeline is an almost impossible option. Support of the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline in Alberta is likely somewhere near 98 percent (with a 2 percent margin of error) and I suspect many Albertans are becoming increasingly frustrated with pipeline opponents in British Columbia (where opposition to the pipeline is a valid mainstream opinion).
Supporting these rallies and escalating the war of words into drastic action against BC may play well with the Chambers of Commerce and certain Postmedia columnists, but it may fall flat among the supporters the NDP will need to activate and energize in the next 12 months.
Notley will meet with BC Premier John Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa next Sunday to discuss the pipeline dispute. If the meeting can deescalate or even resolve the pipeline dispute to end official political opposition to the pipeline in BC, then perhaps Notley’s gamble will pay off. But it not, then we may witness more pro-pipeline rallies with NDP cabinet ministers standing awkwardly in front of crowds of UCP supporters.