‘Alberta doesn’t matter’ is a comment I have heard frequently during this federal election campaign. Alberta does matter in this election, but not for all the most obvious reasons.
With the Conservative Party in a position to once again sweep Alberta, it is no surprise that the party leaders and parties are not spending much time or resources in the country’s fourth largest province.
This lack of electoral competitiveness, partly a result of Albertans’ historical choice to vote loyally for the Conservative Party and partly a result of the first-past-the-post electoral system, means that there is little incentive for the other parties to direct many resources or attention our way during federal elections.
Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau swung through Alberta on the first day of the election for a rally in Edmonton-Strathcona. Andrew Scheer stopped in Alberta twice, once for a campaign event in Calgary-Skyview and a second-time to share the stage with Premier Jason Kenney at a rally in Edmonton-Centre. Green Party leader Elizabeth May attended a climate change “die-in” in Calgary at the beginning of the campaign. And New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh was pressing the flesh with Heather McPherson at the Fringe Festival in Edmonton-Strathcona a few weeks before the election was called.
As a politically astute friend of mine pointed out, by time she leaves Edmonton after tomorrow’s climate strike at the Legislature, 16-year old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg will have spent more time in Alberta during this election than any of the federal party leaders.
But while the vast majority of ridings in this province will likely elect Conservative candidates on October 21, it is a stretch to say Alberta doesn’t matter. On a national level, Alberta politicians could play a big part in whichever party forms government.
Scenario A: Conservatives form government
If the Conservatives form government in Ottawa, more than 30 Alberta MPs will make up a significant block of the government caucus. Conservative MPs such as Michelle Rempel, Chris Warkentin, Stephanie Kusie, and Shannon Stubbs could play prominent roles in a potential Scheer cabinet.
Kenney, along with Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, will play prominent political roles as key supporters of Scheer in the national Conservative movement. The mood among United Conservative Party MLAs would likely be incredibly jubilant for the remainder of this fall session of the Alberta Legislature.
Efforts will also be made to remove the national carbon tax and climate change initiatives but opposition from Quebec Premier François Legault would likely stall any plans to create a National Energy Corridor for future pipeline projects.
Scenario B: Liberals form government
If the Liberals form government, then any Liberal MPs elected from Alberta would almost certainly be appointed to cabinet. If the Liberals form government without any MPs from Alberta, which was the case from 1972 to 1977 and 1979 to 1984, there would need to be some serious creative thinking about how our province could be best represented in the federal government.
Kenney would likely continue his national campaign against Trudeau and could be widely touted as a potential successor to Scheer, which could kickoff a Conservative leadership race before a future federal election and a UCP leadership race in Alberta.
The UCP government would continue to oppose the federal carbon tax and climate change programs implemented by the federal Liberals. Kenney has also pledged to hold a province-wide referendum on reopening negotiations for the national equalization formula if the Liberals form government, a vote that would be held on the same day as the 2021 municipal elections.
Operating as a provincial-wing of the Conservative Party of Canada, the UCP would likely continue to scramble its MLAs and cabinet ministers across the province and country campaigning with Conservative candidates in vote-rich areas in Ontario and Quebec. The UCP would likely print another round of anti-Trudeau bumper stickers for its supporters to slap on the back of their trucks or cars.
It would be very difficult to imagine Alberta’s UCP government having a productive working relationship with a re-elected Liberal government in Ottawa.
Scenario C: The NDP form government
Maybe one of the more unlikely scenarios in this election, but if Singh leads the NDP to win this election, or if the NDP holds the balance of power in a minority parliament, then every MP, including one from Alberta, could play a big role in the next parliament.
It is difficult to explain the level of political insanity an NDP government in Ottawa would cause in the halls of the Alberta Legislature – in both the UCP and Alberta NDP caucuses.
The Pipeline and Climate Change
No look at Canadian politics in 2019 is complete without mentioning the pipeline. Almost every realistic scenario in this federal election has the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project being constructed, as it is supported by both the Liberals and Conservatives.
The Trudeau government spent a significant amount of political and real financial capital when it purchased the pipeline project before Texas-based Kinder Morgan Inc. was about to shut it down, but there is no sign of any electoral payoff because of it for the Liberals in Alberta.
The lack of electoral payoff for such a significant investment does not provide much political incentive for future federal governments to make large investments in Alberta’s fossil fuel infrastructure.
The oil pipeline has become a symbol of political frustration in Alberta. Western alienation is a permanent feature of Alberta politics and it tends to ebb and flow depending on which party has formed government in Ottawa. Frustration caused by the decline of the international price of oil in 2014 is real, emotionally driven, and increasingly drawn along partisan lines.
There is a distinct feeling of a lack of urgency about dealing with climate change in Alberta that sets us apart from much of the rest of Canada. Not only do we risk becoming increasingly isolated on the national and international stage, but if our own provincial leaders continue to demonstrate they do not take climate change seriously we risk having solutions imposed on us.
In a House of Commons dominated by Liberal, NDP, Green and Bloc Quebecois MPs who were elected on platforms that prominently featured climate change policies, it is hard to imagine that Alberta will not matter.
Alberta matters a lot in this election, and we are probably going to matter a lot more after the October 21 election, whether we like it or not.