From the price of oil to the influence of right-wing populist groups to the NDP leadership race and more
January is usually a quiet month in politics, making it a good time to look ahead at what to expect in the year to come. Here are ten things I will be watching that could have a big impact on Alberta politics in 2024:
1. Price of oil
Alberta is probably the only province where the international price of oil is at the top of the Premier’s daily briefing notes. The price of oil not only has a big impact on a lot of Albertans’ jobs, but also the provincial government’s revenue stream.
Relying heavily on the price of oil to pay for the day to day operations of public services, the Alberta government’s 2023/2024 budget projected as much as 25 percent of its revenue will come from oil and gas royalties.
“If we go into this coming fiscal year starting April 1 with $72 per barrel, that might put the government into a situation where they either have to revise their spending plans or face a modest deficit,” University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe told CBC.
In Alberta, governments live and die by the price of oil.
2. Influence of right-wing populist and separatist groups
Without a doubt the influence of populist and separatist groups has grown in Alberta politics in recent years. Nowhere is this more pronounced than inside the governing United Conservative Party since Danielle Smith became Premier in October 2022 after riding the wave of populist discontent that pushed out former premier Jason Kenney.
In the closing months of 2023, newly elected UCP President Rob Smith spent nearly two hours on a livestream hosted by Alberta Prosperity Project CEO Chris Scott and past Independence Party of Alberta candidate Kerry Lambert.
The APP has advocated for the creation of a Republic of Alberta and is currently calling for a referendum on Alberta’s independence from Canada. Scott gained notoriety in conservative circles during the COVID-19 pandemic when his restaurant in the central Alberta hamlet of Mirror remained open in contravention of public health rules.
Also, in the final days of 2023, the UCP highlighted an endorsement from University of Calgary professor Barry Cooper in its year-end fundraising pitch on social media. Cooper has compared Alberta to pre-revolutionary colonial America in 1775 and has called for a referendum on separation from Canada. He is also a co-founder of the Free Alberta Strategy, an autonomist documentchampioned by Premier Smith’s Chief of Staff Rob Anderson.
And, on January 24, Smith will host and interview American media personality and conspiracy theorist Tucker Carlson at an event in Calgary that has been promoted by the APP and other influential right-wing groups like Alberta Proud, and Take Back Alberta (which is reported to be under investigation by Elections Alberta).
3. The race to replace Rachel Notley
It is hard to imagine the modern Alberta NDP without Rachel Notley, but she announced last week that she will not lead the NDP into the 2027 election and will step down as leader when her successor is chosen, likely later this year.
The leadership race jockeying has already begun, with at least five MLAs sending signals that they plan to run: Calgary-Mountain View MLA Kathleen Ganley, Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman, Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi, Edmonton-City Centre MLA David Shepherd, and Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse.
The NDP Provincial Council will meet on January 27 to discuss timelines and rules for the leadership race. The winner of the race will lead the 38-MLA NDP Caucus into 2025 and the party into the 2027 provincial election.
I am planning to write a lot more about this leadership race in the weeks and months to come.