With the excitement of the 2015 federal election one week behind us, now is a good time to take a look at how the results of the election could impact Edmonton and Alberta. The reality of a majority Liberal government in Ottawa will make Conservative Albertans uneasy, but there is little reason to believe this new government will lead to doom and gloom for our province.
Last Friday, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion about the election results with Edmonton Journal editor-in-chief Margo Goodhand and University of Alberta professor Steve Patten at a Institute of Public Administration of Canada event at Government House. With this discussion still fresh in my mind, here is a look at some of the ways last week’s federal election results could impact Edmonton and Alberta.
Liberal growth in Conservative Alberta
Conservative Party candidates earned 59 percent of the vote and elected candidates in 29 of Alberta’s 34 federal ridings. The Liberals broke a nearly five decade long drought in Calgary with the election of Kent Hehr in Calgary-Centre and Darshan Kang in Calgary-Skyview. In Edmonton, two Liberals were elected in bellwether ridings – Randy Boissonnault in Edmonton-Centre and Amarjeet Sohi in Edmonton-Mill Woods. Since 1984, these two Edmonton ridings have elected MPs belonging to the party in government. (Note: the election results in Edmonton-Mill Woods will face a judicial recount).
The “Class of 2015”
There was a significant turnover in Alberta’s representation in Ottawa, with 18 of 34 Members of Parliament from our province being elected for the first time, including seven first-time MPs representing Edmonton ridings. This ‘class of 2015’ includes four Liberals and fourteen Conservatives.
Alberta in Cabinet
It is expected that Alberta will have representation in the federal cabinet but it is not clear how large that representation will be. In my opinion, it would be a grave mistake for incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to not appoint a cabinet minister from both Edmonton and Calgary. The third and fifth largest municipalities in Canada should have representation at the highest levels in Ottawa. These large urban centres also represent an area of future electoral growth for the federal Liberal Party. In Calgary, the Liberals earned a surprising 30 percent of the vote and in Edmonton they earned 23 percent. The new cabinet will be sworn-in on Nov. 4, 2015.
We have already witnessed a change in tone that could signal a significant improvement in the federal government’s relationship with the provinces. In the first week after the election, Mr. Trudeau invited provincial premiers to join Canada’s delegation to the important COP21 Climate Change Conference in Paris in November. Mr. Trudeau has also indicated his intention to negotiate a new health accord with the provinces.
The relationship between Ottawa and Edmonton would have been sour had Stephen Harper’s Conservatives been re-elected. After attacking Alberta’s NDP government numerous times during the campaign, it is unlikely that Mr. Harper and Premier Rachel Notley would have been able to develop the kind of productive working relationship that would benefit Albertans.
Even though she appeared on stage with NDP leader Tom Mulcair in the final days of the election campaign, Ms. Notley has indicated that she was willing to work with whoever became the next Prime Minister. If she and Mr. Trudeau can develop a good working relationship, Canadians may see progress on issues like pipeline expansion in the next four years. Although Mr. Harper was a vocal supporter of Canada’s oil and gas industry, he failed to secure the construction of new pipeline projects during his decade as Prime Minister.
A Municipal Agenda
The Liberals promised increased investment in public infrastructure and increased funding for municipal public transit projects. During his three-terms on city council, Mr. Sohi has been an vocal advocate for expanded Light-Rail Transit funding in southeast Edmonton. Mayor Don Iveson has been critical of the Conservative government’s lack of commitment to LRT funding in the past.
Commitment to defence funding
The Liberal platform committed to “maintain current National Defence spending levels, including current planned increases” which should at least be positive news for Edmontonians who work at CFB Edmonton.
The last First-Past-the-Post election
Mr. Trudeau promised that this federal election would be Canada’s last using the antiquated ‘first past the post’ electoral system. This would likely mean an end to Conservative overrepresentation of Alberta in Ottawa. Any system, whether it be proportional representation, single transferable vote or mixed member proportional representation, could allow voters choices to be better reflected in their representation in Ottawa. This would likely mean an end the system which allows 59 percent of voters to be represented by 81 percent of the Members of Parliament from Alberta.
With Mr. Harper’s resignation as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, that party will be thrust into a contest to select a new leader. While that party may seek to choose a new leader from another region of Canada, it is expected that Conservative MPs from Alberta will be candidates in that race. Already, there is speculation that Calgary-Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel and Calgary-Midnapore MP Jason Kenney are interested in seeking the leadership.
Liberals and NDP in the West
Western Canada is no longer a monolith of the Conservative Party support. With British Columbia and Manitoba electing more Liberal MPs than Conservative MPs, Alberta and Saskatchewan are now the only provinces where Conservatives outnumber other parties. While the Conservatives remain strong in the rural west, that party has lost ground to the Liberals and NDP in the western urban centres of Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg. Twenty of the NDP’s 44 MPs and 29 of the 184 Liberal MPs were elected in ridings west of Ontario.
Trudeau wave bad news for Notley?
Conservative critics have already predicted that the rise of the federal Liberals in Alberta spells bad news for Ms. Notley’s provincial NDP. I suspect that the results of this federal election will have little impact on the level of NDP support in the next provincial election. It has been clear for some time that Mr. Mulcair is unpopular in Alberta. His noticeable absence from the province during the spring election campaign and low support for the federal NDP in four by-elections since 2011 suggests that Mr. Mulcair’s unpopularity has little impact on Ms. Notley’s political fortunes.