Another Headache for Trudeau as Conservatives Take Oil-Rich Alberta

NAFTA talks likely to continue on sidelines of UN meeting: Trudeau
AFP MARTIN OUELLET-DIOTTE

United Conservative Party (UCP) candidate Jason Kenney defeated Rachel Notley and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP) in Alberta on Tuesday, ending four years of NDP rule in the conservative-leaning province and moving oil-rich Alberta into the coalition lined up against scandal-plagued Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the upcoming national election.

The UCP won 63 out of 87 seats in the Alberta legislature, making Kenney the next premier. The oil bubbling beneath UCP’s new home turf is important for more than financial reasons because Trudeau plans to run heavily on climate change in an effort to reinvigorate voters disgusted by the SNC-Lavalin scandal, a dismaying festival of corporate-political corruption and bitter intraparty feud that has severely tarnished Trudeau’s image as a youthful liberal idealist.

The BBC reported Kenney will join the pushback against Trudeau’s expensive environmental regulations:

Mr. Kenney has vowed to do away with a provincial carbon levy and to join four other provinces – including Ontario, Canada’s most populous province – in fighting the federal government in court over its carbon tax.

The government recently imposed carbon taxes on four of Canada’s 10 provinces – Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and New Brunswick – for failing to introduce their own plans for tackling climate change.

The UPC leader said he would also challenge proposed federal legislation to overhaul how major infrastructure and energy projects are reviewed and hold a referendum in Alberta on equalisation payments – a federal payout system to even out fiscal disparities among provinces – unless new pipelines are built.

“Alberta is open for business. Albertans have elected a government obsessed with getting Albertans back to work,” Premier-elect Kenney said in his victory speech, having overcome some candidate-related turbulence to win with a promise of protecting the oil and gas industry.

Interestingly, the BBC noted that crashing oil prices and the resulting economic fallout were key factors in the NDP’s election victory of 2015, but voters were unhappy with the lack of progress on its vows to refurbish the energy industry and nervous about the direction Trudeau and his allies are taking at the national level.

Canada’s CBC News felt a political earthquake rumbling from Alberta toward Ottawa, as the UCP’s victory “could mark the start of a new chapter in federal politics.”

The UCP was very open about its ties to national conservatives, including Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer and former Prime Minister Stephen Halper. The Alberta race was heavily covered by national media with an eye towards its implications for the federal elections.

Kenney’s platform included national ambitions such as allowing Alberta to control more of its citizens’ tax money and opposing “foreign-funded special interests,” which he accused of running a campaign of “economic sabotage” against Alberta’s energy industry. One of the interests he called out by name is the Tides Foundation, which heads the list of left-wing saboteurs for many conservatives beyond Canada’s borders.

“With this election, we begin to stand up for ourselves, for our jobs and for our future. Today, we Albertans begin to fight back. From this day forward, whenever you lie about how we produce energy, we will tell the truth assertively and we will use every means at our disposal to hold you to account,” Kenney vowed.

Trudeau cordially congratulated Kenney on his victory, but CBC quoted analysts who suspect the prime minister dreads the permanent headache he is about to develop from constant confrontations with the Albertans and other energized conservatives, and his supply of political aspirin is running low.

Kenney once referred to Trudeau as “an empty trust-fund millionaire who has the political depth of a finger-bowl.” There are few signs his opinion has improved during Trudeau’s term as prime minister. His victory speech included promises to organize multi-province opposition to Trudeau’s agenda, an alliance he appears determined to arm-twist Quebec into joining, even though its government supports carbon taxes and opposes pipeline construction.

The NDP’s loss in Alberta could lead to unwelcome factional squabbles within Trudeau’s coalition.

University of Calgary political science professor David Stewart told CTV News that Premier Notley’s association with Trudeau “certainly hurt her in this campaign,” a view that could make other parts of Trudeau’s coalition very nervous if it becomes widespread. The politics of oil and gas are powerful enough to rattle longstanding partnerships, particularly if any of the many events that could roil the market between now and October occur, such as all-out war in Libya.

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