05.11.2015 12:55 AM

In this week’s Hill Times: the federal implications of Alberta-stan

First things first: we now have conclusive proof Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi is not infallible.

Nenshi, much-adored by progressives everywhere, predicted Alberta’s PCs would win another majority government. “I suspect the PCs will win,” said Nenshi.

Um, no. They didn’t. It was in all the papers on Wednesday morning.

In fairness, Nenshi wasn’t the only Albertan who misjudged the electorate, or course. ‎Plenty of others did likewise.

The reason why is simple enough. If you are from Alberta (as I am) and you grew up under a PC government (as I did), you could not conceive of the Party of Lougheed ever, ever being anything but the government. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that the Rockies will disappear tomorrow morning. It is like claiming that the Stampede has been canceled. It is akin to a campaigning politician stating Albertans should “look in the mirror” if they want to know why their province is experiencing difficulty.

Oh, wait. Former PC leader Jim Prentice said that, didn’t he?

And that, in part, explains why Prentice was such a magnificent disaster as leader: he’d been on Bay Street too long. After sleep-walking his way through various ministries in Stephen Harper’s government, Prentice joined a bank on Bay Street, and promptly forgot everything Harper ever taught him. Thus, he offered up a budget that was unpopular on a historic scale. Thus, he called an early election when he didn’t have to. Thus, he abandoned key platform planks mid-campaign. Thus, he condescendingly told NDP leader Rachel Notley that “math is hard” in the televised leaders’ debate.

Thus – and this is the worst one of all – he travelled to Vulcan, Alberta, stood in front of the Starship Enterprise there, and got the Vulcan salute wrong. Set phasers to stunned, Mr. Spock.

The reasons why Jim Prentice’s name will heretofore be synonymous with “loser” are myriad and multiple. A lousy budget. A lousy campaign. A lousy economy. A lousy debate. And, inter alia, a younger and more diverse electorate – coupled with a desire for change – didn’t help.

As they poked through the entrails of the astonishing Alberta results at their caucus meetings Wednesday morning, then, the reactions of the various federal parties were revealing.

The New Democrats broke out their guitars, and played a song by Neil Young, who hasn’t lived in Canada for several decades. The Conservatives – according to no less a source than Justice Minister Peter MacKay, who has a demonstrated fondness for the taste of shoe leather – held a caucus meeting that resembled a morgue, and in which someone called Alberta “Alberta-stan,” [sic].

And the Liberals? Well, Justin Trudeau reacted positively, and even mentioned the Alberta New Democrats by name. “There’s no political party that can take voters for granted. What we’ve witnessed is that people wanted a change and they made the change,” he said.

Indeed they did. But when the electorate are in the market for change, what will they do when two political parties are offering it?

Therein lies the problem for Trudeau and his party. For more than two years, Trudeau has been busily defining himself as the only alternative to Stephen Harper – as the only guy who can deliver progressive change. But Alberta’s extraordinary election makes clear that the NDP are a progressive alternative to the Conservatives, too. And they now have the proven ability – and the team, and the message – that enables them to eviscerate the Conservatives right in the Conservative heartland.

Rachel Notley owes much to Jim Prentice for her win, as noted. But, in her private moments, the Premier-to-be must also acknowledge that she greatly benefitted from a schism on the political Right, too. Between them, the PCs and Wildrose captured more than half the popular vote – 52 per cent. If they’d been one party, Notley would still sitting in a remote perch on the Opposition side of the Legislature.

Thus, Wednesday’s Conservative caucus may not have been as morgue-like as the maladroit Peter MacKay suggested. At the federal level, the progressive side of the ideological continuum is split asunder. And, as in Alberta, as long as Harper’s principal opponents heartily detest each other – and they do, they really do – he can reasonably expect to win as he did in 2006, 2008 and 2011.

For the NDP, Alberta was all good news. For the Tories, it was both good and bad. For the Grits, it was all bad.

That said, who knows? If Naheed Nenshi can get this political prediction stuff wrong, so will everyone else.


  1. Steve T says:

    All very true. Vote-splitting has delivered nearly every majority government in Canada since the mid-1980s. Reform/PC split in the 1990s was the main reason for Chretien’s wins, and Liberal/NDP splitting has been the reason for the CPC victories of Harper.

  2. cgh says:

    Agree with all of that, Warren, with one exception. There’s going to be a split between the federal and provincial Alberta NDP over energy and environment policy. There’s no way that Alberta’s current and continuing policy with respect to the oil sands can be reconciled with the positions Tom Mulcair has already staked out opposing it. Something will have to give.

    • Lance says:

      “Something will give”.

      If that is true, it won’t be Notley, she has already won and now has an open and long road ahead.

    • Priyesh says:

      I don’t see it, but I’d like to.

      Northern Gateway is dead and so is Keystone. That’s what Mulcair wanted, and that’s what Notley is delivering.

      Both are considering the East-West pipeline.

      The only room for disagreement is on whether to price Carbon, and how.

      There aren’t major policy differences on energy/environment. The differences between Notley and Mulcair are more in tone and style.

      • edward nuff says:

        all Mulcair has to do is what Tory did in Toronto. Shut the fuck up and let the dilettante with dictatorial tendencies blow up real good the way the Fords did and repeat C51 over and over like a mantra because it’s a race between a dying off base and the kids who grow up enough to vote.

      • cgh says:

        Keystone will be back after the 2016 US election.
        Northern Gateway cleared its EA, now it just has to clear the conditions required by the federal government.
        So how is it both of these are dead?

      • David Foster says:

        You forget the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain pipeline, on which the upcoming federal election will be fought in BC’s Lower Mainland. No way is Mulcair going to let Notley turn the NDP to supporting Trans-Mountain. The other parties, Trudeau’s Liberals and Harper’s Conservatives, support it already – the NDP will have to be different or lose a ton of left-wing voters in Vancouver and environs.

  3. James Smith says:

    Odd you mention this is bad news for Mr T yet no mention of the poor old Alberta Liberal Party. You know, the former Official Opposition who have imploded in the past 8-10 years.

  4. JH says:

    At the risk of the usual insults from the uber-partisan on here, I would suggest Mr. Trudeau has more problems than just Alberta and the 53% who voted for the 2 conservative parties there. Yesterday he was being crucified on Social Media. In a FB posting where he (his strategists?), asked for support for his new tax plan, the response was overwhelmingly negative. Commentators, who claimed to be Liberal voters, took the opportunity to flood the site and tell him how they felt about his stance on C 51 and that they could not support him and would go to the NDP. I’m told that these days social media is a big deal for those running election campaigns. If so, this reaction cannot have made Trudeau’s Team very happy.

  5. Mairi MacLean says:

    The NDs were strumming Four Strong Winds when I tuned in. That song is by Ian Tyson, who has lived in Alberta for many many years.

  6. Tim Gallagher says:

    Ian Tyson wrote Four Strong Winds; Neil covered it.

  7. Matt from Ottawa says:

    I think the biggest issue for the LPC since Harper took power is their view that “the voters got it wrong”. They act as if while in the voting booth, everyone didnt vote for the LPC by accident. Also, while theyve held the belief that they are the government in waiting “because they assume so” the NDP has slowly been building a ground game that resonates with many both on the progressive side, but also, working class people (see Northern Ontario). I think team Trudeau really needs to look in the mirror and see this. Your game plan cant simply be “people will vote for us because we’re not conservatives, and we are the only option” If they were the only option, why are they in 3rd place? Furthermore, although it was seen by many as a “blip” of the orange crush in Quebec, the MPs doing quite well and much better than people thought. Between that, and the optics of the AB election, if team Trudeau thinks the election will be handed to them because they are the only other option, I say do so at your own peril

    • edward nuff says:

      well said. I was fortunate enough to sit down with forty or so kids in their twenties at a co-op in Kingston a week ago. The anger was palpable re job prospects, debt but C51 made their blood boil. Whether it translates to voting or not we’ll find out but it won’t be for Trudeau according to this group.

  8. Dave says:

    You think Nenshi was being earnest with his prediction? I don’t.

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