Last month, I was back home in Calgary to teach at the law school. So, I got together with a couple high school buddies – one a lawyer, one an engineer – at Michael’s on Tenth Avenue. (Michael’s has the best pizza in Canada, by the way. Hands down.)
We got to talking about the coming Alberta election, and what was going to happen. Some people at neighbouring tables chimed in. (Calgary’s like that.)
Here’s a summary of what I was told:
• they all respected Rachel Notley but disliked her party
• they didn’t really like Jason Kenney but figured they’d vote for his party
• they thought the rest of Canada didn’t give a shit about them
• they deeply hated Justin Trudeau
And when I say “deeply,” I mean deeply. One of my fellow Michael’s fans even suggested that it would be a bad idea for Trudeau to travel to Alberta. Because he might be placed at physical risk.
The conversation continued. My lawyer buddy, who works at a major construction and engineering firm, was unhappy about Trudeau’s slavish devotion to the fortunes of the oily Quebec-based construction and engineering firm, SNC-Lavalin. He looked at me.
“You know, Winkie,” he said, using the nickname my Calgary pals gave to me way back when, “My firm had to lay off more than a thousand guys last year. No one back East noticed. No one. If that had happened to SNC-Lavalin, it would’ve been all you’d hear about.”
He was right, of course. Albertans are right: if something bad happens in the Centre of the Universe, in the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto axis, the whole country hears about it for weeks. But if hundreds of families lose their livelihood in Calgary, nobody in Ontario gives a shit, basically. Certainly not Justin Trudeau, who has repeatedly claimed to support Alberta – and then repeatedly done precisely nothing to help Alberta get oil to market.
I later tweeted what my friend said about those layoffs, and Ontario and Quebec’s total indifference to same. Jason Kenney was one of the many who retweeted what I said. It struck a chord.
And that, really, is mainly why Jason Kenney swept the much-admired Rachel Notley from power. Because Justin Trudeau and his government are now more despised in Alberta than was Trudeau’s father’s government, way back during the nadir of the National Energy Program. And Notley is seen, in Alberta, as having letting Trudeau get away with murder. The murder of Alberta’s economy.
Other factors were at play in last Tuesday’s night vote, of course. In politics, there always are. Jason Kenney brought together the warring factions of the Right, and avoided the vote-splits that helped Notley’s Crüe sweep to power four years ago. And, while the NDP leader was herself admired, her caucus generally was not. Notley had a Safeway employee, a yoga instructor and a bunch of twenty-somethings. Few had real political experience.
In 2015, Notley’s Progressive Conservative opponents also ran one of the worst campaigns in modern Alberta history. Nationally, the NDP was polling respectably in 2014. And Notley’s family was (and is) admired in Alberta. Her Dad was a much-loved former MLA who died tragically in a plane crash in 1984.
But, mostly, Rachel Notley lost because of Justin Trudeau. She trusted him, as did other Albertans. And she shouldn’t have. His early promises to Alberta were deceptions. They were intended to win him seats – but Trudeau clearly never had any intention of helping Alberta families survive.
My engineer buddy, who has had to lay off dozens of engineers, and take whatever work he can get, nods grimly at all this. He was born in Montreal, grew up in Manitoba and Alberta, and was always a Liberal. No more.
“He’s a liar,” my friends says, holding a glass of the best local stuff, Trad. “He’s a goddamn liar. He’s way more hated than his father ever was, in Alberta. And Notley is the one who is going to wear it.”
That was unfortunate, my engineering pal said, because he regarded Rachel Notley as “decent, smart and principled.” Many people in Alberta admired the NDP Premier, he said.
“But she was unlucky. She won when the bottom was falling out,” he said. “That’s not her fault. But her alliance with Trudeau, at the start, is something people will never forgive.”
And they didn’t. Once again, anything with the “Liberal” brand is anathema in Alberta, thanks to Justin Trudeau. On election night, the Alberta Liberal leader – a smart, hard-working constitutional lawyer, David Khan – was creamed, finishing a distant fourth in Calgary MountainView. His party was wiped out across the province, not winning a single seat.
Justin Trudeau may not have been on the ballot in Alberta, but he surely helped determine the result, more than any other Canadian politician. He helped elect Jason Kenney and defeat Rachel Notley. He did that.
My engineering buddy looked at me.
“Alberta hates Justin Trudeau,” he says. “And we are going to teach him a lesson in October.”