- Alberta’s election day is today. Have you decided which of the two major party leaders you’d rather see as premier? Read our in-depth profiles of the NDP’s Rachel Notley and the United Conservatives’ Jason Kenney to learn what makes them tick, and compare their parties’ platforms with a guide from Alberta reporter Justin Giovannetti.
- The leaders spent the campaign’s final day touting their respective plans to build pipelines. Whichever one wins, B.C.'s New Democrat government is getting ready for more conflict over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which it and several First Nations oppose. Mr. Kenney has promised new laws to restrict Alberta’s oil and gas supplies to B.C., while Ms. Notley has fought an escalating trade dispute with her B.C. counterpart, John Horgan, over the pipeline plan.
- Going into the campaign’s final weekend, the UCP had an eight-point lead over the New Democrats, according to a Nanos Research poll conducted for The Globe and Mail from April 10-13. Pollster Nik Nanos called it a “comfortable lead” for Mr. Kenney, but cautioned that the numbers don’t conclusively indicate how many seats each party could win.
- The party leaders have laid out competing visions to restart Alberta’s economy, which seemed to be recovering well after the 2014-15 recession but stalled after 2018. Why did that happen? The Globe and Mail’s Matt Lundy crunched the labour-market numbers to find out.
Who’s who: Parties and leaders
Leader: Rachel Notley
Platform: Fighting for You
Five years ago, the prospect of NDP government in Alberta had been nearly unthinkable. Then came Rachel Notley, whose hopeful message took her party from third place to a majority government in 2015. The party laid out a vision of investing Alberta’s oil wealth and increased corporate taxes in progressive policies: strengthening the public health system, freezing postsecondary tuition and raising the minimum wage, which went from one of the lowest in Canada to the highest, at $15 an hour.
But the forecast for Alberta’s economic future soon turned cloudy. Collapsing oil prices put thousands out of work and fuelled an exodus of workers from the province. In 2016, devastating wildfires in Fort McMurray struck a blow to the economic heart of the oil sands. And the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which the province had hoped would bring more of Alberta’s crude to global markets, got stalled by political opposition from British Columbia and First Nations, despite the federal government’s efforts to keep the project alive by buying it. Now, Ms. Notley is seeking to persuade Albertans that the NDP can reignite the province’s economy and share the benefits fairly through social programs.
Leader: Jason Kenney
Platform: Alberta Strong & Free
When Ms. Notley’s victory ended four decades of Progressive Conservative rule, Alberta’s right wing and centrists faced a hard reckoning about how to move forward. The PCs picked Jason Kenney, a former federal cabinet minister under Stephen Harper, as their new leader, and he promised to unite them with the farther-to-the-right Wildrose Party. The parties agreed to a merger in 2017, and Mr. Kenney was chosen as leader, though revelations two years later would raise thorny questions about how he managed that (more on that below).
For months, the UCP has largely been framing the election as a referendum on carbon taxation, joining forces with Andrew Scheer’s federal Tories and Doug Ford’s PC government in Ontario. Mr. Kenney, a former immigration minister, also says he would bring thousands of immigrant workers to rural parts of the province and stimulate job creation by slashing the corporate tax rate.
Alberta has never had a minority government, so there is virtually no chance of a B.C.-style nail-biter in which smaller parties end up with the balance of power – especially considering the upheaval the minor parties have undergone in recent years. Here are some of the highlights:
- Alberta Party: A self-described centrist party led by former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel, the Alberta Party’s electoral future was nearly in jeopardy even before the writ dropped. In February, Elections Alberta deemed Mr. Mandel and five candidates ineligible to run for five years because of a missed deadline to file financial paperwork. He challenged that decision in court and was allowed to run.
- Liberals: Associated for decades with Pierre Trudeau’s unpopular National Energy Program, the Alberta Liberals haven’t had much presence in the province’s modern history. But in 2015, they hit their lowest point in decades: Only one MLA, then-leader David Swann, won election. The party chose David Khan as its new leader in 2017.
- Freedom Conservatives: A new version of the party once styled Alberta First or the Separation Party, this right-wing bloc was started last July by Derek Fildebrandt, a former Wildrose and UCP MLA who left the party in 2017 under a cloud of criticism over dubious expenses. Mr. Fildebrandt also played a part in Mr. Kenney’s leadership controversy: In 2017, Mr. Kenney’s team courted him as a potential “dark horse” candidate, but he turned them down.
Kenney’s leadership controversy
Just days before the election was called, new controversy emerged about how Mr. Kenney became UCP leader in the first place. Leaked e-mails purported to show that, in 2017, Mr. Kenney’s leadership campaign supported a rival, Jeff Callaway, as a “kamikaze” candidate to oppose Wildrose’s former leader, Brian Jean. Mr. Kenney said the allegations are “conspiracy theories" and that there’s nothing improper about leadership rivals co-operating with one another.
Meanwhile, the RCMP and the provincial elections watchdog are looking into Mr. Callaway’s campaign donations after an anonymous complaint questioning where they came from. Several donors have been issued letters of reprimand or fined thousands of dollars for contributing “funds giving or furnished by another person,” which is not allowed under the province’s Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act.
Four essential charts
Global climate change is real, and it’s already here – and scientists have offered dire warnings of the danger it will pose in the coming decades. A report last fall from the United Nations’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that, without unprecedented measures to limit the use of fossil fuels, the world faces a doomsday scenario of extreme weather, rising seas and a refugee crisis as early as the 2040s. One of the most strongly recommended measures is to put a high price on greenhouse-gas emissions, something Justin Trudeau’s federal government took steps toward after the Paris accord in 2015.
But to bring emissions down, Alberta, Canada’s biggest emitter, has to be on board – and for the past few years, that’s been increasingly complicated. Ms. Notley’s support for Mr. Trudeau’s carbon-pricing deal hinged on the Trans Mountain expansion, which would boost the capacity of an existing pipeline from Edmonton to B.C. Ottawa approved the project in 2016, but when First Nations and British Columbia’s NDP government opposed it, the oil company building it demurred on whether it would go ahead – so Ottawa bought the system from them. Last summer, Ms. Notley froze Alberta’s carbon tax at $30 a tonne, cancelling planned increases in 2021 and 2022. Mr. Kenney’s UCP, meanwhile, wants to scrap the per-tonne tax entirely and instead impose a tax on large industrial emitters unless they can reduce their emissions.
To keep its oil royalties flowing, Alberta has two big obstacles to overcome. One, the chronically low global price of oil, is mostly beyond its control: Alberta is still recovering from the 2015 price shock, while in the United States, increased shale production is expected to make the country less reliant on Canadian supply, according to a March forecast from the International Energy Agency. So Alberta has been working overtime to fix the other problem: lack of export capacity.
Trans Mountain was Ms. Notley’s hoped-for solution, but with the pipeline’s future still uncertain, she’s taken other measures: curbing oil-sands production to ease the supply glut, building a partial upgrading facility to cram more oil into existing pipelines and leasing thousands of new rail cars, at a cost of $3.7-billion, to move more oil to market. If the oil-by-rail plan works, Alberta could reap $2.2-billion in net profit. But Mr. Kenney doesn’t think it will, and calls it a “corporate welfare” scheme. Instead, he’s promised to cancel the rail contracts and focus instead on challenging Ottawa and other provinces to make sure pipelines get built. Either leader, if elected, has a tough time ahead dealing with B.C. Premier John Horgan to build the promised pipelines.
Deficits have long been a political minefield in Alberta, which saw massive cuts to public spending under past Progressive Conservative governments, particularly Premier Ralph Klein’s. The province has been chronically in deficit since the 2008 financial crisis, but the NDP’s plan is to remedy that by returning to balance by 2023-24, while still finding billions in new spending on health care, education and provincewide daycare. That plan hinges on two things that, for reasons mentioned above, are contentious: New pipeline capacity, and carbon-tax revenue that had previously been used only to pay for environmental rebates and programs.
Mr. Kenney has denounced the NDP’s budget plan as a “fiscal train wreck." He promises a $714-million surplus by 2023 through four years of spending freezes, though he’s denied that this constitutes a cut to services. The UCP, if elected, would also delay changes to personal income-tax rates until the budget is balanced, while also dramatically cutting corporate taxes, to 8 per cent down from the current 12 per cent.
The 2015-16 recession’s effects can still be felt in the vacant office suites of downtown Calgary, which has surpassed St. John’s for the highest unemployment rate of any major city in Canada: 7.6 per cent, compared with 7 in Edmonton. Between 2014 and 2016, Alberta’s economy shed more than 133,000 jobs. There’s no recession expected in the near future – there has been some recent growth and more forecast into the 2020s – but the labour market’s hopes for recovery are still shaky.
Given the grim numbers and uncertainty around the oil and gas sector, neither Ms. Notley nor Mr. Kenney is in a position to promise that a job resurgence is just around the corner – but they are trying to convince voters that the other party would make matters worse. Ms. Notley has warned of a Ralph Klein-style scenario in which a UCP government’s spending cuts would slash public-sector jobs. The UCP has framed NDP initiatives like the raised minimum wage as job-killers, and Mr. Kenney has mused about a separate, lower minimum wage for young people in service industries.
Ridings and regions to watch
Across the province, Globe correspondent Jana G. Pruden has been taking the political pulse of crucial ridings and communities during this election. Here are some of the places profiled so far.
Alberta’s big cities aren’t the only places dealing with the deadly toll of opioid overdoses: Medium-sized urban areas like Lethbridge are affected too. Just over a year ago, the non-profit agency ARCHES opened a supervised drug-consumption site downtown, and it’s now a bone of contention between the New Democrats, who want to maintain support for drug-consumption sites, and the UCP, who want to suspend opening new ones and review whether existing ones should still operate. Stacey Bourque, executive director of ARCHES, told The Globe the debate in Lethbridge has been divisive:
This drug crisis in general has been an extremely polarizing topic in our community. Most of these facilities have been erected in large centres, so having such a large facility that is so heavily used in a community the size of Lethbridge, I think has been a lot for people to take in.
The heart of the oil sands is a traditionally conservative one, and its two ridings are currently held by Wildrose-turned-UCP incumbents. But some voters, even those who identified as conservatives, told The Globe they were apprehensive about Mr. Kenney becoming premier. Here’s what Angela Zeinstra, a 29-year-old oilfield worker, said:
It’s really difficult because up here, in theory anyway, a conservative candidate is a good fit for the oil sands. But I also do not want Jason Kenney in power.
In Alberta’s often-overlooked third city, the big issue is a hospital expansion. Both of the major parties support it, but it’s up to voters to figure out whose overall plan for the province will bring them better health-care service. For George (Joe) Smith, who lost a friend when he was being transferred to Edmonton for treatment, the issue is a personal one. But he said he doesn’t see a clear political answer:
The promises are coming out for the election, of course. But why didn’t they do something in the last 10 years [the hospital overcrowding] has been going on? They could have fixed this a long time ago, because this isn’t the first time it’s being raised. That’s the problem, because no matter which party it was, they’ve promised this before and it hasn’t happened. So who do you believe?
Stephen Mandel, Edmonton’s mayor from 2004 to 2013, has called this riding home for years. Now he’s trying to win it for the Alberta Party by courting centrist voters who feel left out of the province’s polarized politics. On a canvassing trip through the riding, Mr. Mandel got a warm reception from resident Ken McCoy:
I believe in him. I’ve known him for a long time, and we need change. I think we need new blood. New life.
The yellow-vested elephant in the room
You may have seen them outside the Alberta Legislature or Calgary’s City Hall: Handfuls of protesters clad in bright-yellow safety vests.
The vests are a symbol adopted from a much larger, more fractious and sometimes violent anti-government movement in France, and while Canada’s protests are still tiny by comparison, they’ve raised the same concerns about connections to the extreme right. At yellow-vest rallies in Alberta, signs denouncing carbon taxation have stood alongside anti-immigrant posters, “Make Alberta Great Again” hats or the jackets of white-nationalist groups like the Soldiers of Odin.
With hateful messages surfacing at protests and on social media, Mr. Kenney has been trying to distance himself from fringe elements who have mixed their racist rhetoric with support for his party. But several controversies over his candidates’ comments and behaviour have dogged him on the campaign trail. Here are some of them:
- Last fall, the UCP dropped a nomination candidate after he was photographed with Soldiers of Odin members.
- An Edmonton mosque got a hateful letter in January that included the UCP logo and called Mr. Kenney “our premier to be,” a letter Mr. Kenney denounced as a “smear” against his party.
- In March, two candidates quit over their past social-media remarks. First was Caylan Ford, after PressProgress, a news site affiliated with the left-leaning Broadbent Institute, reported on a private Facebook chat from 2017 in which she spoke about “the replacement of white peoples in their homelands.” Next was Eva Kiryakos, who said a person outside the party threatened to post her social-media comments about refugees and transgender women. She decided to release her own video including the comments, and stepped down from the race in Calgary-South East.
- A recording surfaced of a 2013 sermon by candidate Mark Smith in which he criticized positive portrayals of LGBTQ relationships on television. “Heck, there are even people out there, I could take you, I could take you to places on the website, I’m sure, where you could find out that there’s, where pedophilia is love,” he is heard saying. Mr. Kenney denounced the comments but did not remove Mr. Smith from the ballot.
Mr. Kenney has faced similar pressure as Doug Ford in Ontario and Donald Trump in the United States to denounce white nationalism in stronger terms. The scrutiny on the extreme right and how party leaders are responding to it will only intensify as Albertans get closer to election day.
More reading: Who are the yellow vests?
How do I vote?
- Am I registered? To vote, you must be a Canadian citizen over the age of 18 who is an “ordinary resident” of Alberta (here are the guidelines for what that means). Elections Alberta’s VoterLink website is where you should go to register, check if you’re already registered or update your registration information if you’ve moved recently. Make sure you have a piece of valid identification, like a driver’s licence or government ID card.
- Where and how do I vote? Alberta has 87 provincial ridings, and you have to vote in the one where you live. Check Elections Alberta’s maps or your registration information to find out what riding you’re in and who the candidates are.
- Can I get time off from work to vote? All voters are entitled to three consecutive hours on election day to vote, but depending on the shift you work, your employer may not be required to give you time off. Check the Elections Alberta FAQ site to learn more.
- When do we know who wins? Polls close at 8 p.m. (MT) on election day. Depending on how close the race is, a decisive result could be available within hours, or it might take longer. Check back at globeandmail.com for live coverage of the results.
Climate change and environment
Jobs and the Alberta economy
Analysis and commentary
Compiled by Globe staff
With reports from Kelly Cryderman, Justin Giovannetti, James Keller, Shawn McCarthy and Evan Annett