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British Columbia Western Canada: Chuckwagons, pancakes and politicians usher in the Calgary Stampede

Good morning, it’s James Keller in Calgary.

Let’s call it the unofficial start of the fall federal-election campaign, at least in Alberta. The Calgary Stampede is typically seen as a must-attend event for the main federal leaders, who find themselves struggling to act natural riding around on horses and dressing up in their finest western wear that they haven’t put on in about 12 months. It’s even more important this year, ahead of the fall election campaign, where the main party leaders will be trying to make gains or at least hold onto the seats they won in 2015.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer kicks things off this weekend, with several stops on the pancake-breakfast circuit and other Stampede-themed events. Tomorrow evening, he’ll be at a barbecue hosted by MP Bob Benzen, who represents the Calgary riding previously held by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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For Mr. Scheer, the Stampede is an opportunity to rally supporters in a province that is considered safe Conservative territory and to continue to foster his friendship with Premier Jason Kenney, who is expected to campaign for Mr. Scheer in Ontario. He’ll also need to start managing expectations before the autumn, as the party’s focus on picking up seats in areas like Atlantic Canada and Ontario could mean that Alberta’s concerns aren’t top of mind this fall.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could get a less-friendly reception when he visits Calgary next week. The party has three seats in Alberta, and only one in Calgary (held by Kent Hehr, whose riding includes the Stampede grounds), and many in the province blame the federal government for delays in getting the Trans Mountain expansion and other pipeline projects built. While his office hasn’t issued an itinerary, the Liberals are advertising a party fundraiser at a “Stampede reception” next Saturday.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh doesn’t plan to be in Calgary during the Stampede, while Green Leader Elizabeth May is in town this weekend.

Provincially, Mr. Kenney – whose United Conservative Party won the spring election – and former NDP Premier Rachel Notley have already been making appearances and we’ll likely see a lot more of them.

The risk for politicians at the Stampede is … looking foolish. Mr. Harper is still mocked for his outfit in 2005 – a leather vest, poorly shaped hat and bolo tie. Ms. Notley suffered an embarrassing Stampede moment in 2015 when she was busted wearing her hat backward.

Carrie Tait looked at the strategy, and the pitfalls, of politicians playing Stampede dress-up a couple of years ago. It’s worth another read.

The Stampede also provides an endless number of stories connected to the rodeo or other aspects of the Stampede and cowboy culture. This week, Carrie takes readers inside the world of farriers – professional horseshoeing.

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“Humans will lie to you about their horse, what’s happened to the horse,” says Gina Berreth, a prominent farrier with customers who are racing at the Stampede. “But the horse’s foot never lies. It will tell you everything you need to know."

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.

Around the West

WILDFIRES: British Columbia is among the areas of the country that have learned devastating lessons about what happens when communities push into territories at risk of wildfires. The response to increasingly destructive wildfire seasons has included a new focus on development and planning as a means to ensure that when fires do break out, people and their property are not in the way. Wendy Stueck looks at what the experts say and what cities are actually doing as they struggle to balance wildfires with the push for development.

PUBLIC INQUIRY: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is picking up a long-standing grievance that dates back to his time in Stephen Harper’s federal government by launching a public inquiry into foreign funding of environmentalists. Mr. Kenney promised the inquiry during the election campaign, citing the work of researcher Vivian Krause, who has traced money flowing from American foundations to Canadian groups. But it’s not clear what the inquiry will learn – it has no jurisdiction outside Alberta, even though many of the groups are located in B.C. or other provinces. And even Ms. Krause acknowledges that for many of the groups, foreign funding represents a small fraction of their overall budgets.

WHALES: Endangered southern resident killer whales, whose pods usually congregate in the Salish Sea during the summer months, have returned to the area after an unprecedented absence. Researchers say the killer whales used to be in the area on a daily basis, but over the past eight weeks, they were barely seen at all.

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MANITOBA PREMIER: Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has made himself an outlier by becoming one of few Canadian political leaders to publicly – and loudly – criticize a Quebec bill that bars the province’s public servants from wearing religious symbols. Mr. Pallister told The Globe and Mail: “Here we have a piece of legislation that sends, I think, an un-Canadian message that they need to hide, or that they’re less acceptable for some reason – not just for what they wear, but for what they believe."

GAS PRICES: British Columbia’s review of the province’s high gasoline prices is facing resistance from oil companies, who are refusing to disclose their profit margins, which they say is “commercially sensitive” information. Premier John Horgan, who has barred the B.C. Utilities Commission from also looking at provincial government policies, says he’s disappointed with the oil companies’ decisions. He noted the commission has the power to seek a court order but he stopped short of saying that’s what should happen.

TRANS MOUNTAIN: The federal government says it’s in no hurry to settle on a buyer for the Trans Mountain pipeline as one First Nations-led group prepares a bid for as early as next week. When the federal cabinet reapproved the pipeline last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised additional consultations to ensure First Nations communities have a chance to buy into the pipeline. There are now several groups pursuing some kind of offer.

EMPTY-HOME TAX: Vancouver’s tax on empty homes is facing a growing number of legal challenges, with four lawsuits filed in recent months by homeowners who’ve been handed hefty bills.

ROUGHRIDERS MASCOT: The Saskatchewan Roughriders have given their mascot, Gainer the Gopher, a facelift but some fans are unimpressed. The makeover went viral with the hashtags #BringBackGainer and #NotMyGainer.

Opinion

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Gary Mason on Vancouver’s decision to kill a townhouse project: “Rental townhomes are precisely what the city needs. There are an increasing number of small, rental apartments, but not anywhere near enough units for people with families. That’s exactly the need this project would have filled, yet council killed it in a moment of fantastic short-sightedness.”

Preston Manning on balancing the economy and the environment: “The exclusive focus of many politicos and interest groups on atmospheric pollution diverts needed attention away from other pressing pollution problems, such as those associated with the pollution of land and water resources. ‘The environment’ from nature’s perspective is holistic; shouldn’t our approach to its protection be holistic, as well?”

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