Good morning! It’s James Keller in Calgary.
The anger and frustration fuelled by Alberta’s lingering economic crisis sunk to new depths this week with the election of a Liberal minority government.
It was bad enough for many Albertans – namely the roughly 70 per cent who voted Conservative – that the Liberals won re-election. But a minority Parliament in which the New Democrats, Bloc Québécois and Greens could hold greater sway over the government has long been viewed as the worst-case scenario for Alberta and its oil industry.
The election result prompted immediate anxiety in the oilpatch, with people in the industry split about what it might mean – particularly for the future of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Reporters in our Calgary bureau spent the day after the election talking to people like Dan Halyk, chief executive of Calgary’s Total Energy Services. Halyk said he spent the morning trying to calm nervous workers, who share his concern that the Trudeau Liberals weren’t particularly strong allies of the oil and gas sector even when they had a majority government.
Kevin Krausert, chief executive of Beaver Drilling Ltd., was blunt: “Downtown Calgary is a sad sight.'
Others were more sanguine, predicting that the minority result isn’t necessarily a doomsday scenario. The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion doesn’t hinge on any votes in Parliament and if it came down to it, the Conservatives are enthusiastic supporters of the project.
Jennifer Winter, director of energy policy research at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, argues that a re-elected Liberal government at least gives the industry some certainty that the policies of the past several years will continue for the foreseeable future.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney warned Trudeau that he must calm those fears by making the Trans Mountain pipeline his top priority, which means rejecting any type of formal co-operation with the smaller parties in Parliament. He and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe also called on Trudeau to abandon some of his marquee environmental policies of the Liberals’ first term in office.
Moe pleaded with Trudeau not to bring a “gas can" to inflame anger in Western Canada, while Kenney said failing to take concerns on the Prairies seriously could take the country to a dark place.
Ultimately, people in Alberta and Saskatchewan elected a solid wall of Conservatives, with only one NDP MP – in Edmonton – to break up the blue.
In British Columbia, though, the anger over Trudeau’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline didn’t seem to translate too much at the ballot box. The Liberals won 11 seats, down from the 17 they held after the 2015 election. But it wasn’t the drubbing that it could have been. Prior to 2015, the Liberals had been confined to anywhere between two seats in 2011 to nine seats in 2006.
Ian Bailey has had a look at some ridings where the results were surprising. Liberal MP Terry Beech kept his seat in Burnaby North-Seymour, the riding that is the terminus of the pipeline project. Burnaby’s mayor has been vociferously opposed to the project and the riding has seen protests that have prompted arrests. But Beech prevailed, winning over his NDP opponent, long-time former MP Svend Robinson.
Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former attorney general who triggered the SNC-Lavalin scandal that sent Trudeau’s fortunes plummeting, also won her seat after a see-saw battle with her Liberal and Conservative opponents. She will sit as the only Independent in the House of Commons and while she said she is looking forward to having a strong voice free from partisan discipline, she also said her views on many issues haven’t changed. Expect her to frequently vote with her former colleagues.
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:
GREENS: The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and other fossil-fuel infrastructure projects could be derailed if they becomes a bargaining chip in a minority government. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters on Tuesday he remains opposed to the TMX project, but would not say whether he will demand the Liberals abandon the pipeline in exchange for his party’s support in Parliament. Green Leader Elizabeth May, by contrast, said there is no way the Liberals will get Green support so long as the construction continues. However, with only three seats in the new Parliament, the Greens alone would be unable to impose terms on the Liberals.
STUDENT VOTE: The results of this year’s mock election for elementary and secondary students show political polarization is not exclusive to Canadian adults. In fact, Canada’s schoolchildren appear even more politically fractured than their parents. The 1.1 million students from 7,000 schools elected a Liberal minority, albeit weaker than that elected in the actual vote. But the students made the NDP the official opposition and gave a drastically reduced number of seats to the Conservatives: 94 compared to the 121 the party actually won.
ENERGY LAYOFFS: Calgary-based Husky Energy Inc. says it has laid off an undisclosed number of employees. “Today we did have to say goodbye to some of our colleagues,” Husky spokeswoman Kim Guttormson said in an e-mail Tuesday. When Guttormson was asked whether the layoffs had anything to do with Monday’s election result, she said the company works “constructively with all governments in the jurisdictions where we operate.”
GRETA THUNBERG: The leader of British Columbia’s Green Party says he has invited climate-change activist Greta Thunberg to speak in the provincial legislature. Andrew Weaver says he extended an invitation to the 16-year-old Swede, who will visit Vancouver Friday to take part in what organizers say is a post-election climate strike.
MURAL DEFACED: An Edmonton man says he defaced a mural of Thunberg because he wanted to take a stand peacefully and the artist who created it says he doesn’t mind. James Bagnall says he wrote “stop the lies” and “this is oil country” on the painting of the 16-year-old girl against a bright-blue background along a light-rail transit line in Edmonton.
Gary Mason on the election results: “Barring some unexpected, cataclysmic economic event, dealing with Alberta’s energy future (and by extension Saskatchewan’s) is going to have to be a top priority for the new government. Unattended, the embers of alienation and separatism, now being stoked by provincial leaders unabashed about making political gains at the expense of national unity, will only become more intense.”
Lawrence Martin on disunity: “Anyone who thinks Canada’s divisions are devastating needs to spend some time in the U.S., where, some historians suggest, the country may be more divided than at any time since the Civil War, where an impeachment process is under way, and where a president stokes racial, cultural and political divides. Or they should consider the situation in Britain, where another manic, well-hinged populist is at large, threatening to turn Brexit into Wreckit. The schisms are a shock to those lands. But in Canada, what the election produced is more like the norm.”
John Ibbitson on the challenge for Trudeau ahead: “The strongest opposition will come not from within the House of Commons, but from provincial capitals, and it will be fierce. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is now the real opposition leader, buttressed by Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who violently oppose the Liberal carbon tax.”