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Good morning, it’s James Keller in Calgary.

In the lead-up to the 2015 election, political leaders and pundits agreed that the economy was the top issue on the minds of voters. Oil prices had collapsed the year before, setting off a recession that threw tens of thousands of people out of work. And there was no clear path to a recovery – or a clear answer about which party would be best equipped to find one.

Four years later, it feels eerily familiar. The province is dealing with another oil price collapse that bottomed out in fall of 2018, and most of the major economic indicators – unemployment, bankruptcies, the housing market, employment-insurance claims – are terrible. That economic pain has bred resentment in all directions, from the current NDP government to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Alberta’s place in the country.

And, as in 2015, voters are probably having a difficult time deciding who would be able to lift Alberta out of its slump. Rather than the usual question of “Are you better off today than you were four years ago," voters are left wondering if there’s any chance things will get better four years from now.

Which is all to say that the mood in Alberta is not great. With that in mind, Gary Mason travelled around Alberta to see first-hand how the ongoing economic crisis has shaped how voters see their options for this election.

He visited Strathcona County, where the expanded Trans Mountain pipeline would begin (if it’s ever approved and built). He spent time in Edmonton, in NDP Leader Rachel Notley’s riding, where even people who think Ms. Notley’s government has done a competent job are pessimistic about her chances. He went to Leduc, where layoffs in the oil patch have fuelled demand for food banks and counselling. And he visited Calgary, where downtown office towers have been hollowed out.

And in the background sits Mr. Trudeau, who has become a target of both Ms. Notley and UCP Leader Jason Kenney. Mr. Kenney in particular has attempted to make the election about Mr. Trudeau as much as the current NDP government.

While everyone seems to have predictions about what will happen, Albertans are also acutely aware of how difficult these things are to call in advance. In the past two elections, the eventual winner was not the party who started the campaign leading in opinion polls (to say nothing of how flawed public opinion polling has been in election after election).

Sarah Hamilton, a city councillor in Edmonton, notes the paradox facing both leaders: Ms. Notley is well-liked, but her NDP is not. And while the UCP is popular, Mr. Kenney isn’t.

“But you have a strange inversion here and so I have no idea how it’s going to end up,” she says.

“I think a lot of people are undecided right now, especially women. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a minority government.”

This is the Western Canada newsletter written by 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:

ALBERTA ELECTION ROUNDUP: Here are a few other things from the second week of the campaign you might have missed:

UCP Leader Jason Kenney released a health-care platform that would rely on private clinics to alleviate surgical wait times. He also said he would put a pause on supervised drug-consumption sites in order to study their impact.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley promised provincial drug coverage for middle- and low-income seniors who earn less than $75,000 a year.

Ms. Notley promised to expand a network of highways that can handle oversized loads.

Mr. Kenney said a UCP government would get tough on rural crime and would throw out a policy that directs Alberta’s Crown prosecutors to abandon some criminal cases to make sure more serious ones get to court.

Mr. Kenney is set to release the UCP’s full platform on Saturday.

ABORTION ON VANCOUVER ISLAND: The only abortion clinic on Vancouver Island will no longer offer surgical abortions, after strong demand for the abortion pill, called Mifegymiso, which is a less invasive way to end a pregnancy. Kelly Grant reports on the clinic’s founders, who were instrumental in the fight to bring Mifegymiso to Canada.

B.C. FILM INDUSTRY: British Columbia now steers the lion’s share of Canadian film and television production (40 per cent), followed by Ontario at 32 per cent and Quebec with 20 per cent, according to a new study. The study notes that the expansion in B.C. has been driven by the programming needs of streaming platforms such as Amazon, Netflix and Hulu.

CANOLA: Farmers in the Prairies say they’re extremely disappointed with Ottawa’s handling of the canola crisis, singling out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for not moving quickly enough to prevent what they say is quickly turning into “the biggest disaster" in living memory on their farms.

GRIZZLY ATTACK: A coroner says nothing could have been done to prevent the deaths of a mother and her infant daughter, who were killed by an emaciated Grizzly bear near their trapping cabin in the Yukon last November.

ICBC: B.C. is moving motor vehicle accident claims of $50,000 or less to an online dispute-resolution tribunal system as it seems to contain claims costs and delays at the Crown-owned insurance company.

TRANS MOUNTAIN PIPELINE: A First Nations-led group is inviting communities in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan to join a potential bid for a 51-per-cent stake in Ottawa’s Trans Mountain oil pipeline. The Trans Mountain expansion has been stalled in part because of legal action with First Nations who oppose the project.

CALGARY FLAMES: The Calgary Flames’ presence in the NHL playoffs have become a pick-me-up for a city that has been battered by a five-year economic downturn linked to the oil patch. Marty Klinkenberg writes about the energy that has captivated the city, in many ways in spite of Calgary’s economic troubles and an ongoing provincial election that has been particularly nasty (and it’s not even half over).

HUMBOLDT BRONCOS: The owner of a transport truck involved in the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash has pleaded guilty to violating provincial and federal safety rules in the months leading up to the collision. Sukhmander Singh of Adesh Deol Trucking, which is no longer in business, was fined a total of $5,000.


Jen Gerson on how the UCP could still lose in Alberta: “The anger of Albertans is neither misguided nor misplaced. Jason Kenney has run a shaky campaign, but if he and the UCP remain a credible vehicle for that anger, then that’s who Alberta will elect. But it’s still too early for him to begin a fitting for a crown just yet.”

Gary Mason on Jason Kenney’s plan to reduce protections extended to LBGTQ students: “Mr. Kenney needs to ask himself whether he’s prepared to risk Alberta’s reputation over a move that is small, petty and mean-spirited, all to serve the interests of a close-minded, intolerant minority. Ahead of a provincial election, Albertans need to ponder that question as well.”

Tony Coulson on what the polls show in Alberta: “Most polling shows the UCP to be well ahead among decided voters, but it’s worth remembering that a significant share of voters remain undecided. The undecided are often factored out of horse race-style polling analysis, but they’re a large group and some could be enticed to the polls. Stranger things have happened in politics.”

Naomi Sayers on a First Nations-led bid for a Trans Mountain pipeline stake: “It is likely that only a few years ago, Indigenous stakeholders announcing a majority bid would not have been possible or even imagined. This is the future, and it gives me hope for our younger generations.”

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