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Good morning, it’s James Keller in Calgary.

The Leader of Alberta’s New Democrats, Rachel Notley, took a commanding – and surprising – lead in the 2015 provincial election in large part because of her performance during the leaders’ debate. Many voters in Alberta didn’t know much about Ms. Notley, an incumbent MLA who took over the NDP a year earlier and did not have a large profile in the province.

She was widely praised for an impressive performance that outshined the Progressive Conservative premier at the time, Jim Prentice. Worse for Mr. Prentice, his comment to Ms. Notley that “I know the math is difficult” came across as condescending.

This week’s leaders’ debate, ahead of the April 16 election, was likely not as pivotal for any leader. Not for Ms. Notley, who is now a known quantity in Alberta and whose political problems extend deeper than helping voters to get to know her. And not for UCP Leader Jason Kenney, who stuck to a message on pipelines and the economy, which already appears to be resonating, as he fended off accusations that he surrounds himself with extreme social conservatives.

Much of the night was spent debating pipelines and the economy. Mr. Kenney condemned the NDP government as a failure and accused Ms. Notley of selling out the province through what he has derisively called the “Trudeau-Notley alliance.” Ms. Notley insisted her plan of building support among the public and in other governments is working and that shovels will be in the ground for the stalled Trans Mountain pipeline soon.

The debate also touched on sensitive social issues, such as gay-straight alliances and several cases in which UCP candidates have been exposed for making racist or homophobic remarks in their past.

The only beneficiaries of the debate, perhaps, were Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel and Liberal Leader David Khan. The debate was likely the first time most voters had seen or even heard of the two leaders, but they were drowned out by the two front-runners and it’s not clear that either moved the needle for their parties, both polling in the single digits.

Mr. Mandel has spent the campaign rolling out policy announcements while also campaigning in his own riding of Edmonton-McClung, previously held by the NDP. Jana Pruden visited the riding to check in on Mr. Mandel’s campaign and what issues could drive votes in the riding – one of several suburban Edmonton districts that have become battlegrounds in the campaign.

Gary Mason writes that Mr. Kenney survived his Lake of Fire moment, a nod to the Wildrose party’s loss in the 2012 election despite high expectations. The party’s fortunes tanked in the final days of the campaign after an old blog written by a candidate surfaced in which he predicted a “lake of fire” for gays and lesbians.

Here’s what else happened this week in the campaign:

The latest UCP candidate to apologize for past remarks was Mark Smith, who delivered a sermon at a church in 2013 in which he compared “homosexual love" with other “misguided” forms of love such as pedophilia. He apologized and Mr. Kenney kept him in the race.

Mr. Kenney promised to devote $1-billion to start a Crown corporation that would help First Nations pursue a financial stake in pipelines and other major projects.

The campaign may be focusing on oil pipelines, but as Jeff Lewis reports, there’s very little the next premier will be able to do to speed up stalled projects such as the Trans Mountain expansion, which has been delayed by forces out of the province’s control.

This is the 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:


The hopes and expectations of B.C. environmentalists were high when John Horgan’s NDP unseated the BC Liberals after 16 years. But as Justine Hunter writes, NDP policies on the Site C mega dam, on forestry and on mining don’t look much different than the policies of the BC Liberals:

“Now, almost two years after the election, a minority NDP government that is formally supported by the Green Party has approved construction of the Site C dam. The legislature passed a law on Thursday to secure a massive LNG investment. The mining industry is welcoming new resources from the province. And some of Canada’s oldest trees are heading for auction.”

B.C.'s environment minister told Justine that despite the NDP’s criticism of the Liberals while in opposition, governing requires more balance.


Canada’s move toward legalization of recreational use of cannabis was aimed at wiping out the black market. But as Mike Hager reported this week, cracking down on illicit trafficking of the drug appears to be as arbitrary now as it was before legalization.

Mike highlights the contradiction of two cases in Winnipeg: In one, an Indigenous street-level dealer found with 86 grams of cannabis (the legal limit is 30 grams) was sentenced to 10 months in jail. Also in Winnipeg, the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba handed out two $2,500 tickets to vendors caught selling thousands of illegal THC-infused edibles and more than a kilogram of dried bud at the HempFest Cannabis Expo in the same city.


Canada’s ambassador to the United States says he cringes when he reads U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweets. But David MacNaughton told the Council of Forest Industries convention this week that anyone who thinks Canada will get better treatment from a Democrat president should think again.

Canada is currently in the fifth round of a battle over a softwood lumber accord. The dispute has endured through Republican presidents and Democrat presidents and most recently, was stalled when President Barack Obama was in the White House.

Mr. MacNaughton says Canada wants a softwood deal, but while a bad deal for Canada is always to be had, he expects Canadian producers will have to wait a while yet for a good one.


On Wednesday, Manitoba joined the provincial governments of Saskatchewan and Ontario in their legal fight against Ottawa over the federal carbon tax, which was imposed earlier this week in those jurisdictions, along with New Brunswick. The four were the holdouts in Canada, refusing to impose their own versions of the tax.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe addressed a rally against the tax in Regina, but was criticized because one of the organizers has publicly said he doesn’t believe climate change poses a threat to the planet.

Report on Business columnist Barrie McKenna writes that those turning their opposition of the tax into good old-fashioned political theatre with photo stunts this week will probably find themselves on the wrong side of history.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Scheer, Mr. Ford and the others will wind up on the wrong side of history on this one. Putting a price on carbon is widely regarded by economists and policy experts as the lowest cost and most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”


Gary Mason on carbon taxes: “The fact that these politicians paraded to gas stations with photographers in tow one day before the release of a bombshell report on the effect of global warming in Canada was perfect. Better to see the utter lunacy of the position Mr. Scheer, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and conservative-minded politicians in the West have taken when it comes to combatting the root causes of climate change.”

Max Fawcett on Jason Kenney’s proposal for an energy ‘war room’: “Ironically, though, his war room would be underpinned by a myth of its own: that pushing back will actually get the industry and its pipeline projects moving forward. If anything, it might set both of them back.”

Editorial board on Indigenous ownership of the Trans Mountain pipeline: “Canadians should welcome this ambition. It is a clear display that, when an industrial project is in the works, Indigenous people are not simply some box to check. Indigenous communities can be – and should be – seen as partners.”

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