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federal election 2015

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau waves during a campaign rally in Calgary, Alberta, on Oct. 18, 2015.CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

In pulling off a historic victory Monday, Justin Trudeau managed to do what a succession of federal Liberal leaders was unable to: make the party relevant in the West again. Consequently, a federal government under his direction is certain to change the political dynamic from Ontario to the West Coast.

Perhaps no place was the power of the Liberals to succeed more in question than in Alberta, where the Liberals have been mostly inconsequential for decades. When Mr. Trudeau was contemplating a run for the leadership, many felt his last name would hamper any attempts to rebuild the Liberal brand in the province.

It was the energy policies of his father, Pierre, and a general aloofness toward the West among federal Liberals generally, that gave birth to the Western separatist movement of the early 1980s. It, in turn, fuelled a conservatism that eventually gave the country Stephen Harper. During the Liberal leadership race, many thought Justin Trudeau was wasting his time even campaigning in Alberta, such was the level of hostility his famous surname was thought to engender. Making any inroads would be impossible, he was told.

Full coverage of Federal Election 2015

But those people were wrong. What Justin Trudeau understood is that there had been a generational turnover in the province. The young urban professionals populating the two major cities of Calgary and Edmonton weren't around when Pierre Trudeau was stoking feelings of Western alienation. The fact the two cities were populated with well-educated progressives was reflected in the rise to power of two centre-left mayors, Calgary's Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton's Don Iveson.

Sure, the province still remains a Conservative bastion, but the surge in Liberal Party support was dramatic. It now allows the Liberals to dream of becoming a truly national political institution, something it hasn't been for eons. It gives the party something to build upon. In the 2011 federal election, the party had only four seats west of Ontario: one each in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and two in B.C. By the time results from this election become official, the party will have easily surpassed that.

"The West has not remained static," David Taras, a political science professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary told me in discussing the Liberal win. "It's global, it's cosmopolitan, there's incredible ethnic diversity, it's edgy, it's au courant and filled with people who self-identify as progressive minded."

Mr. Trudeau's deep roots in British Columbia – a province where his mother was born and raised and where he himself lived for six years as a young adult – also played a key role in the party's political resurrection there. It allowed the Liberal Leader to talk with an authority and authenticity that predecessors such as Michael Ignatieff and Stéphane Dion never had. Other than his conditional support for the Kinder Morgan pipeline, Mr. Trudeau's economic and social agenda was one broadly supported by Vancouver's popular mayor, Gregor Robertson.

This certainly played a role in the party's political resurgence in the city as well.

If anything, this election confirmed that the backbone of federal Liberal support is in the major cities. The Conservatives are, for the most part, a party rooted in rural Canada and suburbia. Throughout the campaign, Mr. Trudeau spoke a language that urban politicians (and residents) understood and embraced. It's no coincidence that the Liberals' big play on infrastructure investment is something for which big city mayors have been lobbying for years, particularly in the West.

But while a boost in infrastructure spending will be warmly greeted across the country, Mr. Trudeau's first moves on the energy and environment fronts likely have those inhabiting the oil and gas towers of downtown Calgary nervous. Mr. Trudeau opposes the Northern Gateway project and has offered conditional approval of the Kinder Morgan expansion. He has talked tough on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and called Canada's environmental record an embarrassment.

The NDP's stunning victory under Rachel Notley in last spring's provincial election in Alberta certainly helps the Liberals. She has already started a conversation on the environment in the province that Mr. Trudeau will likely now join in on.

"I think the energy executives are hoping to be pleasantly surprised by Justin Trudeau," Prof. Taras told me. "But I think there is still some skepticism, some cynicism, some genuine nervousness about him also. The fact is no one really knows what he's going to do."

No, no one does. But he ascended to the power position in Canadian politics selling a unique, slickly packaged brand of optimism and hope. It was a message that resonated with people right across the country, in places few imagined people would be listening. In the West, his victory reflects a profound new political reality.

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