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opinion

It is part of Canada's political DNA that the Liberal Party doesn't understand Alberta, and that Albertans don't like Liberals.

Some Grits hoped that Justin Trudeau's inroads into the province in the 2015 election, when the party snagged four of 34 seats, would form a beachhead for later gains.

But if indignation over the Prime Minister's recent slip during his speech on Parliament Hill is any indication, things are returning to normal.

To poach from Dr. Johnson, expecting further Liberal gains in Alberta would be the triumph of hope over experience.

Mr. Trudeau was at his most Justin in his July 1 speech celebrating Canada at 150. Enthusiastic, confident, hyperbolic (there were tens of thousands of spectators on the grounds of Parliament Hill, not the hundreds of thousands he alluded to), respectful of the Indigenous roots that long predate Confederation, and thrilled by the multicultural achievement of this diverse, tolerant, surprised-at-our-own-success-ful country.

Unfortunately, while reciting a list of provinces and territories that "embrace that diversity," he managed to skip over Alberta, although the province was named in the prepared text. Oops.

Later, as he introduced Canada's two new astronauts, Mr. Trudeau began: "Let me just start by saying I'm a little embarrassed. I got excited somewhere over the Rockies," adding: "Alberta, I love you. Happy Canada Day."

But all Canadians, regardless of race or creed or background, share an exquisitely refined capacity to feel slighted. To no one's surprise, within minutes of the gaffe, the Twitter-verse exploded with indignation. Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt tweeted a map of Canada, with every province marked "Canada" except for Alberta, which was marked "Not Canada" and Saskatchewan, which was "Sort of Canada."

The easily-incenced Michelle Rempel, Conservative MP for Calgary-Nose Hill, declared on Facebook: "The prime minister of our country – on Canada Day! – forgot that Alberta exists. I don't think this was an accident."

It didn't help that, thanks to the G20 and other commitments, Mr. Trudeau won't be attending the Calgary Stampede this year.

Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr, MP for Calgary Centre, valiantly rose to his leader's defence, pointing out that Mr. Trudeau had attended four of the past five Stampedes and would be in Calgary later in the summer.

"To some people, if the Prime Minister walked on water they'd say: 'Look, the Prime Minster can't swim,'" Mr. Hehr told the Calgary Sun, lifting a joke that, if memory serves, was first employed to describe Joe Clark. "I believe this is one of those times."

It's such an old, old story. Albertans distrust Liberals. They especially distrust Trudeaus. And so, when a Liberal prime minister named Trudeau leaves out Alberta while reciting the provinces and territories, it all comes back: "Why should I sell your wheat?" The National Energy Policy. "Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark." Equalization. The West Wants In. The Firewall Letter.

According to conventional political wisdom, the 600,000 Americans who immigrated to Alberta around the turn of the last century imbued the province's political culture with a conservative spirit of individual responsibility and a commitment (more honoured in theory than practice) to small government. Arrogant federal regimes that pandered to the interests of Ontario and Quebec left Westerners feeling like outsiders in their own country.

It was never that black and white, of course, and certainly isn't now. Peter Lougheed, the much-honoured former premier, was as much progressive as conservative. Immigrants from both within Canada and overseas enriched the mix. There are progressive mayors in Calgary and Edmonton, with the NDP in power provincially. And don't forget those four Liberal and one NDP MPs.

But then the Prime Minister makes a little slip and all the old resentments come flooding back. DNA is destiny.

No wonder Mr. Trudeau was seen shaking his head when he realized his mistake. He knew what he was in for.

By the way, don't think this political animus is in any way confined to Alberta. Just ask anyone from downtown Toronto what they think of Conservatives.

The Edge and Bono of U2 performed and Justin Trudeau and Prince Charles spoke at an Ottawa celebration marking Canada’s 150th anniversary Saturday. The prime minister said Canada’s roots go back much further than Confederation.

The Canadian Press