Chantal Hébert: Alberta election signals volatile times in Canadian politics

Chantal Hébert: Alberta election signals volatile times in Canadian politics
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And then there were none. As of the victory on Tuesday of Alberta’s United Conservatives, Canada’s first ministers club is once again male-only.

Of the quartet of female premiers who led Canada’s largest provinces as recently as five years ago, not a single member is left at the table.

But before jumping to the conclusion that gender has played the key role in the relatively swift demise of Christy Clark, Pauline Marois, Kathleen Wynne and Rachel Notley, it is worth considering that they all came to the fore in an age of ever-increasing electoral volatility.

Second terms in government used to be the norm in most provinces. But there have been eye-catching breaks in that pattern over the past few years.

In less than a decade, Quebec has been governed by three different parties.

Since 2006, New Brunswick has had a string of one-term governments.

Over the three-and-a-half years Justin Trudeau has been prime minister, seven provincial incumbents have led their parties to defeat. P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlin could become the eighth when his province goes to the polls next week.

That’s a trend the ruling federal Liberals might have to keep in mind as they look to their own re-election bid this fall.

Those of Trudeau’s predecessors who were first elected with a majority were all granted second terms. But as provincial developments indicate, history does not forever repeat itself.

Between now and the federal campaign, Trudeau will have to resolve a pipeline riddle made more problematic by the outcome of the Alberta election.

The proactive Alberta climate change policy the prime minister initially used to justify the approval of the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline will not survive the change in that province’s government.

But Trudeau has also consistently maintained that the expansion of the Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline is in the national interest. If he seriously believes the project must be completed for the greater good of the country, then surely its fate cannot ride on the electoral vagaries of a single province?

If Trudeau stays the course and relaunches the Trans Mountain expansion later this spring, the credibility of his climate change policy could take a hit. But if he does not, it is his sincerity that stands to be called into question.

Meanwhile though, it is probably premature to ship candles to B.C. to help its residents cope with Jason Kenney’s threat to cut off their oil and gas.

The incoming Alberta premier has said his first act in office will be to enact a law passed under the NDP but never brought into force, which would allow Alberta to restrict energy shipments to B.C. so as to force that province into compliance with the Trans Mountain project.

But once the Alberta law is enacted, the odds are it will be challenged in court, a move that would likely result in the suspension of its application until the issue of its constitutionality has been resolved.

An Alberta offensive that could result in energy shortages in B.C. is almost certainly one of the last things federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer would wish for as he gets set to hit the campaign trail.

On the plus side for Scheer, Kenney’s victory is a timely reminder to conservative supporters across the land that political victory rhymes with party unity, and that could help counter the siren song of Maxime Bernier’s breakaway party.

But with allies such as Kenney and Ontario’s Doug Ford — who by virtue of both their positions and their strong political personalities dwarf their federal leader — Scheer will have to convince more than a few voters that he does not take his orders from Queen’s Park and/or Edmonton.

On election night, Notley said she planned to serve as leader of the official Opposition in the reconfigured Alberta legislature. Her party may have lost the election, but it has emerged from the campaign with a solid footing.

Notley’s 24-member strong caucus is the third largest provincial NDP contingent, after those in Ontario and B.C.

And that makes an end to the pipeline schism that has divided the New Democrats highly unlikely.

With governing experience under their belt, the Alberta New Democrats are in a position going forward to offer a credible alternative to Kenney’s Conservatives. It is not a status the party will sacrifice by joining the anti-pipeline camp for the sake of restoring peace in the NDP family.

Tuesday’s Alberta election has widely been described as historic. But that was also said of the 2015 vote that resulted in an unprecedented NDP victory. It, too, took place just a few months before a federal campaign.

Back then, many analysts argued it was an omen of great things to come for Thomas Mulcair’s federal NDP. And that goes to show one can read just about anything in post-election tea leaves.
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