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‘Alberta is angry,’ says political strategist who predicts big trouble there for Trudeau’s Liberals in 2019

By Abbas Rana      

The federal government needs to put in place a plan to help out Albertans in the fossil fuel industry to retrain themselves to find jobs in the green energy sector, says NDP MP Linda Duncan.

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi won his Edmonton Mill Woods, Alta., seat in 2015 by a margin of 0.2 per cent of the votes. Alberta political strategist, Stephen Carter, not pictured, is warning Liberals to expect significant political headwinds in Alberta in 2019. The Liberals won four seats in the province in 2015. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
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The federal government needs to put in place a strategy to help retrain workers in the fossil-fuel industry to transition to the green-energy sector, says an Alberta NDP MP. But unless construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline starts now and with Albertans “super angry,” the Liberals should forget about winning any seat in the province in 2019, says a high-profile Alberta strategist.

“Alberta is angry. It is as angry as I have ever seen it, and it’s hard for an incumbent party when the population is [this] angry,” said Stephen Carter, a political strategist from Alberta and president of QED Marketing, who worked on the campaigns of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and former Alberta premier Alison Redford. “If I were to give a message to the grand party, I’d say, ‘You’ve got to take it really seriously, because people are super angry, like I’ve never seen this much anger here.’ ”

“If the election were held today, the Liberals would be routed in Alberta. There wouldn’t be a single seat,” said Mr. Carter. “The Liberals need to choose whether or not they want to compete in Calgary and Edmonton. If they do, they’ve got to make changes, and the changes primarily look like getting the pipeline in the ground.”

In the last federal election, the federal Liberals won four seats in Alberta—two in Calgary and two in Edmonton. Last year, Darshan Kang (Calgary Skyview, Alta.), who was elected as a Liberal, resigned from the caucus after facing allegations of sexual harassment from one of his female staffers. An investigation substantiated those allegations.

Mr. Kang, who had won his riding by a margin of 6.1 per cent of the margin, is not seeking re-election. As of last week, the Liberals had not chosen a new candidate for the riding.

The other three Alberta Liberal MPs won their ridings by razor-thin margins in 2015. Liberal MP Kent Hehr (Calgary Centre, Alta.) won by 1.2 per cent; Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault (Edmonton Centre, Alta.) won by 2.2 per cent; and Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi (Edmonton-Mill Woods, Alta.) won by a margin of 0.2 per cent of the votes.

Of the 34 federal ridings in Alberta in 2015, the Conservatives won 29, the Liberals four, and NDP one. In 2011, the federal Liberals failed to win any seat in the province, and the Conservatives won all but Linda Duncan’s (Edmonton Strathcona, Alta.) seat. (Ms. Duncan does not plan to run in the next election.)

According to the most recent Nanos Research poll, released last week, the federal Liberals were leading the pack nationally with 37.8 per cent of the support. The Conservatives were second place with 32.2 per cent support, the NDP was at 14.2 per cent, and the Green Party had the support of 7.5 per cent of Canadians.

But in the three Prairie provinces—Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan—the  Conservatives were leading the Liberals by a margin of 34.3 per cent. So, in the three provinces combined, the Conservatives had the support of 58.6 per cent Canadians, the Liberals 23.7 per cent, the NDP 10.8 per cent, and the Green Party support was at 5.2 per cent.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (Papineau, Que.) government approved the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline in November 2017. In May, the government announced it would buy the pipeline and related infrastructure for $4.5-billion to ensure the expansion moves forward.

In August, the Federal Court of Appeal quashed approval of the contentious  pipeline expansion, saying the government failed to properly consult First Nations on the project. Following the court decision, the government has started the consultation process, putting the project on hold.

Considering the low cost of Alberta’s oil prices, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley earlier this month announced that oil production would be cut by 8.7 per cent in January. The decision was made to clear the 35 million barrels of oil in storage, which will likely be done by spring.

Last month, she announced her government was in the process of buying rail cars to ship more oil to the markets. In a speech at the Canadian Club luncheon in Ottawa on Nov. 28, Ms. Notley said that Alberta needed financial help from the federal government to purchase train units that would enable the province to ship an additional 120,000 barrels of oil a day.

Last week, Mr. Trudeau, prior to the start of the first ministers’ meeting in Montreal, said he was “open” to helping out the province with the rail car purchase.

“That’s something we’re happy to look at,” Mr. Trudeau told CBC. “If that’s a proposal that [Ms. Notley] thinks is going to make a significant difference, then we’re happy to look at how it works. I mean, we’re there to be a partner, to help.”

Conservative MP David Yurdiga (Fort McMurray-Cold Lake, Alta.) said that without the flow of oil to international markets, Albertans feel that their economic future looks “bleak.” He said that, since 2015, 100,000 Albertans have lost their jobs because of the low oil prices, and opined that the Albertans would not be satisfied with the federal government until the project resumes.

“Without getting oil to the market, it simply means the future looks bleak for them,” said Mr. Yurdiga. “We want the governments to step in. …We need the pipelines, we need the pipelines now.”

NDP MP Linda Duncan wants the federal government to put in place a plan to help out Albertans in the fossil fuel industry to retrain themselves and find jobs in the green energy sector. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Ms. Duncan, a three-term MP, said that in order to help out Albertans, Ottawa needs to put in place a national strategy to help workers in the fossil-fuel industry to retrain themselves to get jobs in the green-energy field. She said that Ms. Notley announced $50-million dollars more than a year ago, but added that Environment Minister Catherine McKenna (Ottawa Centre, Ont.) promised to provide some help, but did not deliver.

“We know that the world is committed moving towards a clean energy economy,” said Ms. Duncan. “The current federal government has said they are committed to that. But the piece that is missing is where’s the strategy and the budget that supports that to actually implementing that transition strategy.”

Ms. McKenna’s ministerial office forwarded all questions on this subject to Mr. Sohi’s office. Mr. Sohi was not available for an interview, but, in an opinion piece for Calgary Herald last week, he wrote that, since taking office in 2015, the Liberals have provided support to Alberta “in the form of $250-million to offset the impact of low oil prices, $1-billion to support small and medium-sized Alberta businesses, $30-million to enable Alberta to clean-up orphaned wells, and $1.3-billion to extend EI benefits to laid off energy sector workers in time of need.”

Mr. Sohi also wrote that he’s spending a significant amount of time engaging with relevant communities to get their meaningful feedback on the Trans Mountain pipeline.

“Even with all of this hard work and support for Albertans, I know there is always more that our government can do,” wrote Mr. Sohi. “That’s why we are working across federal departments and with the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan to analyze solutions to the differential.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Carter disagreed with Ms. Duncan’s suggestion that workers should retrain themselves to get jobs in the green-energy sector.

“They don’t want to be retrained,” said Mr. Carter. “I’m a 49-year-old man. I don’t want to go back to school; I want my job. I want to be able to pay my kids education and provide support to my kids.”

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.) agreed that a national strategy is needed to help workers, but added that even with their skills, a significant number of them can find jobs across the country in retrofitting buildings to make them energy efficient.

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.), in an interview with The Hill Times, said that the best way for the feds to help out Albertans would be by building pipelines, so that oil could be shipped not only to the U.S., but also other international markets.

“Our focus should be on getting our energy resources to the market and putting policies in place that facilitate the growth and development of other industries as well,” Mr. Genuis said.


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