CALGARY — Not unlike during the 40-day election campaign, two key issues are sure to dominate discussion in Alberta following Monday’s federal vote, according to one political observer: pipelines and climate change policy.
Mount Royal University professor David Taras said the two “explosive issues” are likely to be “major items on the table” come Tuesday.
“If the Liberals are dependent on New Democrat votes and on Green votes and on Bloc votes, then I think they would have to be much more aggressive in terms of climate change and the carbon tax,” he said.
Despite some predictions of a Liberal majority government, the party was not on track to capture enough seats to form a majority Monday evening.
On the issue of pipelines, Taras doesn’t see the contentious Trans Mountain expansion coming to a vote in Parliament, regardless of what takes place after the election.
“I think the Liberals aren’t going to go there,” he said. “It’s like nuclear war. You know, who wants to press the button? And they know if they press the button, it could be disastrous for the country … It would mean backtracking. It would mean publicly embracing the New Democrats, which I’m not sure they want to do. I’m not sure what stops the pipeline at this point, without a major national unity crisis.”
But some in the energy sector will be watching the federal developments very carefully.
Gary Mar, president and CEO of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada, said the election outcome could “determine what the future prosperity of the nation looks like.”
Mar noted 25 per cent of Canada’s exports are in the form of crude oil and bitumen, and there are about 450,000 jobs across Canada in the upstream energy sector and manufacturing sector.
“If you have a Liberal minority government that has support of the NDP or an NDP-Green coalition, those pipelines may come to an end,” he said. “And that would be a tragically bad outcome. Not just for Alberta but for all Canadians.”
Others are less worried about any potential Alberta implications of a minority government.
“If there were to be a third-party motion, a private member’s bill, saying let’s not build the Trans Mountain pipeline, then the power of the Conservatives and the Liberals together will almost certainly be a majority to prevent that from happening,” said Mayor Naheed Nenshi.
Martha Hall Findlay, president and CEO of the Canada West Foundation, said “there’s no question there are a lot of people who are worried.”
However, she said regardless of who controls Parliament, there are “underlying problems” that must be addressed.
“There’s a message to whoever forms government: we need to address the underlying lack of understanding in the country of what the oil and gas industry’s all about, how important it is economically, the incredible innovations that are taking place to address climate change,” she said. “And that conversation is simply not being held.”
Political observers will also be watching how both provincial and federal Conservatives address “regional angst” in Alberta following Monday’s vote.
“As a political scientist, I’m looking to the Conservatives at the provincial and federal level to see what their response is,” said University of Alberta political scientist Jared Wesley.
“It’s almost like a ‘Nixon goes to China’ thing, where the only people that can stand up for Canada and stop this alienation from becoming a broader separatist movement are people who champion Conservative values that those same people possess.”
Hall Findlay described Alberta and Saskatchewan as “once again the flyover provinces” during the election campaign.
“Not having anybody pay any attention to what’s really going on here is insulting and frustrating for everybody here, regardless of how you vote,” she said.
“The Conservative vote in Alberta and Saskatchewan is taken for granted, so why bother showing up, why engage in those discussions? The non-conservative votes are deemed to be irrelevant … so the non-conservative votes, the fact that they’re deemed to be irrelevant, is also insulting and frustrating. And so once again we’re going to wake up, an election will have happened, and there will be a continued sense of frustration, regardless of how one voted.”
But both Hall Findlay and Wesley cautioned against a move to greater regional fractures.
“I think Conservatives in
Western Canada should look at lessons like Brexit very carefully before they decide to go down a constitutional amendment road, because Quebec’s already signalling that if Alberta holds a constitutional amendment on equalization, they’ve got one, too,” said Wesley.
“That’s the challenge with national unity, is that now more than ever, I’d argue, the partisan fault lines are falling along regional fault lines … People are comparing this Parliament to 1972, but I look at it more like 1993. We may not have a majority government in the form of the Liberals … but it’s the regional fracture of the party system that ultimately led to the ’95 referendum in Quebec and a decade or so of real, serious debate over national unity.”
According to a recent Thinkhq public opinion survey, 71 per cent of respondents said federal policies over the past several years have hurt the quality of life of Albertans. However, if a provincial referendum on separation were held tomorrow, 59 per cent would vote for Alberta to remain in Canada.
“Despite recent rumblings in Alberta about separation and talk of a growing separatist movement, it’s clear from these results that Albertans are far more ‘frustrated federalists’ than they are separatists; six-in-10 would never want to exchange their Canadian passport for an Alberta one,” said Thinkhq president Marc Henry.
Wesley said he’ll be watching for the “posturing” around who should form government, in the days and weeks to come.
“It’s going to be an ugly battle, as we saw back in 2008, for the hearts and minds of Canadians as to who has the legitimacy to govern,” he said.
A claim for equality of material position can be met only by a government with totalitarian powers. Friedrich August von Hayek