Citizens of the province of Alberta woke up to a new government on April 17th, with the election of the United Conservative Party (UCP), led by Jason Kenney. After what Macleans magazine called “The most visceral Alberta election campaign in memory“ and CBC called “toxic” and “divisive” , the UCP election platform , Alberta Strong and Free will begin to unfold, based on the promise to “ fight without relent to build pipelines. We will stand up for Alberta and demand a fair deal in Canada. We will fight back against the foreign funded special interests who are trying to landlock our energy.” Ontarians will recognize much of the same rhetoric as that of the Doug Ford Conservative government, including cancellation of the “job-killing carbon tax”; an “open for business” approach to “cut red tape”, including worker protection; and creating jobs – in Alberta’s case, oil and gas jobs.
The CBC analysis of the election outlines further implications for the rest of Canada in ” Jason Kenney won big — and the Ottawa-Alberta relationship is about to get unruly” , which highlights Kenney’s combative style, his antipathy to the current Liberal government of Justin Trudeau, and his close connections with the federal Conservative party (having served in Stephen Harper’s government). The National Observer, on the morning after, sums up what to expect: “Jason Kenney’s United Conservatives issue warning to Suzuki Foundation after winning Alberta majority” , which also touches on what progressives can expect: ”… the premier-designate delivered a warning to environmentalists, accusing them of being funded by foreign interests who are trying to shut down the Alberta oil and gas industry. He pledged to launch a public inquiry into their activities, singling out several charitable organizations including the David Suzuki Foundation and the Tides Foundation …”
From Alberta: Calgary Herald election coverage is triumphant, including Columnist Chris Varcoe with “Expectations are high as Kenney gives voice to Alberta’s angst“; Lucia Corbella with “Kenney the Ironman performs miracle on the Prairies”. In“Jason Kenney’s united right wins big, dashing NDP dreams of a Rachel Notley repeat“, David Staples from the Edmonton Journal acknowledges that growing the oil industry is “a difficult, complex, multi-dimensional battle” but “when it comes to oil and gas policy Alberta hasn’t been this united in a generation.” The majority of his Opinion piece discusses “the malignant force that helped to divide us, the “Tar Sands campaign” which saw tens of millions in funding coming from U.S. foundations dedicated to demonizing the oilsands and landlocking Alberta oil.” He calls on the NDP to support the UCP plan for a public inquiry into “foreign interference” and states that the NDP, the federal Liberals, and groups such as the Pembina Institute and Greenpeace are tarnished by association with that “Tar Sands Campaign”.
Union voices were strong in the Alberta Election: The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) was extremely active in support of the NDP, with a “Next Alberta” campaign built around the AFL 12 Point Plan. With a very pragmatic orientation, the Plan makes no mention of “Just Transition” or coal phase-out, and emissions reduction is proposed in these terms: “Reduce carbon emissions, as much as possible, from each barrel of oil produced in Alberta so, we can continue to access markets with increasingly stringent emission standards. ..Our goal should be to make sure that Alberta is last heavy oil producer standing in an increasingly carbon constrained world.” The AFL also commissioned a report by Hugh Mackenzie: The Employment Impact of Election Promises: Analysis of budgetary scenarios of UCP and NDP platforms , which concluded: “Under the Notley budget plan, 5500 jobs would be lost. Under the Kenny budget plan between 58,000-85,000 jobs would be lost – more than were lost in the recession of 2015-16.” President of the AFL, Gil McGowan, discussed the report in an Opinion Piece, “How NOT to fix Alberta’s hurting jobs economy” in The Tyee.
Unifor, the union which represents thousands of workers at oil producers Suncor, Imperial, Husky and Shell, also mounted an active Unifor Votes campaign which acknowledges that “in oil and gas, our biggest customer has become our biggest competitor”. Unifor calls for policies for “Next Generation Energy Jobs” to invest in new pipeline infrastructure ; diversify and upgrade in the oil and gas sector and ” Use our resource wealth as a springboard to the future.”
Stepping back, here are some of the articles which appeared during the election campaign, and which summarize the environmental and economic issues: “Eleven Ignored Issues that Albertans Should Think about Before They Vote” (April 12), by Andrew Nikoforuk, outlining : the risks of global oil price volatility; the need for economic diversification; the growing fiscal pressure on oil-producing states; the cost of climate change; the need to promote a leaner and more local economy as opposed to the boom-and-bust one; Alberta’s failure to collect its fair share of profits from bitumen production; and, hanging over them all, the risk of economic collapse.” In “Analysis: Alberta Misses Out On Grown-Up Conversation About Fossil Transition” , Mitchell Beer of The Energy Mix compiles the statements from Nikoforuk, as well as economists Mark Jaccard, Vaclav Smil, and columnist Gary Mason, concluding with: “ Smart, resourceful, and tech-enabled a place as it is, “too many in Alberta want to believe that a new pipeline will fix all that ails the province,” Mason writes . “That’s a fantasy, one that even the political leaders running to govern the province understand (but won’t admit publicly).” And several blogs from the Parkland Institute examine the implications for workers, including “UCP Platform will drive down wages” .