Asadollahi: Kenney Won, But Alberta’s Politics Are Forever Changed
The results of last week’s Alberta elections were disappointing — the incoming government is largely in denial of anthropogenic climate change and has openly declared war against the environmental movement. These Harper-era fear tactics to undermine environmentalists didn’t work then, and will especially prove futile now, against the backdrop of a population that is aware of climate risks, and of the economic opportunities afforded by climate action.
We should not forget the progress made to date. I have worked with politicians and their staff across the political spectrum, and engaging the Alberta NDP (ABNDP) was by far the best experience. I’ve met genuine, intelligent, down to earth, and all around decent people who I am proud to call friends. They have worked tirelessly to make Alberta (and in turn Canada) an even better place to live. In fact, the Notley government created space for the federal government to advance several key climate policies, while emulating a number of measures taken by the province.
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The last four years changed Alberta’s (and one could argue Canada’s) political landscape forever. Over those years, the province took many steps forward, and although the new United Conservative Party (UCP) government will undo some elements of those policies, it cannot roll them back completely. Many of the progressive policies advanced by the ABNDP are now entrenched in people’s expectations of their government. Moreover, the province’s demographics are rapidly changing, especially with a growing young population that is not blind to climate risks—unlike the incoming government.
Four years from now will not be the same, and any government that takes regressive approaches to environmental policy will find itself less relevant and disconnected from the masses. As leader of Alberta’s Official Opposition, Rachel Notley will be afforded a platform to more actively call out the fallacies of UCP policies. This will help her party solidify its presence and give the electorate time to reflect on the positive change delivered by the previous government and taken away by the incoming one.
The ABNDP has some incredible Members of the Legislative Assembly who won last week’s election, including many strong women former cabinet ministers who will now sit in the opposition row. Seeing these MLAs call the UCP government (and the old, white men on its front bench) on their regressive policies will strengthen Alberta’s democracy by keeping the government’s feet to fire. Reflecting on what’s to come, the era of decades of one-party rule in Alberta is very likely over.
This year’s televised debate during the Alberta campaign was horrific—the format was wrong, the studio seemed to be from the 1960s, the questions were mediocre, and the cacophony of interaction among the party leaders didn’t allow for meaningful debate. The next leaders’ debate in four years will be limited to the two parties that won seats in the legislature. This will change the dynamic, giving Notley a better platform to speak to the damage done by UCP policies and the solutions her government might offer.
And finally, with the UCP’s promise to undo the previous government’s climate policies, it is difficult to imagine the federal Liberals approving the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Any such hypothetical approval would send a signal that the federal government is visibly abandoning its own high-profile carbon reduction commitments. It would also present a significant political risk—after all, Canada set Alberta’s climate policy as a key precondition for the pipeline’s approval. With hostile provincial governments slowly populating the landscape, Kenney’s arrival cements a path for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reassert those commitments as a key plank in the federal election this fall.
There’s no doubt that Kenney’s rise will have an impact on people’s lives, and on Alberta’s near-term environmental policy, at a time when the province can ill afford either. But notwithstanding the intensity of last week’s elections, this moment is still a blip in history—it will come and go. Those living in the Rockies know better than anyone else that you have to climb a mountain to see the beautiful valleys below. This is just one obstacle that we can overcome with hope, good heart, and hard work.
Amin Asadollahi is Executive Director of Ottawa-based Horizon Advisors. He is a former staff member with the Pembina Institute and the International Institute for Sustainable Development, and a former senior advisor at Natural Resources Canada.