Paint the town red: the Liberals in Edmonton

Colby Cosh on Justin Trudeau’s trip to Edmonton

Jason Franson/CP

Jason Franson/CP

When the Liberal caucus came to Edmonton for its summer retreat, I didn’t think “So they’re invading Alberta.” I thought: “Ah, they’re invading Greater Alberta.” The province is getting extra attention from federal parties because its seat allotment in the House of Commons will swell from 28 to 34 in 2015: that perhaps means more automatic Conservative seats with vote shares of 75 per cent plus, but it also creates finer-grained urban riding maps, opening possible new beachheads in Edmonton and Calgary.

The Liberals know that Edmonton is a Liberal city, a creation of Laurier Liberals that still possesses a faintly visible Liberal caste of doctors and lawyers. Some of the party’s star MPs will spend this week pounding the pavements of Edmonton, trying to bestir the Liberal ghost in the flourishing suburbs. Chrystia Freeland, a celebrated global intellectual still perhaps better known within city limits as Halyna Freeland’s kid, will be preaching the gospel at the University of Alberta Faculty Club. And there will be a similar collective effort in the Liberal promised land of downtown Calgary.

But Alberta is just lines on a map. Economically and politically, much of the B.C. Interior has always shared more in common with Alberta than with Vancouver—so much so that there is significant B.C. secessionist sentiment in the Peace River block. Meanwhile, Saskatchewan has long since dropped the socialist identity that encouraged a half-century of mass westward flight. No, it is not Alberta that the Liberals are trying to reckon with, but Greater Alberta—an invisible mystic polygon that stretches from Fort St. John to Cranbrook in the west, and probably at least as far as Saskatoon in the east. The Liberals are trying to penetrate an empty quarter, not of 34 seats, but more like 40 or 45.

Their “path to 170 [seats]”, a slogan on everyone’s lips at the Edmonton confab, will certainly require some of those. And yet they are feeling surprisingly ebullient. (Who outside Ottawa knew Stéphane Dion could look so cheerful?) All talk of a two-election strategy has been shoved to the side.

Plenty of people have discussed what a counterintuitive choice Edmonton was for a caucus summit: the party has cut off formal relations with its Senate contingent, and so it showed up at the local Westin with no Alberta representation at all, marching behind a leader whose surname is still loathed in Alberta. Justin Trudeau was confronted with the National Energy Program question early in his visit, and gave the only answer he can reasonably give: “I think they’re running against the wrong Trudeau.”

Trudeau II has already said that the NEP was a mistake, and he will probably address the topic head-on again as the election gets closer. In the meantime, the party line is: forget about making a son responsible for the policies of his father. How is market access for (Greater) Alberta’s oil and gas really doing under Stephen Harper?

Harper chose “cheerleading” over negotiation on the Northern Gateway pipeline, goes the talking point, and failed to convince the Obama administration of the merits of Keystone XL. On that last point, it might be observed that the part of the U.S. government which our own government actually talks to, the Department of State, has remained a thousand-percent supporter of Keystone. In any case, the clock is running out on Barack Obama, and the list of likely successors, including Keystone-loving Hillary Clinton and a gaggle of Texan or Texas-associated Republicans, may betoken brighter days.

Nevertheless, the Liberal “What have you done for us lately?” challenge on resources appears to be finding some traction, judging from the June by-election in Fort McMurray. Grit Kyle Harrietha got 35 per cent of the overall vote and probably won outright in the city itself. The Liberals are very conscious of that, and doubly conscious that Cold Lake, a military town beset by serious controversy over airman salaries and veterans’ issues, will be tacked onto that riding under the 2015 boundary rejig.

In the meantime, even as their fundraising boffins cry poor in letters to the membership, top Liberals are privately pleased with a spreading foundation of individual donors. And, believe me, they are definitely chortling over the Conservatives’ problems with legacy database software as they construct their own shiny new information mill. When the visiting Grits held an “open-air phone bank” in Edmonton’s Louise McKinney Park, having the attendees call three past and present registered Liberals apiece, the oddball event was greeted with some confusion and ridicule. Whether or not it got through to the faithful, the intended message was: we’re ready to compete with the Conservatives on the data front now. You don’t have to be embarrassed anymore: we’re not going into the next election with second-best matériel.

On the other hand, data is nice, but strategy rarely survives the pressure of events intact. The Grits have developed a promising form of jiujitsu to deal with critiques of their leader’s inexperience as a statesman, emphasizing Justin’s ordinariness and his ability to empathize with Canadians. More serious, perhaps, are the threats to their tactic of playing on middle-class economic anxiety. When the New York Times runs a headline declaring that “The American middle class is no longer the world’s richest,” with a lede adding “…because Canada’s is,” one might imagine they have a problem.

It is hard to argue that this interpretation of income data reflects the notorious right-wing bias of the NYT and the Luxembourg Income Study, so the Liberals’ intended defence is to delve into nuances. The success of Canada’s resource-rich regions, goes the argument, is masking stagnation elsewhere. The whole developed world might be facing a low-growth future. The Liberals’ favourite economist between now and 2015 will probably not be Thomas Piketty after all, but Lawrence Summers.

The dangers are obvious. Justin Trudeau has to be careful about praising Greater Alberta’s success within Alberta while deprecating it, or suggesting it is somehow unreal or irrelevant, in the Ontario rust belt. Otherwise the brambles might reappear real fast on that “path to 170.” In the meantime, the Conservatives will have an increasingly formidable roll of achievements to tout as their practical, statesmanlike answer to vague economic concern: deals with the provinces on job training, an internal trade agenda, and an array of international trade deals, probably (or so it now seems) including the biggie with the European Union. The Liberals, so chipper and energetic in Edmonton, may look back on their visit as a brief golden moment that preceded a difficult year.




Browse

Paint the town red: the Liberals in Edmonton

  1. Justin Trudeau was confronted with the National Energy Program question early in his visit, and gave the only answer he can reasonably give: “I think they’re running against the wrong Trudeau.”

    Trudeau II has already said that the NEP was a mistake, and he will probably address the topic head-on again as the election gets closer.

    Hey, whenever you bring up this early 80′s program, it gives me a chance to repost my NEB rebuttal video (starring Ralph Klein during his heyday).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Op6XLJCXagk

      • Of greater interest to me than Trudeau the Lesser’s position on NEP is his position on Northern Gateway, which he opposes in contradiction to his position on Keystone XL. He has yet to offer a cogent explanation for supporting one, but opposing the other. One shouldn’t hold one’s breath waiting.

        • Might have something to do with the terrain and environment the NGP follows. And offshore shipping in remote BC. And no land claim settlements.

          Keystone is just another of many conduits to the well established Gulf Coast infrastructure.

          • “Might have something to do with the terrain and environment the NGP follows. And offshore shipping in remote BC. And no land claim settlements.”

            Then he should say so. Then someone should ask him if all of those things can be overcome, whether he would be in support of NG. Rather than respond, he’ll smile a lot and maybe take his shirt off.

          • Might be moot. Will be caught up in the courts for ages.

          • “I am unable to tell you whether I support your province’s efforts to sustain the wealth creation that benefits the nation because I’m genuflecting before the judges Daddy empowered” will win him scads of votes in Alberta.

          • @ Greatwall…. how many times required for you to catch on… common knowledge at this point.
            p.s. Your statement that the two positions are in contradiction is remarkable to me. If one is for pipelines, one must be for all pipelines? Really?

          • CPC re first nations consulting:

            “All pipe. No peace”

            CPC re relations with China:

            “All talk. No wok”.

          • SS:

            One needn’t be for all pipelines. However, if one hopes for electoral success in a province that requires them, one’s opposition to any is unlikely to help achieve that, especially if the reasons for that opposition aren’t particularly cogent. In that regard, they are not unlike your comments.

          • Might have even more to do with the fact that opposing Northern Gateway has the potential to gain votes in BC. Keystone XL isn’t opposed by the Canadians who live along the Canadian portion of the route, and supporting it allows the Liberals to plausibly claim that they’re not opposed to all pipelines, thus have some hope of gaining support in Alberta.

          • Hey, I’ve been a project manager on some pipelines in AB. Have also worked in BC in the utility/regulatory environment.

            I knew this project (NGP) would be toxic well before it went mainstream. BC is way different than AB when it comes to environmental issues.

            It’s the difference between sales and marketing. Enbridge engineers designed a project, and then tried to sell it to the powers that be (sometimes a very hard sell).

            Marketing might well involve finding out what the multiple stakeholders’ concerns are upfront, and then designing a system to meet your/their needs. I get the impression that Kinder Morgan has learned Enbridge’s lessons and might be taking this approach on its line twinning, tho I have no firsthand knowledge.

          • Opposing NG is popular in YVR. YVR is not a CPC hotbed of support anyway, so the actual vote impact is likely to be minimal. Not sure opposing NG will do much for the Liberals elsewhere. Try to book a last minute seat on Westjet’s Kelowna/Fort McMurray daily.

          • I love that a guy who call’s himself “greatwallsoffire” wants to force-feed pipelines to people who don’t want them.

  2. Sounds like a David and Goliath moment for Trudeau. Maybe Canada will do what the US couldn’t do with the Kennedys, elect another Trudeau as PM, because if Trudeau bares a resemblance to a Kennedy, it would be Bobby Kennedy. Bobby Kennedy was a man of compassion and understanding, he wasn’t a crook.

      • Justin has plenty of brains. He may not be a constitutional law professor like his father, but he has smart political instincts. That’s why he’s beating Harper & Mulcair in the polls.

  3. Probably [Greater] Alberta’s last chance.

      • Being viable, sustainable…or even Canadian

        • The ROC is going to kick us out if pass on the youngling? That changes everything.

          • You can’t live forever on oil you can’t sell.

            And Alberta is the one with the separatist party.

          • I’m quite certain you can’t live even one day on oil you can’t sell. Nonetheless, I’m mesmerized by the depth of your inanity and pledge to support the immortal’s progeny if you promise to keep posting.

          • I’ve posted for years….as you well know.

            I’m not Liberal….as you also well know.

            You are a primary resource economy in the knowledge economy…..you won’t survive.

            Hee haw.

  4. Sigh–reading Colby’s posts always makes me nostalgic for hours spent in doctors’ offices reading the free issues of Alberta Report.

    • Anything beats being in the dentist chair.

  5. Have the Liberals ever paid back the millions from the ad scam fraud?

    • If you have to go back 30 years to get an unsourced slur….you are very afraid.

  6. We’ll have to see how the Liberal strategy in Alberta goes in 2015 since it’s too early to tell whether it will be successful. But it is certainly impressive that Justin Trudeau is the first Liberal leader in modern history to make a major effort at reaching out to Western Canadians. He has guts.

    • What is gutsy about a politician trying to get votes in a region his party historically gets few? It’s like saying it takes guts for the Maple Leafs to play the Bruins even though they usually lose.

      • You know what takes guts? Taking questions from the press.
        When is the last time Harper did that?

    • How soon we forget. Michael Ignatieff and Paul Martin both had their own unsuccessful attempts to build support in Western Canada.

  7. ” In the meantime, the Conservatives will have an increasingly formidable roll of achievements to tout as their practical, statesmanlike answer to vague economic concern: deals with the provinces on job training, an internal trade agenda, and an array of international trade deals, probably (or so it now seems) including the biggie with the European Union.”

    No they wont CC, that’s what they ought to be doing; but they’ll be unable to resist trying to tar and feather youngish Trudeau with something, anything as long as it sticks. Therein lies Harper’s real problem, his Achilles heel; he’d rather put the boot in than run over someone with his so called policy steam roller. Trudeau just has to some how ride it out. He’s doing a pretty good job so far.
    And bye the bye, Trudeau senior may have been heartily hated among AB’s political class and some of the more red necked dudes, particularly in and around Calgary. But i spent some of my formative years in Edmonton and the man had his admirers among my buds. In many ways Pet represented many of the un PC qualities many westerners admire, and still do – even if they might not openly say so now.

Sign in to comment.