Alberta’s election campaign promised a titanic clash of ideas and ideologies between two nationally known leaders, but delivered a burlesque of biting attacks and bozo eruptions — and a surprise guest appearance by the RCMP.
Rachel Notley will make history Tuesday as either the first Alberta NDP premier to win re-election or the first-ever leader of an Alberta party that failed to win a renewed mandate on its first try.
A win for Jason Kenney’s United Conservatives, as predicted by the polls, means a return to the right-centre for Alberta, its traditional home since the middle of the last century.
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Notley ran on her record of continuing to build Alberta through the lean times of low oil prices.
But apart from promises to expand subsidized daycare and keep pace with population growth and inflation on health and education spending, her campaign was a bullhorn assault on Kenney’s character.
It featured websites and speeches highlighting Kenney’s past statements against abortion and same-sex marriage and his promise in this campaign to roll back some protections for gay students in schools.
“Mr. Kenney is not being forthright with Albertans when he talks about the idea that his party accepts and supports people in the LGBTQ community. They do not,” said Notley, at the mid-campaign leaders debate.
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Kenney drew a bead on the free-spending ways of Notley’s four years in government, with a carbon tax and billions of dollars borrowed to pay for capital projects and program spending.
He wielded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau like a battle axe, referring often to a “Notley-Trudeau alliance” he said had kneecapped Alberta’s oil and gas sector.
He painted Notley as a toadying flunky for Trudeau. He said she brought in a provincial carbon tax to placate the prime minister, and didn’t push him until recently on a B.C. northern coast tanker ban or on proposed federal changes to approve energy projects — both of which Notley agrees would harm Alberta’s bread-and-butter industry.
All of this was done, Kenney said, to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expanded to the B.C. coast. But while the feds ultimately bought the line to keep it alive, it remains tied down in consultations and legal red tape.
“This premier … sold us down the river to Justin Trudeau and all we got for it is a jobs crisis, a carbon tax and no pipelines,” Kenney told a crowd at a whistle stop in Turner Valley.
Notley, in turn, has said Kenney’s “fight back” strategy — including taking Trudeau to court over the federal carbon tax and his energy legislation — is cynical and ultimately self-defeating political theatre.
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Political scientist Duane Bratt said Kenney’s plan resonates right now with a province hit by hard times and feeling hard done by.
“Right now there is a lot of anger,” said Bratt with Calgary’s Mount Royal University.
Kenney has had to play defence against so-called bozo eruptions by some of his candidates.
Caylan Ford, an Oxford-trained global politics adviser and arguably the brightest of Kenney’s UCP star candidates, resigned on the eve of the campaign for comments viewed as sympathetic to white nationalism.
Eva Kiryakos quit before the nomination cutoff over her comments about Muslims and transgender washrooms.
Mark Smith, the caucus education critic, apologized but did not quit the campaign for an anti-abortion and homophobic sermon delivered years earlier.
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Kenney has also had to deal with probes by RCMP and the elections commissioner into allegations of fraud and money laundering in the United Conservative leadership race, which Kenney won in 2017.
On top of that, Mounties descended this past week on the workplace of UCP Calgary candidate Peter Singh, seizing a hard drive and other work items.
Singh has denied wrongdoing and said the items were returned, but hasn’t answered questions about the nature of the police investigation.
Calgary pollster Janet Brown said the marquee matchup of Kenney versus Notley never materialized.
“It was supposed to be a battle of the titans and instead it was two quite horrible campaigns,” said Brown.
“Kenney was always putting out fires, was always getting off his message. On the other hand, the NDP was always taking shots at Kenney and rarely getting around to telling their own story.”
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On the fringes have been the Liberals and the Alberta Party.
Each tried its own version of a political Hail Mary to grab attention: the Liberals pitching a sales tax and the Alberta Party warning it would withhold provincial taxes from Ottawa.
Brown says the campaign may have done little to change anyone’s mind.
“My read on things is that voters are very frustrated and disappointed with how this campaign went,” she said.
“The tactics of both sides have just really resulted in people digging in their heels.”