Will Alberta Elect Liberals?


Michael Ignatieff MPTHUNDER BAY – “In coming months, we will see if Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s ardent courtship of Alberta — especially his impassioned advocacy on behalf of the oilsands — is paying dividends”, wrote Susan Riley in the Ottawa Citizen.
Riley suggests, in her article, that it is possible that Albertans, who have embraced the “feisty Wildrose Alliance” are potentially ready to vote Liberal and support Michael Ignatieff.

She does suggest that it is a “longshot”, but goes on to write, “Nor should the sophisticated city riding be barren ground for Liberals: the departed MP, Prentice, was a moderate conservative, a social liberal, and personally popular”.

What Riley does not seem to remember are three letters, N E P. The Liberals put themselves in the Alberta woodshed for electoral whippings when they enacted their National Energy Policy under then leader Pierre Trudeau. The Alberta economy hit the NEP iceberg and sank almost like the Titanic. The count of drilling rigs leaving the province were massive.

The business losses, personal losses and impact on Alberta echo still.

In Thunder Bay, the Bombardier plant makes amazing rail cars for public transportation, yet in Alberta the choice for the LRT systems in both Edmonton and Calgary are Siemens. Why? A decision by then PM Brian Mulroney to take a contract from Boeing in Winnipeg and award it to Bombardier in Quebec. Westerners have long memories.

Under Liberal leader Stephane Dion, and his “Green Shift” economic policy, the spectre of the NEP was raised in 2006, by then Liberal MP Ken Boshcoff who wrote “The Liberal Party’s Green Shift announced on June 19th marked the most aggressive anti-poverty program in 40 years. The shift will transfer wealth from rich to poor, from the oil patch to the rest of the country, and from the coffers of big business to the pockets of low-income Canadians”.
That quote ran on the front pages of the Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal and was discussed on talk radio shows across Western Canada. It likely single-handedly sunk Dion and the Liberals in the west.

Michael Ignatieff might not be Stephane Dion, but the political memories of Albertans are not as short as the rest of Canada’s voters often seem to be.

What Riley does not seem to understand about Alberta is that Albertans continue to have long political memories. Provincially, in the Wild Rose province, once a political party has been in power and defeated, Alberta voters have never voted them back into power.

The province tends to elect political dynasties, and then once they wear out, never elect the party again. From 1905 when Alberta joined Confederation, the Liberals ruled the province until turfed from office. The United Farmers of Alberta took over and ruled until replaced by the Social Credit Party.

Social Credit ruled until the Progressive Conservatives took office. Right now the growth of the Wildrose Alliance suggests that Alberta isn’t heading left into the arms of the federal Liberals, but back to the basics of conservative libertarianism.

Politically, in Alberta, the people who arrive in the province from other parts of Canada seem to instantly pick up what they perceive is the political style of Alberta; and adopt it as their own. That does not bode well for Ignatieff’s Liberals.

It is likely that some Liberals and New Democrats saw, in Edmonton Strathcona with the defeat of the incumbent Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer in the last election there was some hope. However that would be to discount the impact of Jaffer’s own actions. Over his term in office the Reform/Canadian Alliance/ Conservative MP had become increasingly out of touch with his constituents. He was ripe for defeat, and by the time of the last election was more interested in Ottawa and his then girlfriend than the riding.

For the Liberals to actually make a break-through into Alberta it would take more than assurances from Michael Ignatieff that he likes Alberta. It would likely take a complete re-invention of the Liberal brand from the grassroots up to the top.

Does Ignatieff have that courage? Likely not. The Liberals have, in recent years continued to live on their past. At the start of 2011, that kind of energy doesn’t appear to be within the federal Liberal’s understanding.

Likely that is why the party has been reduced to holding seats in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver with scattered remote outposts in Manitoba, a single seat in Saskatchewan and their Maritime outposts.

Winning a majority in Canada now demands that Western Canada be a solid part of the mix. Once the Liberals across Canada figure that recipe out, chances are they will once again become a truly national party.

That isn’t likely in 2011 as the Liberals are, for the most part still trying to figure out who, and what they really now are. The West likely won’t let the Liberals in until they achieve that goal.

James Murray

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