The outlook is pretty clear that 32 of Alberta’s 34 seats will be Conservative blue after the federal election. Only the ridings of Edmonton Mill Woods, held by Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi of the Liberals, and Edmonton-Strathcona, home to the New Democratic Party’s Linda Duncan, are in any doubt. A moribund economy and the province’s natural inclination to lean to the right pretty much guarantees the result, but this time around there are a few other embers burning Albertan britches.
First among them is lack of progress on pipelines, which has forced oil producers to sell their products at a discount and the provincial government to buoy the price of Western Canadian Select by restricting the amount of oil that producers can ship.
The federal government killed the Northern Gateway pipelines in 2016 and allowed the Energy East pipeline to languish, then die in 2017. The Keystone XL pipeline expansion remains in limbo in the U.S., although, at this point, only the most die-hard, pro-oil lobbyists claim that’s the fault of the Canadian government.
Even Ottawa’s move to buy the Trans Mountain Pipeline and its expansion project for $4.5 billion last year failed to earn the Liberals political capital in Alberta. Some people here argue that the government bought the project to kill it and, while that seems a bit beyond the pale, the project is suffering a slow death from a thousand cuts. The Federal Court of Appeal’s recent decision to allow six challenges of Trans Mountain – based on the federal government’s alleged failure to adequately consult First Nations communities – to proceed is just one more frustration.
Premier Jason Kenney, who returned to Alberta from Ottawa in 2016 to consolidate the right (with ruthless efficiency), has campaigned against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals as much as he did against former Alberta premier Rachel Notley and her NDP government. Kenney has bludgeoned Trudeau for lack of market access, the stalled Trans Mountain expansion and the carbon tax. Kenney’s MLAs and ministers have fanned out across the country to help federal Conservative candidates as Kenney seeks to recruit allies in high places.
Of course, far and away the biggest influence on Alberta’s economy is something that neither Trudeau nor Kenney has influence over: the price of oil. Western Canadian Select has been hovering between $34 and $52 a barrel this year – which isn’t great, but isn’t bad either. (All oil figures are in U.S. dollars.) That price is far from its high of $86 in 2014, but much better than the $6 oil was fetching less than a year ago. The producers are reporting excellent cash flow and the midstream sector is thriving.
Alberta’s economy is not bad, even with the low price of oil and the pipeline problems. The unemployment rate here is higher than that of the country as a whole – 7.2% vs 5.7% – but the province is likely to be headed for another period of growth, new pipelines or not. Just don’t expect the federal Liberals to get any credit.