Justin Trudeau faces Alberta electorate starting to forget NEP

Just mention the National Energy Program to a certain demographic of Alberta and you'll likely get an earful.

Many still fume over the '80s, but others don't place the sins of the father at the feet of the son

Pundits says Justin Trudeau's Liberals could make a historic breakthrough in Calgary on Monday, even though memories of his father's much-despised National Energy Policy still linger for some voters. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Just mention the National Energy Program to a certain demographic of Alberta and you'll likely get an earful. 

Those long memories are being mined in the final days of the federal election campaign by Conservatives trying to raise the spectre of a younger Trudeau repeating the policies of the elder.

And while there are still some who fume at the mere mention of the program many blame for the oil collapse of the 1980s, one Mount Royal University public policy professor thinks it might not have as big of an impact as the Conservatives hope on Oct. 19.

"Many people have heard the stories and it's taken a lot longer for this to diminish than you would have expected in terms of affecting the Liberals chances in Alberta," says Lori Williams.

"Those who are older are starting to get outnumbered, and partly the younger people are turning out in bigger numbers to vote."

She also points to the balance between energy and the environment that defines contemporary policy discussions.

That said, it's also known that the older demographic gets out to vote in larger numbers, which could still affect the outcomes in Alberta ridings.

For Logan Cain, a student at Mount Royal, the NEP isn't a factor, at least as far as he knows. 

"If I looked at it and I knew, but I don't really know much about the issue," he said.

Sam Spengler, another student, isn't laying the sins of the father at the feet of the son. 

"I can see where Alberta was on the short end of it, but in the same sense it's not something that completely destroys my perspective for a party because of it," he said. "I'm critical of Trudeau in different ways, but not for who his father was."

Concerted effort to differentiate

It's a different story for Gerry Mathieson, who lived through the '80s in Calgary.

"Very difficult to explain other than to say that the Trudeau years were very bad. Can't see them getting any better under the son," he said. 

"All our housing prices fell, and it was just not pleasant at all."

As for why the young don't share his views on the Trudeau connection and the threat of another NEP?

"They didn't live through it. They haven't gone through it."

The Liberals under Justin Trudeau have not proposed anything like the National Energy Program, but there is increasing pressure on whoever forms the next government to craft a national energy strategy. 

"Now, believe me, the irony of this is not lost on me," Trudeau told a crowd at Calgary's Petroleum Club in 2013. "I really wish it didn't have to fall on some guy named Trudeau to propose a national energy anything."

Williams thinks statements like that are part of a larger plan.

"I think we also see in Justin Trudeau a pretty concerted effort to differentiate himself from his father."

The election takes place Monday, with Trudeau facing the NDP led by Thomas Mulcair and the Conservatives led by Stephen Harper. Polls point to a tight race, with the Liberals and Conservatives neck and neck.

Trudeau will spend part of the day on Sunday, one day before the election, in the riding of Calgary Skyview.


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