Opinion | After a super-heated campaign, Alberta left out in the cold

By voting in 33 Conservative MPs and one New Democrat, Alberta has shut itself out of the Liberal cabinet.

Canadians tell bickering politicians to work together for the good of the country

Liberal Amarjeet Sohi, who was a member of the federal cabinet, hugs supporters after losing his Edmonton Mill Woods seat to Tim Uppal of the Conservatives. (Kory Siegers/CBC )

Alberta has just elected itself out of government.

By voting in 33 Conservative MPs and one New Democrat, the province has shut itself out of the Liberal cabinet.

Cue the ironic outrage of Albertans who will be furious at the fact the province will not have a voice at the cabinet table.

Monday night's results in Alberta were no surprise, of course. Public opinion polls indicated voters were ready to turf the province's three Liberal incumbent MPs: Kent Hehr in Calgary Centre; Amarjeet Sohi in Edmonton Mill Woods; and Randy Boissonnault in Edmonton Centre.

Politically, Hehr had been fatally wounded by a sexual harassment scandal. But there was an argument to be made that voters in Edmonton would vote strategically to save one of the others — perhaps Sohi, who was already a cabinet minister.

After all, two decades ago, Liberal cabinet minister Anne McLellan survived election after election because even Conservative-minded Albertans realized the power of having at least one voice in a federal cabinet.

Not this time.

Of course, you can argue that nobody could guarantee the Liberals would hang on to power. But nobody could guarantee the Conservatives were going to win, either.

In the end, Albertans voted with their hearts, not their heads.

And their hearts are filled with frustration and anger. The major issues in Alberta are the province's sluggish economy and the need to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion underway. But those issues didn't play well outside the province, with the exception of Saskatchewan and maybe Manitoba.

Alberta will have to work with Trudeau

There was talk of Western alienation and even simplistic mutterings of Alberta separation. 

Conservative premiers, led by Alberta's Jason Kenney, campaigned hard for Andrew Scheer and the federal Conservatives, telling disgruntled voters all their problems emanated from Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals.

Now, Kenney will have to do business with Trudeau, who will be the prime minister of a minority government propped up by the NDP.

The conventional wisdom in Alberta is that this scenario has the makings of a tragedy for the province, because the Trans Mountain expansion would seem to be doomed.

It's not.

The expansion has already been approved by the federal Liberal cabinet. There is no need for any votes in Parliament to green light the project. The current delay is caused by the echo of a few court challenges that experts expect will be cleared up relatively soon.

The NDP might be anti-pipeline but it is not going to hold the Liberals hostage over Trans Mountain. That would lead to another election and nobody wants that — not the exhausted politicians and certainly not exhausted Canadians.

What Canadian want is for our politicians to co-operate. That's what the minority result means.

Canada is a divided country

After a divisive and mean-spirited election campaign, Canadians are telling the bickering politicians to work together for the good of their country.

The problem is that the election results show us we are living in a fragmented and divided country.

Of course, pundits and politicians will be looking at all kinds of other messages in the election results.

The votes hadn't all been counted Monday night before some national reporters began wondering if the knives would be coming out for Conservative leader Scheer, who couldn't defeat a badly wounded Trudeau.

That has political pundits in Alberta salivating at the thought of what this could mean for Kenney, whose gaze, since he left federal politics three years ago, always seems to be focused a little on the horizon in the direction of Ottawa.

Kenney will no doubt express disappointment in Monday's results. But there is a win here for him, even if he doesn't have his eye set on returning to the federal stage.

Having Trudeau as prime minister gives Kenney a handy foil. If Alberta's economy doesn't rebound, as Kenney had promised in the provincial election, he can simply blame the federal government. A Conservative Alberta premier complaining about a Liberal prime minister is pretty much a cliché.

Also, with no Alberta MP in the federal government, Kenney becomes the undisputed voice of the province.

Trudeau could try to defang Kenney by appointing someone from Alberta to cabinet, perhaps someone like Senator Grant Mitchell, a former provincial Liberal leader. (Cabinet ministers do not have to be elected MPs).

It would not be a popular appointment in Alberta. If nothing else, it would give Albertans something else to complain about while Conservative MPs figure out how to represent a province with no voice in cabinet.

This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.  

About the Author

Graham Thomson is an award-winning journalist who has covered Alberta politics for more than 30 years, much of it as an outspoken columnist for the Edmonton Journal. Nowadays you can find his thoughts and analysis on provincial politics Fridays at cbc.ca/edmonton, on CBC Edmonton Television News, during Radio Active on CBC Radio One (93.9FM/740AM) and on Twitter at @gthomsonink.