Why Trudeau is such a lightning rod in Alberta politics

Let’s just make it official and put Justin Trudeau’s name on the ballot for Alberta’s 2019 provincial election.

Notley’s projection prank outside a federal Liberal Christmas party the latest proof

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney seem to be campaigning as much against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they are against each other. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

OK, let's just make it official and put Justin Trudeau's name on the ballot for Alberta's 2019 provincial election.

I mean, Premier Rachel Notley and United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney seem to be campaigning as much against Trudeau as they are against each other.

The latest swipe at Trudeau came Wednesday night in the form of a stunt Notley pulled against the prime minister. Yes, a stunt.

She arranged to have a protest video projected on the side of a building in Ottawa across the street from where the Liberals were holding their Christmas party.

The video displayed a "real-time lost-revenue counter" which showed the second-by-second amount of money Canada is losing by not building the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Wednesday night, it was $8.3 billion and counting.

Pipeline, railcars, jobs

Notley followed up with a couple of tweets, one of which took a jab at Trudeau personally. She noted that the prime minister had said his heart goes out to Alberta this Christmas.

Notley shot back: "Pretty sure we were clear but here again is our actual wish list: Pipeline; Railcars; Jobs; and Pipeline … seriously."

Notley's jabs had a sprinkling of humour unlike Kenney's attacks this year that included saying Trudeau "has the political depth of a finger bowl" and is the "Object Lesson One in the dumbing-down of politics."

Kenney has blamed Trudeau for almost all of Alberta's woes. The greatest insult he tosses Notley's way is to call her a "friend and ally" of Trudeau.

It's an insult that stings.

The NDP says Kenney keeps bringing up Trudeau because Kenney is obsessed with federal politics and wants to use Alberta politics as a springboard back to the federal stage.


Notley keeping her distance

Or maybe Kenney realizes that Trudeau is as disliked, even despised, as much as his father was in Alberta 40 years ago, so that Notley's personal popularity suffers damage just by standing too close to the prime minister.

Notley has been trying to keep her distance from Trudeau even when she physically travels closer to him.

When she gave a speech in Ottawa at the end of November, just down the street from Parliament Hill, she criticized Trudeau for not helping Alberta buy 7,000 rail tank cars to ship more of Alberta's oilsands bitumen to the West Coast.

"The federal government should be at the table on this — and in my view there is very little excuse for their absence," said Notley.

Replace "the federal government" with "the prime minister" and you get the idea.

Trudeau may have bought the Trans Mountain pipeline company for $4.5 billion. But until he starts work on the $9-billion-or-so expansion Notley calls that a "job well started, not a job well done."

She is determined to demonstrate she will do whatever she can without him.

That's what led to her declaring a 325,000-barrel-per-day curtailment in oil production beginning Jan. 1 — a move that has already helped spike the price for Alberta oil.

And then we come to this week when Notley called together a gaggle of oilfield workers as background for a news conference where she announced she wants a new oil refinery built in Alberta.

Not that she will build a refinery, just that she was issuing a "Request for Expression of Interest" to see if any businesses are interested in building one.

This, of course, is tied to the upcoming election campaign that could begin as early as February.

As if to reinforce that point, Notley said the deadline for businesses to respond to the "request" is Feb. 8.

What if there are no bites?

Notley insists there are "proponents" in the oil patch already interested. No doubt there are. It'd be embarrassing for her if the deadline came and went with no bites.

But, as Notley suggested, it's all a matter of whether the government can "offer up the kind of support they're looking for."

She won't say what the government might do to entice businesses to embark upon an enterprise none have wanted to do on their own because refineries are notoriously expensive and time consuming to build.

Just look at the government-supported Sturgeon refinery announced in 2007 under the Ed Stelmach government. It is an estimated $5 billion over budget and won't start full production until 2019.

But when it comes to election campaign issues, Notley doesn't have to build a refinery next spring, she just needs to show that industry is willing to build one.

It'd be a bit of good news. These days she could do with all the bits of good news she can manufacture.

And, keeping in mind how an Alberta premier has never lost popularity attacking the federal government, you have to wonder if she'll also be manufacturing more stunts to embarrass the prime minister, especially one named Trudeau.

About the Author

You can find columnist Graham Thomson's thoughts and analysis on provincial politics every Friday at cbc.ca/edmonton, on CBC Edmonton Television News and during Radio Active on CBC Radio One (93.9FM/740AM).