'Give me a call': Lone NDP Alberta MP open to working with Liberal cabinet — but won't cross floor

As Justin Trudeau searches for ways to include Alberta and Saskatchewan in his new minority government, one person he might want to phone is the NDP’s newly elected Edmonton MP.

Rookie MP also repeats she differs from her party over its opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline

NDP Edmonton-Strathcona MP Heather McPherson speaks to CBC News on Oct. 30, 2019 on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Marc Robichaud/ CBC)

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau searches for ways to include Alberta and Saskatchewan in his new minority government, one person he might want to phone is the NDP's newly elected Edmonton MP.

Heather McPherson, the lone left-leaning Alberta MP in a sea of Conservatives, has a message for the Liberals, who were mostly shut out of Western Canada. The Edmonton-Strathcona MP said she's open to helping the Liberal government as it attempts to fill the void left when voters rejected Liberal MPs at the ballot box in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

When asked by CBC News, McPherson said she would be open to taking on a cabinet role.

"Yeah, I think it's important that we look at how we can represent Alberta," McPherson said. "If the prime minister is interested in having somebody from Alberta that is a New Democrat, then he's always able to give me a call."

McPherson insisted she would not leave the NDP caucus to join the Liberals and admitted both parties would need to resolve many details before an opposition MP could even consider sitting at the cabinet table.

"I have no interest in crossing the floor, if that's what you're asking," McPherson told CBC News.

She clarified her comments Friday morning in a tweet: "Let me be clear. I'm never going to sit in a Liberal Cabinet." She added she's happy to speak to the Liberals about Alberta's policy priorities.

Some kind of formal agreement between the Liberals and NDP likely would be needed before a New Democrat MP could sit in cabinet and bound by cabinet secrecy.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said on the morning after the Oct. 21 election in Burnaby, B.C. that "everything is on the table" when asked about the different ways the NDP might support a Liberal minority government.

But the following day, Trudeau ruled out forming a coalition-style government, though he acknowledged the need for more Western representation.

"This is something that I take very seriously, as a responsibility, to ensure that we are moving forward in ways that benefit all Canadians," Trudeau told reporters during his first news conference after the election. "I will be listening, and working, with a broad range of people to ensure that happens."

McPherson doesn't oppose Trans Mountain

After the NDP's first post-election caucus meeting, its leader reiterated his stance on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

"I've been firmly opposed to Trans Mountain," Singh said on Wednesday. "I will continue to be opposed to it."

Unlike Singh, McPherson does not oppose the construction of the pipeline and says fossil fuels will still play a role in Canada's energy future.

"It's important to remember is that this pipeline is already there," McPherson said. "The pipeline has been approved and it's going forward, and that's great for Albertans, it's great for Albertans' jobs."

But rather than focus on divisive and sometimes awkward issues within her party, such as pipeline politics, McPherson said she wants to talk about things that unite New Democrats, like tackling climate change.

"There's an awful lot that we agree on," McPherson said.

A section of pipe is hoisted at a stockpile site for the Trans Mountain expansion project. (Trans Mountain Corporation)

But a Conservative MP from an Edmonton riding that neighbours McPherson's thinks the NDP's divergent views on pipelines means the party can't adequately represent Alberta in cabinet

"If you have one MP that supports the pipeline, and the leadership and the rest of the party doesn't, I don't think that really helps," Edmonton Mill Woods MP Tim Uppal said. "I think you need to have strong clear direction and you just don't have that from the NDP."

Uppal said if Trudeau genuinely wanted to listen to the concerns of western Canadians, he'd talk to Conservative MPs and repeal recently enacted legislation that changed the rules for federal environmental assessments and restricts oil tanker traffic on B.C.'s north coast.

Western alienation is real

Regardless of whether McPherson gets a call from the Liberals, she said she intends to be a "progressive" force for Western Canada in Ottawa.

"I think there's a lot of the weight that came with this particular result," McPherson said. "Being the only progressive person elected in Alberta or Saskatchewan for that matter."

"Forty per cent of Albertans voted for a progressive voice and they did not get 40 percent of the seats. And so there is one progressive representative for all of those people, and so that's a responsibility."

Elections Canada numbers show that 69.2 per cent of the two million votes cast in Alberta went to the Conservatives.

Western alienation, McPherson said, is a real and growing concern, and Ottawa needs to do more to counter it.

"Albertans feel that they haven't been heard by Ottawa.," she said. "We saw that time and time again. The Conservatives take Alberta for granted. The Liberals are obviously very unpopular in Alberta."

McPherson said she fears some provincial leaders are throwing fuel on the Western separation bonfire. She said the vast majority of Albertans are proud Canadians.

About the Author

David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.


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