Will Monday's provincial election put Alberta on a 'continued collision' course with Ottawa?

Along with its established electoral "regions" of Edmonton, Calgary and rural areas, the province's relationship with Ottawa will play a role in deciding the results of Alberta's election on Monday.

UCP Leader Danielle Smith has sought to tie Notley, Trudeau, Singh together

Rachel Notley looks off and to the right, while Danielle Smith checks her notes, both standing behind lecterns.
Rachel Notley, left, leader of the New Democratic Party in Alberta, and United Conservative Party Leader Danielle Smith prepare for a debate during the election campaign. Both have said they are ready to stand up to the federal government. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The conclusion of the Alberta provincial election on Monday will herald yet another stage in the federal-provincial relationship, often characterized in recent years by either tense co-operation or outright opposition.

Where political analysts in Alberta often talk about the province's three electoral "regions" — Edmonton, Calgary and rural areas — Ottawa has also been a point of focus throughout the campaign.

Opposition to the federal government is a "baseline" for both of Alberta's major parties, Corey Hogan, a political commentator and strategist, said in an interview on CBC's The House that aired Saturday.

"Certainly [NDP Leader] Rachel Notley has been more measured in her responses, but nobody's going to say during this election, in this province, 'I intend to be a nice, collaborative partner with Justin Trudeau's federal government,'" Hogan said.

Danielle Smith, who leads the United Conservative Party, has sought to turn anti-Ottawa sentiment to her advantage throughout the campaign, looking to tie Notley, Trudeau and federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh together in the minds of voters. Notley meanwhile has looked to distance herself from her federal counterparts.

The desire to be seen as the more moderate option was reflected in comments from New Democrat candidate Diana Batten, speaking on The House.

"We are not the NDP of other days, and the Conservatives are not the Conservatives of other days, right? When I think about the Alberta NDP, we are not far left. We are almost centrist," Batten said.

Image from a United Conservative attack ad. Two different pictures of NDP's Rachel Notley with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau making a heart symbol between them.
United Conservative attack ads criticize Notley's time as Alberta premier and link her with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (United Conservative Party/YouTube)

Beyond political positioning, Alberta's relationship with Ottawa has also been a key policy question for both the NDP and the UCP, with significant consequences depending on Monday's election results.

If the UCP were to retain control of the legislature, said Lisa Young, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, it would likely focus on issues surrounding oil and gas, rather than such concerns as equalization payments.

"I think it's going to be all about greenhouse gas emissions, climate legislation and Alberta and Saskatchewan's ability to develop natural resources. That's going to be the constitutional conversation, and I think it's going to be highly confrontational," Young said.

Asked about the relationship with Ottawa during an event this week, Smith pivoted straight to energy.

"I would say that one of the things we needed to do is that we needed to send a clear message to Ottawa that they have to respect our jurisdiction — and I think they are beginning to understand that, that they can't just waltz in and try to dictate to us how to manage our resources and how to to manage our power grid," she said.

Leaders say they will stand up for Alberta

Notley, meanwhile, said at a separate event this week that she has a record of standing up to the federal government while still getting results.

"For all their hot air on this issue over the last many years, neither the [Progressive Conservatives] nor the UCP can point to a single pipeline to tidewater under their leadership," she said, referring to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

Young said New Democrats would be unlikely to engage on what have been called the UCP's "firewall" policies — including the creation of a provincial police force or a separate Alberta pension plan.

A woman with brown hair sits in a chair next to a man with black hair in a blue suit
Trudeau, right, sits down with Smith during a federal-provincial meeting on health care, in Ottawa in February. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Included in — and potentially enabling — some of those proposed policies is the Sovereignty Act, passed by Smith late last year. The controversial piece of legislation represents a challenge to federal power in the province, theoretically allowing Alberta to ignore federal laws.

"Hopefully it's a piece of legislation that we don't have to use," said Rebecca Schulz, a UCP candidate who has served in the provincial cabinet since 2019.

"We've seen our leader, Danielle Smith, working very collaboratively with the federal government when it comes to things like child care, health care. But there are areas where we disagree. We will always put Albertans, our livelihoods, our opportunities first."

In an interview on Rosemary Barton Live airing Sunday, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek emphasized that the approach on issues such as environmental policy from here on should be a co-operative one.

"So if the Sovereignty Act was intended to send a message, it has. Now we have to work in partnership and fix whatever solution the federal government wants to bring in to actually work for everyone.

Political commentator Hogan said another Smith government would yield the potential for some "strange things" to happen in Alberta and a "continued collision" with Ottawa.

"Watch out, because elections have consequences, and those consequences could be significant for Confederation."


Christian Paas-Lang covers federal politics for CBC News in Ottawa as an associate producer with The House and a digital writer with CBC Politics. You can reach him at christian.paas-lang@cbc.ca.

With files from Catherine Cullen, Kristen Everson, Rosemary Barton and Tyler Buist

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