The House

The House: The race to lead Alberta

Alberta's economy is still limping after years of economic setbacks and there is a palpable sense of anger about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion being delayed. Rachel Notley and her New Democratic Party are trying to hold onto power after breaking through in the last election; United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney is vowing to eliminate the carbon tax and take the fight to Ottawa. Whoever wins, the results will have major implications nationally and may foreshadow how Fall's federal election unfolds. Chris Hall explores the key issues with citizens, NDP leader Rachel Notley and two UCP candidates.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley at a rally in Edmonton during the campaign. (CBC/Scott Neufeld)
Listen to the full episode49:59

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley rejects the idea that she's too close with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Notley, who is campaigning for a second mandate to lead the province, has faced criticism for being too cozy with Ottawa at a time when the province feels neglected by the federal government.

That feeling of western alienation has been her opponent Jason Kenney's main line of attack as the campaign winds down to voting day on Tuesday.

"It's not that I've campaigned against or for Ottawa what I have done is I've stood up from four Albertans since day one not as a political tool but as a strategy to get the goal," Notley told The House.

That goal is getting Albertans back to work, pushing for the completion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, and working to diversify the province to make it less reliant on oil and gas.

Alberta, under Notley, is one of the only provinces who signed on to the federal Liberals' pan-Canadian climate plan — the one that included an imposed carbon tax for provinces who refused to conform.

Rachel Notley is behind in the polls, with Jason Kenney poised to be the next premier. The Alberta NDP leader rejects the idea that she's too close with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which is one of Kenney's favourite attacks. She talks to Chris Hall about her chances and what it will take to win. 8:03

The price on carbon came into effect on April 1 in provinces that failed to propose plans that met Ottawa's standards. Four are currently subject to it, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick.

Alberta cooperated, implementing its own carbon pricing mechanism, something Notley has taken a hit for with some voters.

Despite the pushback, she maintains it was the right thing to do.

"We can either lead, or Alberta as a whole can be left behind," she said.  "And by that I mean our industry, our economic framework, and not to mention our communities which are the victims of climatic challenges."

Her plan and Kenney's plan for the economy are different, the biggest contrast being Kenney's plan to cut spending to bring the budget back to balance.

Here's a look at how much the carbon tax cost Albertans, where that money is now going and whether or not it's made an impact on greenhouse gas emissions. 2:03

Notley says in that regard, there should be no question who to vote for.

"There is a sense of anxiety. A lot of people are very uncertain about the future, about their jobs, about whether the economy will recover," Notley said.

"We would argue that it's not a choice between one or the other because in fact our plan to grow the economy and create jobs and be fiscally responsible is a better plan, a clearer plan one on which people can rely."


UCP candidates push economic message amid controversy

United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney drives his truck in the summer of 2018. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

Two UCP candidates running in competitive Edmonton ridings say they're focusing on the economy, despite the controversy swirling around their party.

Kulshan Gill is running against NDP leader Rachel Notley, and Leila Houle is also running to beat out an incumbent NDP candidate.

Some United Conservative candidates have been criticized for making racist, homophobic and misogynistic comments in the past.

Leader Jason Kenney has subsequently been facing questions about his own views on those issues, including anti-gay work he did as a young man in San Francisco.

"What was said was perhaps inappropriate at the time and he's apologized," Gill said of those allegations.

"I think that speaks volumes about his credibility. That was 30 years ago and time has changed. He has changed and definitely today we're a very inclusive society."

Documents obtained by CBC News show email addresses fraudulently attached to Alberta's United Conservative Party (UCP) memberships were used to cast ballots in the party's leadership race, which Jason Kenney won in 2017. 2:58

Houle echoed that, saying those controversial comments aren't the issues coming up at the door.

"People want jobs they want the economy back on track and they want to see the pipeline built."

The oil and gas sector in the province has been in a long slump. Alberta is often subject to boom-and-bust cycles, but tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in the last year alone.

Some voters are skeptical either of the two leading parties is in a position to make real change for the economy.

Kulshan Gill and Leila Houle, two UCP candidates running in competitive Edmonton ridings, say they're focusing on the economy, despite the controversy swirling around their party. 10:19

All across the province, the question the parties say they're encountering from people is how a vote for them will equal a better life in the future.

"Change is coming, change is required," Gill said.

"As we've pounded out the doors, repeatedly people are looking for that better economy and improvement in jobs and basically a better life for Albertans."


Albertans feeling uneasy about their political options

Rural Alberta is a big decider in all elections, as it is widely considered one of three areas that decide the outcome. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

There's a lingering unease in Alberta as provincial election day approaches. Many voters remain unconvinced that any of the people running to be premier, or the four main parties they represent, can turn things around.

Albertans cast their ballots on April 16. The campaign is winding down now, with the governing New Democrats under Rachel Notley running a distant second in most polls against the United Conservative Party under former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney.

The province's economy is still limping after years of economic setbacks. Alberta's oilpatch — the biggest industry in the province — is selling its product below the world price, while the pipeline projects that were supposed to open up new markets have hit one regulatory wall after another.

A sharp drop in the world price of oil in 2014 led to layoffs and the collapse of some companies in Alberta's energy sector. Months of delays to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project have ramped up the sense of uncertainty in the oilpatch while prolonging a transportation bottleneck between the oilsands and refineries.

This is a "polarizing" election centred on the economy, said Lori Williams, a political science professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary. And as the people of Olds know too well, the troubles of the oilpatch are never confined to it.

"This is Alberta, this is what we run off of," said Amber Supernant, another small business owner in Olds.

She knows the turmoil the oil sector is facing firsthand; her father, an energy sector worker, was left jobless for years as the economy soured.

The original Trans Mountain pipeline has run through Edson for decades. Many Albertans are fixated on the now-stalled project. Mayor Kevin Zahara walks us through the impact the halted expansion is having on his community. 4:35

Job losses have been staggering. Alberta lost almost 17,000 jobs in December alone.

The national unemployment rate is 5.8 per cent right now, while Alberta's is slowly recovering at 6.4 per cent, down from seven per cent a few months ago.

Still, in rural areas where pipelines and oil offer some of the only work available, the job numbers are far worse.

Edson is a tiny town built around the Yellowhead Highway leading west to Jasper. For a century it thrived on coal, lumber and other natural resources before following the oil money.

It's now home to a section of the Trans Mountain pipeline. The plan to expand that pipeline to the B.C. coast lured hundreds of job-seekers to the community last summer.

"There was a sense of positivity in the community that we haven't seen in a while," said Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara, who served as a press secretary in the province's former Progressive Conservative government.

Then the hammer fell in August, 2018, when a Federal Court of Appeal ruling quashed the $9.3-billion pipeline expansion project.

Like turning off a switch

The hotels emptied. The trailer park was desolate. The yard that supplied new pipeline materials to the Trans Mountain project, once bustling with activity, is quiet now.

"It was like somebody just took a switch and turned it off and the dark clouds reappeared," Zahara said.

Canada's most-watched political panel weighs in on the final stretch of the Alberta election campaign. The panel discusses what the outcome of the election could mean for Alberta's relationship with Ottawa. 12:59

Edson's unemployment rate is 10.1 per cent — almost double the provincial average.

NDP Premier Rachel Notley has struggled to get shovels in the ground for the Trans Mountain expansion project. At one point she was seen as an ally of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for getting on board with the federal climate plan that culminated in this month's implementation of a tax on carbon in several provinces.

The platform of her opponent, Jason Kenney of the United Conservative Party, proposes reducing the deficit by freezing spending. Many experts warn the cuts could come at the expense of things like social programs.

And while the NDP and UCP platforms are quite different, they have one thing in common — many seem unconvinced that either plan can restore the province's boom times.

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