Voters in Alberta, Canada did this week what those in the US are afraid to do — they voted Conservatives out of office. And they didn’t do it by a slim margin. The Alberta election cleaned house. When the counting was done, the New Democratic Party (NDP) gained 49 seats in the provincial legislature while the Progressive Conservatives, who have ruled Alberta for 4 decades, lost 60 seats. They also deposed long time Premier Jim Prentice and replaced him with Rachel Notley.
As Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel put it on Twitter “Imagine if Democrats took not only Texas Governor, but supermajority control of [the] Legislature and all state offices. That’s what [Alberta’s election] is like in Canada.”
Alberta Is The Texas Of Canada
Alberta is “often thought as being the Texas of Canada” according to Ed Whittingham, the executive director of the Pembina Institute, a leading environmental and energy think tank in Canada. Much like oil-rich Texas, oil-rich Alberta is used to strongly conservative governments.
Whittingham told ThinkProgress that Tuesday’s elections results could mean big changes for Alberta’s oil industry. “What we hope they’re going to do is come out the gate tackling climate change,” he said. “That’s going to include somehow regulating the oil sands emissions.”
The Alberta tar sands — a disagreeable stew of sand, water, clay and bitumen — can produce oil, but only by “non-conventional” methods that are more carbon-intensive than normal oil production. That means the process emits more greenhouse gasses than conventional methods. Thanks to tar sands extraction, Canada’s energy industry recently became the largest producer of greenhouse gasses in the country, surpassing transportation for the first time.
No Fire Breathing Radical
The new NDP premier said during her campaign that delaying Alberta’s climate change strategy is ”profoundly irresponsible.” But she is no fire breathing radical. Unlike conservative politicians in the US, who think even talking to the opposition in a sign of betrayal, Notley believes in “working collaboratively” with all stakeholders.
“What I said very clearly during the campaign is that, while we may believe that there’s some new consideration that needs to occur, that it will be done collaboratively and in partnership with our key job creators in this province,” she says.
The election in Alberta may bring comfort to opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline in the US. Premier Notley has said she opposes the Keystone project and will stop lobbying for its approval in Washington, DC. She is not opposed to all pipelines, however, and is mindful that oil powers a large part of the provincial economy. What worries her most are the increasing number of dangerous explosions and fires that occur when petroleum is shipped by rail.
A New Political Model?
Alberta has thrown out the old guard, but the new leadership is not lobbing bombs at the former incombents. Instead, it has elected a leader who understands that climate action is essential but jobs must also be preserved. Premier Rachel Notley plans to listen to input from all interested parties from all constituencies. Will this model of calm, deliberate governance that doesn’t characterize everyone who disagrees with its policies as a dangerous leftist translate to the Lower 48 any time soon?
Don’t count on it.