Support journalism that lights the way through the climate crisis by June 3

Goal: $100k

Peter Lougheed was Alberta’s 10th premier, the creator of its Heritage Savings Trust Fund, and the architect of a four-decade political dynasty that would see his Alberta Progressive Conservatives win 12 consecutive elections, most of them in a walk. He went to war with Pierre Trudeau, helped defeat the National Energy Program, and fought effectively for Alberta’s place in Confederation. And if he was alive today, he’d probably be voting for Rachel Notley’s NDP.

Just ask Danielle Smith — yes, that Danielle Smith — who wrote back in 2019 that “Notley is, without question, the inheritor of the Lougheed tradition. That’s not to say he was a full-on socialist, but Notley isn’t either. I think most Albertans have been shocked to see how pragmatic she has governed, particularly as it concerns natural resources.”

Smith would probably like to take back that endorsement, but Notley’s NDP continues to attract the support of prominent former members of Lougheed’s government, from MLAs like Allan Warrack and Ron Ghitter to Lougheed’s chief of staff (and later federal MP) Lee Richardson.

Notley’s appeal to former Progressive Conservatives is a product of her party’s deliberate shift to the political centre, along with her Lougheed-esque stewardship of Alberta’s resources. The federal purchase and construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, which will be completed sometime this year and in service by the first quarter of 2024, speaks to the success of those efforts.

But Notley’s appeal among more progressive conservatives is also a reflection of just how toxic Smith’s brand of conservatism is to many otherwise conservative Albertans. Her recent admission that she looks to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem as role models for Alberta says everything about her politics, and how prominently the COVID-19 pandemic still figures in them.

Before he was known for banning books and getting sued by Disney, DeSantis made his name in Republican circles by making Florida the most COVID-friendly state in the union. Noem made her own bid for that title back in 2021, when she proclaimed: “If @joebiden illegally mandates vaccines, I will take every action available under the law to protect South Dakotans from the federal government.”

If Smith had been in power during the pandemic, it’s easy to imagine her saying something similar. This sort of live-and-let-die attitude is at odds with the more compassionate (and informed) brand of conservatism that Lougheed is remembered for.

But as Jared Wesley and Ken Boessenkool argued in a piece for The Line, Smith is really a conservative in name only. “Smith is not a temperamental conservative. Indeed, she is rarely an ideological conservative. Instead, her politics amount to libertarian-laced populism, directly opposed to the sort of principled, incrementalist politics Albertans have appreciated from conservative governments in the past.”

Smith is certainly no fiscal conservative, although that’s a much rarer breed than most Albertans have been led to believe. After passing the biggest spending budget in Alberta history, Smith opened the campaign by offering up a 20 per cent tax cut on incomes up to $60,000 that would cost the Treasury as much as $760 per adult. In order to pay for it, Smith plans to rely on a continuation of the recent gusher in oil and gas royalties — one that may already be in the process of evaporating, as oil prices crashed below $70 a barrel this week.

Who's the true conservative in Alberta's provincial election? The answer is more complicated than you might think — and it holds the key to victory for Rachel Notley. @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver

And when it comes to law and order, Smith has a track record of siding with the people trying to upend it. There’s her fawning phone call with far-right preacher (and Coutts blockade supporter) Artur Pawlowski, who was found guilty of mischief and breaching his bail conditions on Tuesday. And as Press Progress reported that same day, her support for the blockade apparently ran even deeper than that. In a February 2022 livestream with the Western Standard, Smith says, “We want to see it win in Coutts.”

The Coutts blockade, remember, included a group of heavily armed men making threats against law enforcement that included conspiracy to commit murder. But even before those charges were laid, it was clear the blockaders were interfering with the movement of goods and people across the border. That doesn’t seem to have bothered Smith, though. “This whole phrase of ‘peace, order and good government’, I think it’s become a shorthand to the federal government can do whatever the heck it wants and we just have to be peaceful and orderly about it,” Smith said.

Smith, then, is not any kind of conservative that Peter Lougheed would identify with. If anything, she and the “Take Back Alberta” group that helped elect her as party leader have more in common with the Alberta Social Credit party that Lougheed defeated in 1971. The real question for conservatives in this election is whether they still identify with Peter Lougheed or not. If enough of them do, Notley will make history as the first former premier to get returned to power — and join Lougheed as one of the most important political leaders in Alberta history.

This column is featured in my new newsletter, which you can get delivered to your inbox once a week. If you want to stay up to date on my signature, no-nonsense opinion writing, subscribe here.

Keep reading

Interesting comparison with Lougheed.
Notley compared herself to Richard Nixon, which may be more apt. Former Edmonton Journal columnist, now Senator, Paula Simons compared Notley to Margaret Thatcher.
Notley wielded her steely resolve on behalf of Big Oil. Less stalwart in defence of future generations, those most vulnerable to climate change, and life on Earth.

When it comes to pipelines and oilsands expansion, Notley and the UCP are on the same page.
Notley's oilsands expansion agenda locks AB into fossil fuel development and rising emissions for decades. Putting Canada's inadequate targets out of reach.

How would Lougheed respond to climate change and IPCC reports? Build more pipelines?
Would Lougheed act on the best available science? Or ignore it?
Would Lougheed drive Alberta and Canada over the climate cliff in deference to Big Oil?
Would Lougheed attack environmentalists?
If "progressive" politicians are not willing or able to defend the public interest, why run for public office?

Former AB Liberal leader Kevin Taft: "Through her whole career and her whole party, up until they became government, [Notley and the NDP] were very effective critics, counterbalances to the oil industry. As soon as she stepped into office, as soon as she and her party became government, they've simply became instruments of the oil industry."

Taft: "The world is working hard to end its dependence on oil, so hitching the country's economy to an industry that must be phased out is recklessly short-sighted."

Reakash Walters, federal NDP candidate in Edmonton Centre 2015: "As one of two people who nominated Rachel in 2015, I am truly disappointed in the direction the provincial party has taken and that they have chosen to prioritize oil extraction in the middle of a climate crisis."
"What was Rachel Notley suggesting when she said she's not committed to voting for Jagmeet Singh's New Democrats?" (Alberta Politics, 2019)

Interesting quote from Kevin Taft. I don't recall reading it in his book Deep State. Was it recent?

"Is the Oil Industry Canada’s ‘Deep State’?" (The Real News Network, Feb 11, 2018)
"How the oil industry created a ‘deep state’ in Canada" (Macleans, Oct 6, 2017)

OK. THX. Taft was also interviewed on TV Ontario a few years back. Good info then, still relevant now.

Not even Notley's fiercest foes would accuse her of lunacy. Even fervent UCP supporters admit that Danielle Smith is an agent of chaos.
And yet most climate scientists, climate activists, the IPCC, and the IEA will tell you that doubling down on fossil fuels in face of climate change is insane:

UN Secretary General António Guterres (April 2022): "[The latest IPCC report] is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unlivable world." (2022)
"Some government and business leaders are saying one thing – but doing another."
"Simply put, they are lying. And the results will be catastrophic."
"But high-emitting governments and corporations are not just turning a blind eye; they are adding fuel to the flames."
"Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness."

Some praised Notley's "pragmatism".
Our house is on fire. "Pragmatic" is putting the fire out.
Oilsands expansion and new pipelines are not "pragmatic" politics — just plain lunacy. Climate change disproportionately affects women and children. The global poor are the most vulnerable. Doesn't matter what your policies are on farm labor, GSAs, childcare, etc. If you're not progressive on climate, you're not progressive.
Scientific reality is non-negotiable. Either you accept the science and respond accordingly, or you don't.
Political parties who ignore scientific reality do not deserve the votes of responsible citizens.
Rapid man-made global warming is a disaster.
So are governments that fail to address it.

Notley’s "deliberate shift to the political centre" is a rightward lurch towards neoliberal energy and climate policy — and a repudiation of science. The petro-progressives will take us over the climate cliff, as surely as the right-wing deni-osaurs.

Fawcett: "The federal purchase and construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project… speaks to the success of those efforts."
Yes, let's not forget the dilbit pipeline that will cost taxpayers at least $30.9 billion to build — and sabotage Canada's climate goals. Strange to find pipeline cheerleading on The Observer — Canada's "most trusted voice in climate journalism".
But that's Max Fawcett.

No it isn't. That's not fair.
You're absolutely right about what needs to be done, we all know that, but you can't filibuster the political reality either, shitty though it is.
I like Max's assessment of Rachel's leadership; I mean talk about being in the trenches, and for YEARS, and as a woman to boot.
What I like about her is she may have aged as a result, but has somehow managed to stave off what can only be called a grimace on her friend Shannon's face. Which I also get.

That tax cut actually sounds like a good idea, the only one Smith has put forward.
I'll be interested to see what the voter turnout is this time with two women in the running. I think a lot of the typical misogynist Alberta voters may take a pass and wait for their guy Boilievre.....
And a good point about how the UCP is very much like the old Social Credit Party, down to Preston Manning's father Ernest leading it, an "active Christian layman" who graduated from William Aberhart's Prophetic Bible Institute.
His father's son, Presto can take credit for replacing Lougheed's dynamic, modern "progressive" conservatism, thereby restoring his father's good old "social" conservatism (formerly known as RELIGION) with his Reform Party that knew enough to downplay that "social" part in the quest to become national. That gave those people here no choice but to form the more openly religious Wild Rose Party who lost because of the "lake of fire" incident which sunk them by reminding everyone that many believers ACTUALLY believe such nonsense, but saying it out loud was deemed "extreme," never mind the inherent extremity of all religious doctrine. But no one wants to talk about this for fear of appearing "intolerant," so the Christian Heritage Party still plugs on doggedly and ineffectually, true Christian martyrs to their supposed cause.
So while the politics here DO seem to have become complex, the ongoing underlying subterfuge on the right has ended up sanctioning lying to the extent that it's never been more simple--anything but the cons.

Peter Lougheed stated that Alberta will have to come to terms with environmental issues. That was deep onto his retirement and after a series of dire IPCC reports on climate change.

It is plain as the flat prairie that neither AB party will ever act on climate. Smith doesn't even pretend to, whereas Notley will act out the pretense while ignoring the cacophony of legit science-based criticism and actual evidence.

What neither of them realize is the growing economic power of renewables, rapid tech change in batteries and the rocketing demand for EVs, soon to be met with affordable EVs from China. Both would be caught seriously off guard if it evolves into a revolution, or even a slo mo disruption.

Notley is bad on climate change. But there is one substantive difference between her and Smith on that file: Notley is willing to take positive action everywhere EXCEPT the main event. Electricity generation, housing, in general local consumption of fossil fuels in Alberta, she's willing to take action. The one thing she won't do is buck Alberta's oil lobby. Of course, in Alberta bucking the oil lobby is like 80% of what needs to be done, so it's not as big of a difference as it could be. But it is a difference.