As a yellow haze enshrouded Calgary, I wondered if the wildfire smoke would have any impact on the May 29 provincial election. For many years, climate scientists have been predicting an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme heat, drought and forest fires. The cause is global warming due to the burning of fossil fuels and people are beginning to understand that the consequences are serious. Evacuations, destroyed homes and massive air pollution are unsettling and all too familiar.

Will a dry spring coupled with heat dome temperatures at twice the springtime average be enough for Albertans to consider climate as they go to the polls? Will the acrid smell of trees burning hundreds of kilometres to the north give people pause as they consider voting for pipelines and starting a protracted fight against the federal government’s policies to address the climate crisis?

The United Conservative Party (UCP) has always presented itself as a defender of the oil and gas industry, something that resonates powerfully among the many Albertans employed in the sector. However, Danielle Smith’s campaign is toned down in comparison to former premier Jason Kenney’s rants against the foreign and internal enemies of Alberta’s most important industry.

There’s been an obvious shift in sentiment among both politicians and voters. Smith isn’t driving around the campaign trail in the largest pickup truck on the market and the streets of Calgary’s neighbourhoods are noticeably absent of the “I Love Alberta Oil and Gas” signs that littered many lawns in the last election. What was a sea of blue UCP lawn signs four years ago is now balanced and often exceeded by the New Democratic Party (NDP) orange.

It’s understandable that Smith avoids mentioning climate change as much as possible. Why would she talk about a problem when the solution involves reducing and eventually eliminating the global use of fossil fuels? NDP Leader Rachel Notley must also be careful not to campaign too loudly on policies that prepare Alberta for the inevitable global energy transition. Notley is trying hard to avoid being labelled as an enemy of the petro-state.

Notley has suffered attack ads over her commitment to a net-zero electrical grid by 2035, in which the UCP has confabulated an astronomical price tag for this election promise.

Smith’s minister of Jobs, Economy and Northern Development and former Wildrose party leader, Brian Jean, has attempted to misconstrue Notley’s support for a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cap as a plan to cap oil and gas production. UCP strategists see any commitment to addressing climate change as a weakness in the opposition that can be exploited with a healthy dose of exaggeration.

According to a recent Abacus Data poll, climate change is well down on the list of election priorities. The cost of living, health care, the economy and keeping taxes low are far greater concerns, while climate change and defending the oil and gas industry are roughly equivalent priorities for voters. Climate change is clearly a sensitive issue that both the NDP and UCP would prefer not to focus on.

Looking at the poll numbers, I have to conclude the apocalyptic haze that descended on Calgary will change very few minds. I believe that renewing and cleaning up our electrical grid makes sense when the province has abundant wind and solar resources, but there are a lot of Albertans who think Smith’s dream of building a pipeline to Hudson’s Bay is the best investment for our children’s future.

The provincial campaign is being fought over many issues, but climate change is the elephant in the room, @winexus writes. #abVote #ClimateCrisis

Economists believe “a carbon tax offers the most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed that is necessary.” I particularly like the fact that the federal carbon tax is rebated to Albertans and actually rewards people who own energy-efficient cars and homes.

Other people in my province hate taxes and are OK with oil companies that don’t pay their taxes. A recent Rural Municipalities Association member survey showed that rural municipalities collectively face an unpaid property tax burden of $268 million from oil and gas companies, which represents a six per cent increase from last year.

The Alberta election is being fought over many issues, but climate change is the elephant in the room. The UCP will set Alberta on a collision course with the inevitable impacts of climate change. They will invest heavily in oilsands production, industry propaganda and dubious technologies like carbon capture and storage. They will be unsupportive of anything that reduces demand for fossil fuels, such as renewable energy, electrification and energy-efficient buildings.

The NDP will plan for an energy transition, diversify the economy and start building a net-zero electrical grid. Notley introduced the “off coal” policy that was designed to eliminate coal-fired electricity generation in Alberta by 2030. The policy was so effective that the goal will be achieved this year. The NDP has demonstrated trustworthy leadership in achieving GHG emissions reductions and is promising to do more if elected.

The choice for Albertans is very clear and will shape the future success of our province. Voters appear to be split down the middle, with half still dreaming of the promise of an “energy superpower” that brings wealth for decades to come.

The other half thinks a different kind of future is possible and is very worried about how unabated global warming will affect the lives of future generations. It remains to be seen if the latest environmental disaster that is polluting the skies of Alberta will tip the scales in favour of a better future.

Rob Miller is a retired systems engineer, formerly with General Dynamics Canada, who now volunteers with the Calgary Climate Hub and writes on behalf of Eco-Elders for Climate Action.

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Rob Miller: "The choice for Albertans is very clear"
Not on climate it isn't. Albertans's can choose between two different colors of oilsands expansion. Orange is the new blue. Either way, you get industry's and corporate Canada's plan to fail.
Rachel Notley, Alberta's Pipeline Queen, will never take us to the promised land of science-based climate action. Never going to happen.
A science-based climate plan is not an option for Alberta voters. Notley took that option off the table in 2015.
Even today Notley publicly opposes federal efforts to strengthen Canada's climate targets. She also opposes federal plans for a "just transition".

"Election ignores greatest threat to Alberta’s kids and grandkids" (National Observer, May 26 2023)
"…we were stymied by the absence of platform content from both major Alberta parties. This is especially noteworthy on climate, given the complete absence of relevant policy in NDP commitments.
"The effects of extreme weather are here, seemingly to stay. Communities across Alberta are struggling with fires, floods, and droughts — and their impacts on economies, infrastructure and health. Yet, neither the UCP nor the NDP has the backs of Albertans, helping protect them from these threats via concrete plans, funding, timelines and accountability mechanisms."

P.S. Notley's NDP have one more oilsands export pipeline on their resumé than D. Smith, J. Kenney, and the UCP.