The Alberta election edition
And we’re off! The much-anticipated Alberta provincial election is officially underway and that means even more content about this crazy province I call home (sorry/you’re welcome).
Before it even kicked off, though, a UCP candidate attempted to get ahead of her embarrassing social media comments coming to light by apologizing for 15 years worth of them. “As someone who has used social media since I was a teenager, I have many old social media posts I'm not proud of,” Chelsae Petrovic, the UCP candidate for Livingstone-Macleod, said on Facebook. “Often I used humour to deal with trauma or high-stress environments, and that includes using crude or inappropriate language. As someone who had no intention of ever seeking public life, there are some comments and posts that I now know I should have been more prudent about before engaging with.”
One can only imagine how bad these are, given the attempt at a pre-emptive strike, and I’m going to reserve judgment on how we should think about them. But as someone who’s fired off an intemperate tweet or two in my day, I think we need to start talking about this issue more openly — and start considering some sort of statute of limitations on bad tweets and Facebook comments.
There are obviously lines that can’t be crossed and things that shouldn’t be forgiven. But as younger candidates continue to step forward, meaning more of the people running for public office came of age when social media was around during their formative (and, therefore, stupidest) years, we need to figure out where the line is. We should not punish people for things they no longer believe.
Making mistakes as a younger person, after all, is part of the learning process. It’s how we grow. And I’d much rather be represented by someone capable of learning from their mistakes than someone who’s never had to try.
Rachel Notley is Alberta’s real progressive conservative
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 complete some time 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.
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 for 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.
Ahem of the week
As I wrote a little while ago, the biggest impediment standing between Canadians and affordable housing costs isn't the government or the private sector or foreign investors — it’s us. The latest demonstration of this comes out of Toronto, where a group of “left Boomers” known as the Annex Residents’ Association is pushing back against the possibility of allowing four-plexes to be built in single-family home neighbourhoods like theirs.
The reason? “It will threaten the built form character of the neighbourhood,” they said in a letter. That is, of course, kind of the whole point here — that the “built form character” of neighbourhoods like the Annex are preventing the addition of much-needed density, which artificially constrains supply and makes home prices higher than they need to be.
As the Globe and Mail’s Alex Bozikovic noted, “Every house block in the Annex has a population 35% to 45% *lower* than in 1971. All the density, all the growth and most of the diversity is in apartment buildings, which cover a tiny fraction of the neighbourhood.” That’s good news for the Boomers who bought their houses for five-figures many decades ago and can now sell them for well over $1 million, but it hurts almost everyone else (except, I suppose, their kids).
Progressive politicians at every level of government have to find a way to stamp out this sort of NIMBYist nonsense and build the kind of supply — market and non-market — that young people desperately need. Because if they don’t, they’re handing conservatives like Pierre Poilievre a winning issue. More to the point, they’ll deserve to lose if they keep pandering to these sorts of ludicrous expressions of privilege.
There’s probably not a lot of crossover on the Venn diagram of anti-nuclear activists from the 1960s and 1970s and fans of the Batman franchise, but those few who do overlap will appreciate the irony in Harvey Dent’s quote about the Caped Crusader. “You either die a hero,” the Gotham district attorney said, “or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
That’s now the case for a generation of European and British anti-nuclear activists, who are finding themselves being portrayed in a far less flattering light by younger climate activists and other pro-nuclear advocates. As the Guardian noted back in March, this is part of an ongoing push to challenge conventional wisdoms about nuclear energy that is transforming left-wing politics in many parts of Europe.
This reappraisal is less pressing in Canada, where we’re blessed with enough hydro to not need much in the way of new nuclear any time soon. But even here, the prime minister has shifted his position on the issue, coming out strongly in favour of nuclear as a part of Canada’s path to net zero. “As we look at what the baseload energy requirements are gonna be needed by Canada over the coming decades, especially as we continue to draw in global giants like Volkswagen who choose Canada partially because we have a clean energy mix to offer to power, we’re gonna need a lot more energy,” Justin Trudeau said. “We’re gonna have to be doing much more nuclear.”
It’s an interesting conversation, to be sure — and one I delve into on the next episode of Maxed Out with Zion Lights, a former Green Party candidate and Extinction Rebellion organizer who founded a pro-nuclear group called Emergency Reactor. Look for it next Tuesday.
On Tuesday, I took a look at the conservative claim that an emissions cap is really a production cap for Alberta’s oil and gas industry, and what it says about the net-zero pledges being made by both those companies and the provincial government. Sneak preview: it’s not flattering.
Speaking of unflattering, the group that’s pulling the strings behind the scenes for the UCP has apparently told its supporters to keep their affiliation with the party sotto voce. That’s going to be a challenge given the numerous connections between Take Back Alberta and the UCP that I documented in a column in late March. It might be even harder now after some excellent reporting by the Globe and Mail’s Carrie Tait revealed that Danielle Smith attended the recent wedding of TBA founder David Parker. It’s going to be tricky for Smith to pretend she doesn’t know who he is, as she tried to with convoy organizer James Bauder recently.
Finally, a quick reminder: if you like this newsletter, share it with your friends, family and frenemies. And if you want to drop me a line, I’m at [email protected].
Until next week!