Trying to sum up the federal election results and reactions in Alberta and Saskatchewan moves one to aphorism and metaphor.
“Cutting off the nose to spite the face” comes to mind as an apt description of the vengeful dispatching of every Liberal candidate between the Manitoba and British Columbia borders, leaving the two provinces without representation in the cabinet or government caucus.
And the one about the guy who, convicted of murdering his parents, begs the judge for clemency because he’s an orphan, captures the reaction to the realization that the ballot box tantrum could well leave the two provinces out in the cold in Ottawa. To stretch that analogy, the judge was fortunately not in a hanging mood. So after voters in Alberta and Saskatchewan sent every Liberal candidate down to defeat there was talk about finding ways to ensure the newly re-elected government hears voices from those provinces.
In that same spirit of reconciliation it should be noted that despite the media’s tendency to find in the election results further evidence of growing discontent, not to mention western separatism, last Monday’s blue wave in Alberta and Saskatchewan was not a big departure from most elections over the last couple of decades.
At 69 per cent, the Conservative vote was up from 2015 when Trudeaumania II votes helped the Liberals cut the Conservative vote to 59 per cent while electing four MPs. But the 2019 Conservative share was only marginally higher than 2008 (65 per cent) and 2011 (67 per cent) and was less than the combined Reform-PC vote of 72 per cent in 2000.
Furthermore, as some have pointed out, the near-solid blue on the electoral map for the western prairies was a consequence of our first past the post system. Nearly 600,000 Albertans voted Liberal, NDP or Green. The latter two parties actually increased their vote totals from 2015, and the New Democrats even retained their seat in Edmonton.
The non-Conservative parties managed that modest achievement despite more than three years of bombast from Jason Kenney. Kenney rooted his campaign for leadership of an Alberta united right in an unsparing attack on the carbon tax, equalization, Trudeau himself and Trudeau and Rachel Notley’s compromise on oil sands development and carbon emissions. Andrew Scheer’s federal campaign, in cahoots with the oil industry, rode the wave generated by Kenney and a media eager to amplify the oil and gas industry’s troubles.
And in Saskatchewan
The theory that last Monday’s vote represented a big upsurge in western protest seems more valid in Saskatchewan. There, support for the Conservatives at 64 per cent was significantly above the previous high of 56 per cent in 2011. In that election the Conservatives won all but one of 14 seats in the province, that one held for 26 years by Ralph Goodale. In what must have been an especially gratifying moment for the cutting-off-the-nose crowd, voters in Regina-Wascana voted emphatically to dump the venerable Goodale, whose time in Ottawa included 17 years in a variety of major cabinet posts.
Goodale had been the target of an outfit called the Canada Growth Council, linked to a group of conservative activists. They started a billboard campaign last summer, urging people to “Send Trudeau a Message: Vote out Ralph Goodale.” No sooner was that message sent than Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, in a bravado display of chutzpa, stepped forward to elaborate further, writing to Trudeau, demanding “A new deal with Canada.”
Showing all the diplomatic tact of a Trump, and ignoring the choices made by the vast majority of voters in 11 other provinces and territories, Moe called on Trudeau to immediately scrap the carbon tax, adopt his nonsensical equalization reform ideas and build pipelines “to ensure Saskatchewan and Alberta can get our products to international markets.”
Speaking to reporters, the Saskatchewan premier framed his demands as “an opportunity for the Prime Minister to quell the conversations around separatism” – presumably like the one in which he was engaging. Regina Leader-Post columnist Murray Mandryk, no apologist for the Federal Liberals or “the east,” said Moe’s actions were akin to “jumping ahead of a crowd carrying pitchforks and torches” and wrote that while he talked about offering Trudeau a fire extinguisher “the one he gave him was filled with napalm”.
“The Saskatchewan premier was dreadful in both style and substance. Moe not only appealed to the worst of the worst, but also the worst in all of us. It was failed leadership, and after a miserable, nasty 40-day campaign, the last thing anyone wanted or needed.”
It will take more than a few such bad reviews to change Scott Moe and an aggressive approach that consistently has him near the top in the Angus Reid Institute’s Premier Approval Tracker. Like it or not, he represents a point of view shared by many, and not just in Saskatchewan or Alberta.
The day after delivering the rude challenge to Trudeau, Moe’s government opened a legislative session with a Throne Speech centred on a new Saskatchewan Growth Plan. The plan called for 100,000 new jobs and population increase of 20 per cent by 2030, such growth to be driven mainly by increased exports of carbon-intensive commodities like oil and gas.
“Growth remains the government’s most important priority,” Moe told reporters after the speech, illuminating the problem that will not be solved by creative ways of ensuring western feedback, or even by tweaking equalization.
Much of the talk about western anger focuses on job losses among workers in the fossil fuel industries. In response we hear soothing words about helping those workers transition to green economy jobs. But as the Canada Growth Council billboards and Scott Moe make clear, it’s not just about those workers and communities. It’s about maximizing growth, and the quickest way to do that is to pump more oil and gas. As long as growth reigns as the political priority in Saskatchewan and elsewhere conflict over pipelines and carbon taxes has no foreseeable end date.
 As discussed here, Moe’s plan would distribute 50 per cent of equalization on a per capita basis to all provinces, a scheme that would hurt Manitoba, Quebec and the Maritimes and hand most of the benefit to Ontario.