Impressions in Alberta about the coming election

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I have just returned from spending a week in Alberta with family, and more than a few people asked my impressions of the state of Canadian politics while I was there.  In turn, I probed a little about what they were exposed to regarding some of the current situations happening across the country, and while this is by no means a representative sample, there were a few interesting threads that did emerge, and which may be of particular interest to anyone from one of the federal campaigns who is paying attention, for what it’s worth.

The overarching theme was one of disillusionment across the board, and consistently I heard a sense of resignation that there was nobody worth voting for.  A lot of people stated, whether they had voted Liberal in the last election or not, that they couldn’t vote for Justin Trudeau (and I could have launched into a civics lesson about how that was unlikely unless they planned to vote in the riding of Papineau, I held my tongue).  The reasons were varied, of course – many felt that he hadn’t done a good job, though nobody outright quoted some of the various disinformation campaigns out there currently.  On previous occasions, I have been on the receiving end of the pervasive conspiracy theory that the federal government only bought the existing Trans Mountain pipeline in order to kill it – never mind all of the evidence to the contrary, with the Federal Court of Appeal decision, the reconsideration of the portions of the assessment as ordered by the Court, the reconsidered Indigenous consultation process headed by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci, or the fact that Trudeau has expended a great deal of political capital at the expense of his environmental base in order to make this happen for Alberta’s benefit.  But you know, it’s all for show and he bought it to kill it.

For others, there was a sense that Trudeau was someone who would say different things in different parts of the country, whatever the local audience was, which is odd because in my own observations, he is far more consistent in his messaging around the country than most other leaders – particularly in Quebec.  None of them could provide examples, but they just had that feeling about him.  The allegations related to SNC-Lavalin were a breaking point for my progressive friends, but when pressed, they couldn’t really articulate what it was they were upset about – just that it made him look like another typical politician trying to appease special interests (though again, no specifics could be articulated though it was also noteworthy that the names Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott never came up once in any of my conversations).

Of course, nobody had any kind words for any of the other federal leaders either.  Even in the heart of Conservative country, nobody expressed the slightest bit of hope or admiration for Andrew Scheer, and everyone, urban and rural, conservative or progressive, had completely written off Jagmeet Singh.  This where the NDP had swept Edmonton provincially, and with the federal party having a seat to hold onto in Edmonton Strathcona – but the closest I did hear was that while they may vote NDP provincially, they would never consider doing so federally.  (Side note: While Edmonton had at once point been known provincially as “Redmonton” owing to the number of provincial seats that the Liberals used to win there, and even occasionally federally, the provincial Liberals have since been wiped out electorally.  One friend said that it’s still Redmonton, and that the change in hue was more cosmetic than anything – alleging of course that the provincial NDP were more akin to Liberals than Dippers).

Where I found the conversation turned very interesting was when discussing the electoral math, and the fact that there remains a very good chance that Trudeau and the Liberals would remain in government, particularly given the situation in Ontario, where Doug Ford has so badly damaged the Conservative brand in the Greater Toronto Area that it was likely to affect Scheer’s chances.  And while talk of Toronto and Ontario may seem to dominate the national news, there was absolutely no awareness of this among virtually anyone I spoke to.  The current nepotism scandal that has embroiled the province hasn’t penetrated into the political discourse in Alberta, nor has the general dissatisfaction with the other general gross mismanagement and incompetence of various files (not the least of which is autism funding) that has plagued the Ontario government.  I suspect that the lack of knowledge about what is happening here will make a potential Trudeau victory all the more mystifying for a population that has consistently been fed a diet of lies about Trudeau’s record, particularly by Jason Kenney.

Which brings me to the sense of helplessness that I heard from numerous people, that they simply didn’t know who to vote for in the upcoming election because there was nobody worth voting for.  Again, at this point, I would normally advise them that they’re not voting for a party leader, and that they should find a local candidate that they feel bests represents them and their views (admittedly more difficult in an age of message discipline, but not impossible), and one friend did assert that he would be looking for a candidate not from one of the major parties who he felt would at least seem decent and honest, even if he or she had no chance of actually winning, simply to express his displeasure with the lot of them.  But if the feeling is that there is nobody to vote for, will this drive turnout down in the coming election?  Remember that 2015 saw an increased turnout because there was a pervasive feeling that they needed a change.  But if the dissatisfaction with Trudeau is more ambivalent than anything, particularly as they feel that Scheer has nothing to offer them, how will that affect the vote?  I guess we’ll have to wait to see, but these particular dynamics were interesting to observe, as they weren’t really what I had expected to find.

Photo Credit: CBC News

More from Dale Smith.     @journo_dale

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