Singh is throwing in the Alberta towel

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That groan you’re hearing from the west is Alberta New Democrats voicing their opinion of Jagmeet Singh’s recent pronouncements on provincial vetoes over national infrastructure projects.

With his promise that a federal NDP government wouldn’t impose national infrastructure projects (meaning pipelines) on unwilling provinces, Singh appears to be determined to widen the rift between the Alberta provincial wing of the party and the federal mothership.

There hasn’t been much unity in the New Democratic movement in Canada for a couple of years now.  The success of the Alberta NDP in 2015 was founded on a pragmatic job-preserving reading of party doctrine.  That put Premier Rachel Notley squarely at odds with her NDP neighbour to the west as the B.C. NDP government opposed the pipelines to the coast which could ensure Alberta oil patch wellbeing.

And relations on the national front during Notley’s tenure in office have also been icy.  In 2016 a federal NDP convention in Edmonton opened the schism right in Notley’s backyard as the party flirted with the anti-oil LEAF Manifesto.

Singh has raised Notley’s ire more than once with his objections to pipeline builds across the country.

His criticism of the federal government’s purchase of the TransMountain Pipeline to kickstart that project prompted Notley to articulate their differences last summer.

“I am a New Democrat that comes from the part of the party that understands that you don’t bring about equality and fairness without focusing on jobs for regular working people… To forget that and to throw them under the bus as collateral damage in pursuit of some other high level policy objective is a recipe for failure and it’s also very elitist,” she said.

Now Singh has solidified his stand that he would not impose an infrastructure project on a province during an interview with the CBC.  The statement appeared to refer to the objections of Quebec to the Energy East pipeline but he doubled down in a followup interview to make it clear he meant any province.

Singh tried to soften his stand with a dissertation on consensus building.

“But that’s kind of the beauty of federalism, that it’s not something that should be where we’re imposing decisions, where we work and provide an advantage, provide investments, show people that this is going to be to their benefit and, if that can be done, then it should be a project that goes ahead.”

Lovely sentiment, but shaky interpretation of confederation and the powers of the federal government.

It also reads as a direct provocation to Alberta, a landlocked province with a whole lot of skin in the national infrastructure game. Coastal provinces would forever have an advantage in terms of the big transportation infrastructure needed to get goods and commodities from the heartland to port.

If one were being cynical, one might point out that in the calculus of winnable NDP seats, Singh’s promise is a vote getter.  Quebec and B.C., two provinces with the whip hand in terms of getting Canadian oil to market, are also potential NDP-LIberal battlegrounds.  And playing to opposition to pipelines in those provinces makes political sense.

Alberta, on the other hand, holds virtually no political interest for the NDP during this election.  The one NDP MP in the province, Linda Duncan from Edmonton Strathcona, is not running again.  The polls predict a solid Conservative victory across Alberta ridings.

But the wider implications of Singh’s wish to avoid imposing projects of national scope on the provinces also raises some red flags for the country as a whole.  Taken to its ultimate conclusion it would require rewriting federal powers and several pieces of legislation.

Even taken as a way of governing for a specific administration, it assumes individual provinces won’t play their veto power for crass political advantage or wield it like a club in disputes with neighbouring provinces.

In the immediate term of this election contest, Singh is ensuring that federal NDP candidates in Alberta will have little chance of election on Oct. 21.  And the hope for federal-provincial political harmony is moving ever farther away for his party.

Photo Credit: CBC News

More from Kathy Kerr.     @kathkerr1

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