By Nia Williams
Calgary, Alberta (Reuters) – A right-wing, pro-energy party won a landslide victory in Canada’s main oil-producing province of Alberta late on Tuesday, signalling momentum may be building against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau months ahead of a federal election in October.
The United Conservative Party (UCP) trounced the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) government by tapping into frustration over the economy and a struggling oil and gas industry.
“Alberta is open for business!” UCP leader Jason Kenney said in his victory speech in Calgary on Tuesday. “Albertans have elected a government obsessed with getting Albertans back to work.”
Kenney, who had dominated in polls in the lead-up to the vote, promised to defend Albertans against Trudeau and the federal government who, he said, were taking advantage of the province and its oil and gas.
“Now we need a Conservative government back East,” said Rafi Tahmazian, director of investment manager Canoe Financial in Calgary, who voted for Kenney. “The vast majority of discussion tonight is already about the federal election.”
Provisional results showed the UCP had won 63 out of 87 seats in the provincial legislature.(Click here for updates: https://results.elections.ab.ca/wtResultsPGE.htm )
The vote comes at a challenging time for Trudeau, who has been mired in a relentless scandal https://reut.rs/2Zhjx2P over alleged interference in a corporate corruption case that has led to the resignations of two Cabinet members and his top advisor.
The scandal has cost the prime minister his lead over rival Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, polls show.
The NDP ended decades of conservative rule in Alberta when it won a 2015 election, but it inherited an economy hammered by a global crude price crash.
“This is a pretty clear mandate for the UCP. Now we have to see if Jason Kenney can live up to his promises, especially in reviving the economy,” said Andy Knight, professor of political science at the University of Alberta.
“He’s going to face some of the same challenges that (Alberta Premier and NDP leader) Rachel Notley had.”
Notley’s government introduced a carbon tax to help cut emissions of greenhouse gases in 2015, when Trudeau took power, a measure Kenney promised to scrap in his victory speech.
Earlier this month, Trudeau imposed a price on carbon in four provinces that do not have plans to tackle global warming and has made clear he would do the same for Alberta if needed.
Both Kenney and Notley blame Trudeau for a lack of progress on new oil export pipelines.
“The world needs more Canadian energy,” Kenney said during his speech as his supporters chanted: “Build that pipe!”
Kenney supports new oil pipelines, including the Trans Mountain expansion that will connect the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific coast, and triple the amount of crude reaching the Pacific Coast. The federal government bought the project from Kinder Morgan in August 2018 to ensure it gets built.
He also backs measures to prop up Alberta’s energy industry, which struggled last year with record discounts on Canadian crude because of pipeline congestion.
Knight cautioned against reading too much into a provincial election, however, especially with six months to go before the national vote: “A lot of things can happen between now and October.”
(Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Steve Scherer and Bernadette Baum)