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Will irreconcilable differences between Alberta and federal NDP grow wider?

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The rift between Premier Rachel Notley's Alberta New Democrats and the federal NDP led by Jagmeet Singh over the Trans Mountain Pipeline is wide and deep, but it is not unbridgeable -- yet.

That could soon change, though, if two likely political scenarios unfold in tandem: an early federal election and a decision by Singh not to sign the nomination papers of any candidate closely associated with the Notley government to run in the federal Edmonton Strathcona riding.

If both were to happen, it is hard not to see how it could fail to wreck the traditional relationship between the two branches of the party -- not to mention the ability of the federal NDP to elect a candidate in the only Alberta federal riding where it has enjoyed repeated success.

How such a split might look on paper -- since traditionally the federal NDP and its provincial parties are tightly integrated -- is hard to say. But one way or another, there would be serious repercussions.

Now, it is not a certainty either of these things will happen. But this much we know for sure: Linda Duncan, the NDP Member of Parliament who has held Edmonton Strathcona for three terms over the past decade, announced last month she is retiring and will not seek re-election. A new candidate must be found.

As for an early federal election, there is a compelling case for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to call one.

Veteran Parliamentary reporter Susan Delacourt wrote in iPolitics last month that "conditions are almost perfect for a snap election."

Among the things benefitting Trudeau's Liberal government, she noted, was not just the increasingly sharp division between the Alberta NDP and the federal party (not to mention a similar rift in Saskatchewan), but the outright split on the right between federal Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer and the rebellious Tory libertarians led by Maxime Bernier.

"Divided opposition parties help keep incumbent governments in power," Delacourt wrote, "as former prime ministers Jean Chrétien or Stephen Harper would surely attest."

Former federal NDP strategist Robin Sears made a similar case Sunday in the Toronto Star.

Now a high-profile lobbyist in Ottawa, Sears points to the potential state of the economy now versus a year from now, the impact of the attacks on Canada by U.S. President Donald Trump that are likely if his Republicans lose big in November's midterm elections, and the potential for changing political equations in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec as also pushing Trudeau's Liberals toward an election sooner than later.

Meanwhile, Singh has announced he is running for Parliament in the Burnaby South by-election -- for which a date has not yet been set. So by personal political necessity, he is now all but locked into an environmental position at odds with Notley's government.

As a result, the belief is gaining currency in Alberta NDP circles that the gulf between pipeline opponents in the federal NDP and supporters of Premier Notley's vigorous pro-pipeline campaign in Alberta will irresistibly tempt Singh to refuse to approve any candidate for the Edmonton Strathcona nomination who is tied to the Alberta NDP.

If Singh were a stronger leader, more certain of his control of the party he was elected to lead in October 2017, he might take a chance on a candidate associated with support for the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project in Alberta.

But Singh has proved to be a disappointment to many New Democrats. He is now struggling to retain credibility amid the federal party's apparent slide in voter support and financial donations. If there were an NDP leadership review this year, political commentator Chantal Hebert wrote in the Toronto Star last Friday, Singh "would likely be handed his walking papers."

New Democrats used to be more forgiving of unsuccessful leaders, and many may still be rattled by their impetuous dismissal of Thomas Mulcair in Edmonton in March 2017. That, as it turned out, was also the moment the divide in the NDP over oil and gas development became evident to the public.

Experienced high-profile candidates closely identified with the Notley NDP who should be in the running to replace Duncan are now seriously reassessing whether to bother in the present circumstances. Rank and file volunteers willing to run in Tory strongholds may also be harder for the federal party to find now.

If Singh wants the federal party to survive in Alberta he would be wise to send them a signal he will approve their selection as the candidate by constituency association members.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: Premier of Alberta, Wayne Polk/Flickr

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