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What was Notley suggesting when she said she's not committed to voting for the federal NDP?

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Reakash Walters nominates Rachel Notley as the NDP candidate in 2015, shortly before the NDP's historic majority victory. Image: Provided by Reakash Walters

Responding to former Alberta NDP premier Rachel Notley's remark last week that she hasn't committed to voting for Jagmeet Singh's New Democrats in her own federal riding, a young Albertan named Reakash Walters tweeted from Ontario: "I have never felt so out of touch from Alberta politics than right at this moment."

Well, you don't have to be living outside Alberta to feel out of touch with Alberta politics nowadays.

Walters isn't just some random tweeter troubled by Notley's comment and wondering what the former premier is suggesting voters in Edmonton Strathcona should do.

In 2015, she was one of Notley's two nominators in the Edmonton-Strathcona provincial riding. Later that year, she launched an impressive campaign to be the federal NDP's candidate in Edmonton Centre.

When this intelligent young candidate was defeated, she reacted gracefully, urging her supporters to stick with the party. She is now attending law school at the University of Ottawa.

She's likely to have a stellar career. I hope she decides to run for public office again. If she does, I'd advise the NDP to pay closer attention.

"As one of two people who nominated Rachel in 2015," she told me yesterday, "I am truly disappointed in the direction the provincial party has taken and that they have chosen to prioritize oil extraction in the middle of a climate crisis."

Notley is not just any former premier either, for that matter. She is leader of the opposition in the Alberta legislature. She represents the provincial riding with the same name, if not exactly the same boundaries, as the federal electoral district she votes in.

Her provincial government caucus worked hard to ensure Heather McPherson was chosen as the federal NDP's candidate in the face of an insurgent campaign by a young environmentalist named Paige Gorsak. And Edmonton Strathcona is the only riding in Alberta that can elect a New Democrat in 2019, and possibly the only one in Alberta that may be inclined to elect a non-Conservative MP.

So, just what is Notley saying? That because she doesn't agree with Singh's policy on pipelines maybe Alberta shouldn't have a voice in the NDP caucus in Ottawa, or the opposition generally, after October 21?

And what does she think voters in Edmonton Strathcona should actually do about it? Vote for the Liberal and split the vote so a Conservative can win? Or go right out and vote Conservative, for crying out loud?

These are rude questions, I know. We've all been kind of reeling since we heard Notley's comment. But they need to be asked. And those of us who have long supported the NDP and want to know the answers are entitled to an explanation.

If voters in Edmonton Strathcona want my advice, it is that they should ignore Notley's post-election ennui and get the hell out and vote for McPherson, which is the right thing to do for both Canada and Alberta.

Singh was diplomatic in his response to Notley's cranky comment. He complimented her work as premier and vowed to try to win her support.

Regardless of what Notley is trying to achieve, electing a Conservative in Edmonton Strathcona, which is the probable outcome of weakening the turnout for McPherson, means electing someone who supports the approach to economic development taken by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

And Kenney, regardless of what kind of reception he gets while campaigning on our dime in friendly Ontario ridings for federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, is seriously on the wrong track if you want to do the right thing for Alberta.

If pipelines are indeed necessary for Alberta's economic well-being, Notley has no need to be ashamed of the way she campaigned for them.

While the phrase "social licence" has fallen into disfavour thanks to Kenney's relentless vilification of the idea, Notley's social-licence approach to winning approval for pipelines from Alberta to the ocean was working. More importantly, it was the only approach that could work.

As energy journalist Markham Hislop argued in a recent story on his EnergiMedia website, the current generation of leaders in the Alberta oil patch are making a big strategic mistake that will hurt Alberta and their industry when it leads to the opposite outcome from the one they desire.

Pointing to recent public opinion polling showing "a majority of Canadians are concerned about climate change … and only support more oil and gas development if their governments enact policies that speed up the energy transition and reduce emissions," there is not much hope Kenney's belligerence will change many minds on the West Coast or in Quebec.

But Alberta's fossil fuel industry has thrown its lot in with Premier Kenney. "The new strategy is to bully … other provinces and opponents into submission," Hislop writes.

The result will damage Alberta's economy, not save it.

Meanwhile, south of the 49th parallel, President Donald Trump will likely soon be gone. Face it, when more than half the population and the organs of state security have turned against a president, he's done like dinner.

Media has not quite caught up. Mainstream journalists have gone from not giving President Trump enough credit for his political chops to giving him far too much.

When he is gone, the United States will quickly return to its new normal, which we had the chance to observe under the administration of president Barack Obama. This will not a particularly friendly environment for Alberta's oil industry, Canada's pipeliners, or blowhards like Kenney who, when it comes to dealing with the colossus next door in the age of renewable energy, doesn't hold a very good hand.

In such circumstances, Canadians should probably worry less about having a Conservative Party leader who is a U.S. citizen than a premier in Alberta who wants to throw roadblocks in the way of action against climate change.

This is something Notley should think about too, as the Alberta legislature resumes sitting today and she tries to puzzle out the best way forward for her party, Alberta and Canada, not to mention how she's going to vote on October 21, her resentments about the federal NDP's current platform notwithstanding.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's post, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Provided by Reakash Walters. Used with permission.

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