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It's tough to be a federal Liberal or New Democrat in Alberta, especially during elections

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Heather McPherson, the NDP candidate in Edmonton Strathcona. Image: David J. Climenhaga

It's always hard to be a federal Liberal in Alberta … especially during elections!


In the federal election Prime Minister Trudeau called yesterday, it'll probably be just a little harder than usual.

Here in Wild Rose Country, it's usually pretty difficult to be a New Democrat too, subject to many of the same conditions.

Which is to say, the NDP's federal candidate normally has a chance in only one riding, Edmonton Strathcona, but since 2008 that's been a pretty good chance.

That was when Linda Duncan, an environmental lawyer, knocked off Rahim Jaffer, the Reform-Alliance-Conservative placeholder who had been MP for the riding since 1997. (Later, Jaffer became a lobbyist for an outfit called Green Power. That was before there was a snitch line for un-Albertan activities, but, regardless, it doesn't seem like that worked out all that well for him.)

Depending on whom you listen to, there may or may not have been a little tension between Duncan and Alberta's previous NDP government led by Rachel Notley, MLA for the provincial Edmonton-Strathcona riding and an enthusiastic backer of bitumen pipelines.

But like Notley's government, those days now appear to be over. Duncan is about to retire, and NDP candidate Heather McPherson should be acceptable to all. McPherson is a former teacher and an executive for nonprofit organizations.

So as long as neither the Greens nor the Liberals come up with a candidate strong enough to split the vote in a riding that features the University of Alberta at one end and slightly bluer suburbs at the other, there should still be a small patch of orange on the Alberta electoral map after October 21.

As for the four ridings that went Liberal in the 2015 federal election, two in Calgary and two in Edmonton, that's unlikely to happen this time.

Somehow Trudeau went and made himself unpopular in these parts -- in spite of spending more money here than his predecessor, Conservative Stephen Harper did, and buying an uneconomic pipeline to help keep the place afloat. But go figure, nothing satisfies Albertans if your name happens to be Trudeau.

Calgary's quota of Liberals was reduced by 50 per cent in 2017, after Calgary Skyview MP Darshan Kang resigned from the party's caucus amid allegations of sexual harassment. Trudeau later made it clear he would never be welcomed back. Calgary Centre MP Kent Hehr, who had joined Trudeau's cabinet in 2015, resigned from cabinet last year after allegations of sexual harassment, but remains in caucus.

These two were the first Liberals elected in Calgary since 1968, and it seems highly likely under the circumstances that thanks to their tawdry performances the Liberals will be done like dinner in Cowtown on October 21.

There's been nothing wrong with either the personal behaviour or political performances of Edmonton Liberal MPs Randy Boissonnault (Edmonton Centre), and Amarjeet Sohi (Edmonton Mill Woods). Boissonnault is a former Rhodes scholar and journalist, and is the first openly gay MP to be elected in this province. Sohi, a former Edmonton city councillor, has proved to be an effective and hard-working member of Trudeau's cabinet as minister of infrastructure and later minister of natural resources.

But so what? This is Alberta, and re-election for either man will be a challenge because of the current mood of the province, the PM's popularity deficit hereabouts, polls that reflect both factors, and the history of the place.

Still, Edmonton's a pretty progressive town and Sohi is like Brian Mason, the former leader of the provincial NDP -- both got a start as bus drivers and union members and turned into able political campaigners. So maybe he has a chance. In your blogger's opinion, he certainly deserves it.

As for non-Conservatives with a chance of going to Ottawa as MPs among the sea of Conservative non-entities we send east and then forget about, that's pretty well it or I'll eat my national pundits union card on October 22.

As noted above, things are only a little harder than normal for federal Liberals around here. Blogger and inveterate chart-maker Dave Cournoyer illustrated in a graphic on social media earlier this week that the overwhelming level of support for the federal Conservatives looks much the same election after election in this province.

This may explain why Conservative governments in Ottawa take us for granted. It doesn't explain why Liberal governments pay so much attention to us or, for that matter, why Alberta voters continue to encourage this situation.

I'm sorry, readers, I don't have any more insights into this mystery.

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 blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David J. Climenhaga

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