By Medicine Hat News Opinon on March 8, 2018.
Alberta’s legislature convenes today to mark the opening of the spring session.
It’s also the unofficial one-year kickoff to the run up to next spring’s provincial election.
That’s the real prize for Alberta’s two largest parties as well as others hoping to make inroads in to the current two-party conversation.
The governing New Democrats have been pivoting towards the 2019 race for several months now.
Premier Rachel Notley — fresh of a trade battle with Saskatchewan and now in a trade showdown with British Columbia — appears to be back in campaign mode.
Announcements touting the recovering economy, new social spending and economic programs and increasingly tough talk on pipelines — uncharacteristic for the typically diplomatic Notley — have been flowing out for months.
That’s likely by design to counteract the growing presence and Jason Kenney in Alberta political scene.
Kenney, who has been in campaign mode for several years now, will make his debut United Conservative Party leader in the legislature today. That comes after a late year byelection victory and winning two separate party leadership races.
Throughout he’s lobbed all manner of shots at the government to the roaring cheers of party members he’s been trying to win over. A leadership contest and a general election are two different animals however.
That’s likely why we’ve seen a more subdued, more business-like set of marching orders for the UCP caucus of late. This week Kenney visited B.C. to paint his portrait as that of a statesmen ready to wield power to get agreements on pipeline development.
Gasoline prices already go as high at $1.50 per litre in the lower mainland, he told a business crowd, according to The Canadian Press, and he’s prepared to restrict crude shipments on existing lines.
He won’t have the chance for at least a year — and oil companies hate the idea — but he’s happy to leave the impression laying around that he’s already the strong leader ready to win this fight.
If that’s playing the Klein card, the NDP also played the Lougheed card.
Last week, the release of a economic diversification report was laced with references to Alberta’s grand old, much loved premier.
It’s time Alberta’s resources were better used for the betterment of Alberta, Notley said, recalling a Lougheedian vision “but those who came after lost their way.”
The coming session involves some subplots. Former Wildrose top-lieutenant Derek Fildebrandt is now cut loose from any political party, and former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean announced retirement from politics this week.
The Alberta Party has gained members and a new leader.
Regional southeast MLA Drew Barnes will see his second full session as the UCP finance critic.
But beyond the addition of Kenney to question period the main event is obviously the coming budget.
It’s the basically the third by the NDP, which inherited most of the 2015 budget after a spring election win, not to mention a recession and nose-dive in the oilpatch.
With the vote about 15 months away, Finance Minister Joe Ceci may need a homerun this month, then a grandslam in March 2019 to give his party any shot of maintaining government.
Such is the hill the NDP must climb to counteract the endless criticism leveled at it by opposition parties.
But that tact will change too.
Where once the NDP was credited with destroying the economy, the UCP will likely give credit to rising world oil prices for any improvement, likely in spite of any government action.
A large number of Albertans are predisposed to believe that sort of argument.
No matter the rising tide in the economy, the NDP will have a tough time winning non-core voters without a roadmap out of deficit.
If that happens, the UCP will have to reconsider if the coming race is such a foregone conclusion.
(Collin Gallant is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)
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