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Alberta Election: Doom for Keystone XL, Hope for South Dakota Democrats?

My Canadian correspondent Barbara notes the surprising results of Tuesday’s provincial elections in Alberta. South Dakotans may want to take note for two reasons.

First, as Salon eloquently puts it, “Alberta just elected a bunch of Keystone XL-hating socialists.” New Democratic Party leader (soon to be Premier) Rachel Notley says she won’t lobby for Keystone XL in Washington, D.C., as past Alberta premiers have. Notley has said Keystone XL is too mired in legal and political battles; instead she’ll focus on refining the tar sands oil closer to home and shipping it east and west through Canada. Notley also wants to review the royalties Alberta charges energy companies, meaning  the province could raise the cost of mining the tar sands oil TransCanada wants to ship across South Dakota to the Gulf of Mexico.

Keystone XL may thus be toast, which would allow victorious prairie activists to turn their attention to other threats to the environment.

Second, the NDP’s swift, sudden upset of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative long-standing regime—the PC had a lock on Alberta for 44 years—may be inspirational, if not instructive, to South Dakotans hoping for local regime change. Consider these maps from the CBC showing which party held Alberta’s “ridings” (that’s their version of legislative districts) in 2012 and what happened Tuesday night.

Alberta Party Shift 2012-2015 Calgary Party Shift 2012-2015 Edmonton Party Shift 2012-2015


From just four Edmonton ridings out of 87 in the Alberta Legislative Assembly, NDP orange washed over 53 ridings in Alberta’s largest cities and the north and west regions of the province, while the right-wing Wild Rose Party (yes, say that three times fast) scooped up PC rural holdings. The PCs held 70 seats before the election; they now hold 10.

That unforeseen reversal belied the NDP’s recently bleak outlook:

Not so long ago the NDP could only look on in frustration as Alberta’s disenchantment with the PCs led to a formidable challenge from the right. If Albertans wanted change, it seemed, they would bring forth the Wildrose Party as though from Ralph Klein’s rib. Alberta voters suffered from some sort of collective psychosomatic neck pain that prevented them from even turning their heads to the left. Being the NDP in Alberta was like being the Catholic Church in Saudi Arabia [Steve Burgess, “Go Home, Alberta, Said the Nation on Tuesday. You’re Drunk,” National Post, 2015.05.06].

Sound familiar, South Dakota Democrats?

How did Notley lead her party to this victory? University of Saskatchewan poli-sci prof Daniel Béland says by tapping populism and changing demographics while tamping back fears of radicalism:

“Notley was able to reassure people that she was someone credible, and someone who was not a radical who would try to really do things that the majority of the population would strongly oppose,” Béland told CBC News on Tuesday.

Béland said Alberta’s political history shows a deep populist streak, going back to the Social Credit. That populism was missing from former Alberta PC premiers Ed Stelmach and Jim Prentice, he added.

And according to Béland the province’s demographics have changed. A significant portion of the population was not born in Alberta [“NDP Win in Alberta ‘Stunning’ Says U of S Professor,”].

Changing demographics—ah, so that’s why GOED is ignoring immigration.

The NDP’s routing of Alberta conservatives is not necessarily an exact roadmap for South Dakota Democrats to follow to a majority in Pierre. It’s simply a political and historical lesson that, given a good party leader and an opposing party leaning too much toward hubris and corporate welfare, the Left’s political fortunes can change in a single election.

p.s.: I don’t know if this move would spark any political revolutions, but it would be another way to end the need for oil pipelines: Hawaii’s legislature has passed a renewable fuel standard calling for all electricity in the state to be produced by solar, wind, and other renewable sources by 2045. Keep working on batteries and electric cars, and who’ll need tar sands oil?


  1. Paul Seamans 2015-05-07 20:44

    I try to follow the news coming out of Canada related to tarsands development and pipelines but the election results came as somewhat of a surprise. I don’t recall seeing much press on it. It could be very big news as regards the Keystone XL presidential permit.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-07 21:19

    Canada is right on our border, but we hear almost nothing about their national elections when they happen. I’m not surprised we heard nothing about the provincial election in Alberta. DRA and the indigenous protest groups need to keep up their pressure, but the counter-pressure from the Alberta government just went poof.

  3. Barbara 2015-05-07 21:44

    Great analysis Cory. Hope there’s more good news like this for Free Presses on both sides of the border.

  4. Sam@ 2015-05-07 22:13

    Time to quit the games on this issue and build the Keystone as fast as possible. Another dangerous situation created again this week in North Dakota. It is ridiculous to see this type of protest greeting our president.

    I would think these people would have better things to do like digging trenches for the Keystone

  5. Paul Seamans 2015-05-07 22:36

    The story that I read about the rail spill in North Dakota was Bakken Crude, not Alberta tarsands crude. The Bakken crude is much more volatile than tarsands crude. The Keystone XL is proposed to ship tarsands dilbit (diluted bitumen), not Bakken crude. Building the Keystone XL would do nothing to stop the Bakken crude fires. As a landowner along the proposed Keystone XL route I can assure that this fight against the pipeline is not a game.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-08 06:34

    Games, Sam? The new premier of Alberta says the pipeline is not a priority for her province and sees better ways to refine and ship her province’s product. Why should we argue with that?

    Right on, Paul: fighting eminent domain for foreign companies is no game. It’s a deadly serious question of American sovereignty.

  7. Nick Nemec 2015-05-08 09:30

    The rise of the New Democratic Party and fall of the Progressive Conservatives in Alberta is a lesson for South Dakota Democrats. The Alberta populist streak also exists here in SD. South Dakota voters will only put up with businessmen like Trail King CEO Bruce Yakley, who has been slurping at the public trough kept full by Dennis Daugaard, blaming all their problems on their employees in an effort to distract from stupid management decisions, for so long. Trail King is not the only example, just the most high profile.

    South Dakota has been bending over for business too long, how has that helped average South Dakotans?

  8. barry freed 2015-05-08 11:17

    The only hope for Democrats in SD is for every one of them to change their Party registrations to Republican, then all claim to ronald reagan republicans. What would the “R” checkers do, become informed about issues and candidates to ferret out the true believers?
    (insert laughing chicken here)

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-08 17:49

    Never, Barry. We win straight up, authentically, as who we are.

  10. Les 2015-05-08 18:44

    “”””Never, Barry. We win straight up, authentically, as who we are.””””When in Rome…..There are a great many from your party who’ve migrated and you blame the GOP for the collusion of rascals from both parties, Cory.

    Mugwumps from both parties anihalate your dreams.

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