"The world needs to know the great work we've done to combat climate change."
So stated Kyle Fawcett, Alberta's environment minister, in a December press release issued just before he left to attend yet another useless annual UN climate change conference. It was an indisputably silly suggestion. The province's climate record is horrendous: in 2012, 36 percent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions came courtesy of Alberta, despite the province only housing 11 percent of the population (that's what happens when coal's burned for electricity and the economy's anchored by 350 tonne trucks scooping bitumen). But Fawcett's language was extremely calculated. He's a member of the Progressive Conservatives.
"The PC party knows how to win elections," notes Greg Clark, leader of the centrist Alberta Party and candidate for Calgary-Elbow. "They're terrible at governing, but they sure know how to win elections."
It might seem like an oversimplification given the current economic circumstances, but there appear to be two fundamental issues that could help define the remainder of the decade for Alberta—perhaps even the century. Firstly, there's the environmental piece. There's a lot of chatter these days about "social license." When industries lose it, companies can't sell their product. Alberta dilbit now travels with the facetious nickname of "dirty oil." The economy will continue to falter unless that's rectified.
But given Premier Jim Prentice's self-proclaimed mandate to make Alberta "an aggressive and successful player in global markets," the more relevant element might be that of elections. Granted, such a discussion is incredibly boring compared to talking about wolf culls or fracking fluid. But since the PCs have ruled without real competition since 1971, there's been no meaningful opposition to counter their blatant populism. Unfortunately, our country's environmental legacy hinges on that reality.
The only solution for progressive politicians seems to be a strategic approach to election campaigns that minimizes vote splitting, democracy be damned. And in what looks to be a possible election year, that's why Janet Keeping, leader of the Alberta Green Party, wants to start a conversation about the centre-left collaborating: "Progressive parties should cooperate and not knock each other off, because we need a change of government and that has to be the overriding concern," Keeping says.
Earlier this month, Keeping announced that she was stepping out of the race for the Calgary-Fort riding as Joe Ceci, former long-time alderman, had been nominated to run for the NDP in the same region. The Green Party is by no means a major player in Alberta (they've never won a seat), but Keeping reckons that any edge that could help with Ceci's success is a step towards stopping the PCs and what many consider their legacy of intentional ecocide. In addition, the Greens have committed to not run in any ridings where there are incumbent Liberal and NDPs.
Incidentally, she's now running in Calgary-Foothills—Prentice's riding. It's good publicity, she says.
Others aren't convinced that such a tactic—or similar ideas such as the recently rejected proposal for the Liberals and Alberta Party to merge, or the peculiar announcement that long-time Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman would run as a Liberal, Green and, Alberta Party candidate on election literature—will work. Mount Royal University policy studies chair Duane Bratt, for instance, suggests that the NDP are on the verge of a breakout in Edmonton and a few downtown Calgary ridings, so it wouldn't make sense for them to cooperate. Also, he says that the issue of vote splitting is confined to a few urban ridings, and such efforts don't address the rural success that the farther-right Wildrose Party had in 2012.
"The problem with the riding-by-riding type of cooperation is they're competitive in the same ridings," he says, noting that parties can't swap ridings to run in when they only have a chance to win in the same spots.
Still, some press on. Brian Singh, a key player in getting Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi first elected back in 2010, is revamping a brainchild of his from a 2012 federal by-election; back then, Chris Turner of the Greens and Harvey Locke of the Liberals, both superstars in the realm of environmental activism, attracted 58 per cent of the vote, allowing Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt to collect the seat with only 36 per cent. Titled 1AlbertaVote, Singh's recently launched campaign's attempts to coalesce support behind a single non-right candidate per riding to avoid the dreaded vote split.
However, Bill Moore-Kilgannon—the executive director of Public Interest Alberta—contends that it's more about better informing people; it's essential to tie people's personal lives to politics, he says, allowing individuals to see their stresses as linked to decisions made in the provincial legislature rather than blaming themselves for faults. But he admits that there's a "cognitive dissonance for voters" on the subject of the environment, largely due to the PCs successful campaign to "create a divide and rule with jobs versus the environment." Which is completely false, he adds.
The provincial government has already delayed the release of frameworks on climate change and renewable energy; the former was meant to be issued at the end of 2014, the latter has been discussed since 2007. Clark of the Alberta Party calls the delays "absolutely inexcusable," exemplifying "a complete lack of leadership or vision on Prentice's part." Mike Hudema, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace, notes that even doubling the province's carbon levy would only elevate its significance from "meaningless" to "pathetic," pointing to the oft-quoted stat that 80 percent of current fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change.
"Our democracy's in a pathetic state here," Keeping concludes. "We can't go on this way environmentally. The future just can't be like the past."
Follow James Wilt on Twitter.