Alberta election tests conservative far-right turn
Sitting on the terrace of a café overlooking a park commemorating the cradle of the vast oil industry in the western province of Canada, Alberta, Audrey Cerkvenac and Ernestine Dumont, wrestled with a political dilemma.
In a province long the epicenter of conservative politics in Canada, the two older women had been staunch conservative supporters.
But now, ahead of Monday’s provincial election, they said they had been disheartened by the strident right turn the province’s Conservative party had taken as it governed Alberta during the pandemic, fueled by extremist protests against Covid restrictions and baseless claims about vaccines.
The United Conservative Party’s shift to the right has put a province that was once a sure win for Canadian conservatives on the line in Monday’s election. Beyond a referendum on the party’s ideological turn, the vote could also serve as a gauge of the conservative position nationally.
Led by someone who compared those vaccinated against Covid-19 to Nazi supporters, Alberta’s Conservative Party has gone so far right since the pandemic that it has created an opening for the left-leaning New Democratic Party to take control of the province. A Conservative defeat in Alberta would be a blow to the political viability of Canada’s far right.
“The pandemic has allowed a radical right-wing group to grow” here, said Ms. Cerkvenac, a retired health administrator, who like Ms. Dumont said she would likely deface her ballot for the ‘Cancel. “I have to do what I can to try to stop this.”
Anger over pandemic rules, particularly vaccination mandates for cross-border travel, spawned convoys of truckers in Alberta that spread eastward, ultimately crippling Canada’s capital for nearly 100 years. a month and closing the border crossings.
The furor has also upended the political landscape, paving the way for a small, socially conservative faction of the United Conservative Party to install current Prime Minister and party leader Danielle Smith, 52, a former far-right columnist and talk show host – radio show.
After becoming prime minister last October, she said the unvaccinated were the “most discriminated group” she had seen in her lifetime, and in May a video surfaced showing her comparing people who had chosen to be vaccinated to Hitler’s supporters.
In a province with a large, long-standing Ukrainian community, she suggested that parts of Ukraine might “feel closer to Russia” and should break away. One of her first legislative acts was to sign legislation that she said would allow Alberta to ignore federal laws.
And Ms Smith broke ethics laws to intervene on behalf of a high-profile protester who was facing prosecution. Last week, the province’s ethics commissioner found she broke conflict of interest laws when she spoke to her attorney general on behalf of a pastor facing charges. criminals for inciting a border blockade in the context of the demonstrations.
“When you look at public opinion data from before Covid, during Covid and whatever that period is now; there’s something different about water in Alberta from a cultural and political perspective,” said Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary, the province’s largest city.
This difference could also surface in the next federal election.
Canada’s Conservatives will challenge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party in an election to be held by October 2025.
The federal Conservative Party has also replaced its leader during the pandemic with a combative right-wing politician, Pierre Poilievre, who greeted protesters from the truck convoy in Ottawa, the capital, with coffee and donuts and who shares Ms. Smith with provocative rhetoric.
On Monday, Alberta voters have a choice between the United Conservatives and the New Democrats, or NDP, who held power in Alberta from 2015 to 2019.
The NDP then seized power from the Conservatives, who had ruled Alberta from 1935 to 2015, taking advantage of divisions among Conservatives to narrowly win a resounding victory. They installed Rachel Notley, an advocate for labor groups, but her approval ratings plummeted when oil prices fell, decimating the province’s budget. The party lost power in 2019.
Ms. Notley, 59, is again representing the NDP in this election. During campaign stops, she portrays Ms Smith as unpredictable and promoting ideas most voters would reject, such as selling public hospitals to a for-profit company or charging patients fees for public hospitals – both seen as politically toxic in Canada.
“This election is about leadership and trust,” Notley said at a campaign rally in Calgary. “Albertans aren’t convinced they can count on her to protect our health care. ”
Ms Notley said she plans to expand public transport lines and build new schools and hospitals.
For her part, Ms Smith is warning voters that Ms Notley’s party is determined to embark on a spending spree that would inevitably lead to higher taxes.
Mrs. Smith promises crime reduction and tax cuts. She also looks to the United States to define her conservative values, calling Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, who has just announced his entry into the Republican presidential primary, “my hero”.
During a debate between the leaders of the two parties, Ms Smith sought to focus on Ms Notley’s performance as Prime Minister.
“SP. Notley likes to show grainy videos of things I said while I was on the radio and the reason she does that is because she doesn’t want to run over her case,” Ms Smith said. “And the reason she doesn’t want to run over her case is that it was an absolute disaster.”
To become prime minister again, Ms Notley would have to see her party win the most seats on Monday. His hopes largely hinge on his party’s performance in Calgary, which has historically been a shaky base of support for the left, according to Janet Brown, director of a Calgary-based polling firm. The New Democrats are already firmly in the lead in Edmonton, the provincial capital, and one of their traditional bases of support, according to polls.
“I don’t overlook any possible outcome,” she said.
A deciding factor, she said, could be the large and rapidly growing ethnic communities in Calgary.
At a sprawling community center in a Calgary neighborhood home to many South Asian immigrants, Rishi Nagar, the host of a local Punjabi-language morning radio show, said the United Conservatives had already alienated themselves from many South Asian voters before Ms Smith became leader.
His predecessor, Jason Kenney, appeared on his show and suggested that the high rates of Covid infections in South Asian communities were the result of their failure to adhere to public health restrictions, even though Mr Nagar and others Community leaders pointed out that they were working jobs that exposed them to the virus.
“We’re the people sitting at the grocery store counters,” he said. “We drive the taxis. We drive the buses. Don’t you think that’s the reason for the spread? »
He said many South Asian voters trust Ms Notley to provide more funding for schools and health care, even though her party is more left-wing than many of them. Voters may not be embracing his party, “but people like Rachel Notley,” he said. “People don’t like Danielle Smith.”
Ms. Smith continues to have support in rural Alberta.
At a high school event at the rodeo grounds in High River, Alberta, Ms Smith’s hometown, Frank McInenly, a retired auctioneer, said he had little use for public health measures and that he had only been vaccinated so that he could go on vacation to the United States.
“The whole Covid thing with these people walking around with these masks on, how stupid was that?” he said.
While Mr McInenly will speak at length about what he sees as Ms Notley’s shortcomings, he is less than enthusiastic about Ms Smith.
“She’s fine,” he said.
More than anything, Mr. McInenly’s vote reflects his desire to keep New Democrats out of power. “It’s really scary,” he said. “Because if the NDP comes back, we’re finished.”