Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The rift between Premier Rachel Notley’s Alberta New Democrats and the federal NDP led by Jagmeet Singh over the Trans Mountain Pipeline is wide and deep, but it is not unbridgeable – yet.

That could soon change, though, if two likely political scenarios unfold in tandem: an early federal election and a decision by Mr. Singh not to sign the nomination papers of any candidate closely associated with the Notley Government to run in the federal Edmonton Strathcona riding.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

If both were to happen, it is hard not to see how it could fail to wreck the traditional relationship between the two branches of the party – not to mention the ability of the federal NDP to elect a candidate in the only Alberta federal riding where it has enjoyed repeated success.

How such a split might look on paper – since traditionally the federal NDP and its provincial parties are tightly integrated – is hard to say. But one way or another, there would be serious repercussions.

Now, it is not a certainty either of these things will happen. But this much we know for sure: Linda Duncan, 69 – the NDP Member of Parliament who has held Edmonton Strathcona for three terms over the past decade – announced last month she is retiring and will not seek re-election. A new candidate must be found.

Edmonton Strathcona NDP Member of Parliament Linda Duncan (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

As for an early federal election, there is a compelling case for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to call one.

Veteran Parliamentary reporter Susan Delacourt wrote in iPolitics last month that “conditions are almost perfect for a snap election.”

Among the things benefitting Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Government, she noted, was not just the increasingly sharp division between the Alberta NDP and the federal party, but the outright split on the right between federal Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer and the rebellious Tory libertarians led by Maxime Bernier.

“Divided opposition parties help keep incumbent governments in power,” Ms. Delacourt wrote, “as former prime ministers Jean Chrétien or Stephen Harper would surely attest.”

Former federal NDP strategist Robin Sears made a similar case yesterday in the Toronto Star.

Now a high-profile lobbyist in Ottawa, Mr. Sears points to the potential state of the economy now versus a year from now, the impact of the attacks on Canada by U.S. President Donald Trump that are likely if his Republicans lose big in November’s midterm elections, and the potential for changing political equations in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec as also pushing Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals toward an election sooner than later.

Former federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Meanwhile, Mr. Singh has announced he is running for Parliament in the Burnaby South by-election – for which a date has not yet been set. So by personal political necessity, he is now all but locked into an environmental position at odds with Ms. Notley’s government.

As a result, the belief is gaining currency in Alberta NDP circles that the gulf between pipeline opponents in the federal NDP and supporters of Premier Notley’s vigorous pro-pipeline campaign in Alberta will irresistibly tempt Mr. Singh to refuse to approve any candidate for the Edmonton Strathcona nomination who is tied to the Alberta NDP.

Political commentator and former NDP strategist Robin Sears (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

If Mr. Singh were a stronger leader, more certain of his control of the party he was elected to lead in October 2017, he might take a chance on a candidate associated with support for the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project in Alberta.

But Mr. Singh has proved to be a disappointment to many New Democrats. He is now struggling to retain credibility amid the federal party’s apparent slide in voter support and financial donations. If there were an NDP leadership review this year, political commentator Chantal Hebert wrote in the Toronto Star on Friday, Mr. Singh “would likely be handed his walking papers.”

Well, maybe. New Democrats used to be more forgiving of unsuccessful leaders, and many may still be rattled by their impetuous dismissal of Thomas Mulcair in Edmonton in March 2017. That, as it turned out, was also the moment the divide in the NDP over oil and gas development became evident to the public.

Experienced high-profile candidates closely identified with the Notley NDP who should be in the running to replace Ms. Duncan are now seriously reassessing whether to bother in the present circumstances.

If Mr. Singh wants the federal party to survive in Alberta he would be wise to send them a signal he will approve their selection as the candidate by constituency association members.

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  1. just a guess, of course…but… If the CPC finds a reasonable candidate without whackjob islamaphobia social media posts, for Strathcona, they’ll win whenever the election happens, mostly b/c conservative voter turnout is likely to ramp up, a lot, due to the fear/anger whipped up by Kenney and his PR cheerleaders in the MSM against climate plans/pricing carbon (ooops… ‘carbon taxes’), and b/c the progressive vote in Strathcona will be split again betwen Lib’s and NDP.

    1. Sam, I live in Edmonton Strathcona and I am sharing your fear. I am already wondering how I will vote in the next election. If there is a silver lining to the riding going to the CPC, it is knowing how much it will stick in Stephen Harper’s craw that it didn’t happen during his reign.

  2. The rift is also between Ms. Notley and environmentalists and those worried about climate change. I do not live in Alberta now but my family came there, my mother’s to the Peace River country in 1882, and my father’s to the Cypress Hills in 1892, so I am a real Albertan. I have also voted CCF or NDP my whole life. Watched the province give away its wealth for years, but I am also a lover of the BC and island coast and an oil spill there is not acceptable. It doesn’t matter what Notley or Trudeau or anyone else wants. It is wrong.

  3. I have to wonder how many AB NDP MLAs, party stalwarts, and supporters were pro-pipeline before Notley came along.
    Would they have approved the pro-pipeline agenda, the hyperbolic rhetoric, the extortionist tactics, and childish petulance on display if they were still in opposition?
    Or has Rachel Notley led them astray?
    Will they blindly follow Rachel Notley off the progressive map and into political oblivion?
    Or will they at long last return to their senses?
    And to the NDP fold?

    1. Sigh, it’s getting harder to refute Geoffrey Pounder. In today’s (September 10) Toronto Star Ms. Notley is quoted as saying that without TMX “the ongoing pipeline bottlenecks will continue to cost Alberta $40 million a day in a discounted price for oil.” There doesn’t seem to be any economic basis for that claim, or rather it would need to be substantially modified to read that Alberta is losing a lot due to not having upgrader capacity for its bitumen.

      I have looked, and not seen anywhere, an economic case made for the proposition that there is demand for Alberta dilbit in Asia. Most Chinese crude imports are light crude from Africa, Russia and the Middle East.

      Last May 2, in a comment on Alberta Politics I talked about the difference in price between dilbit and upgraded crude, versus West Texas Intermediate (WTI) Here’s that comment with up-to date pricing for comparison:

      While poking around at market oil prices, I noticed that while Western Canadian Select (WCS), which is dilbit, does sell at a substantial discount from WTI, upgraded dilbit is selling for a much higher price.

      On May 2, WTI was at (all prices in US$) $67.69. On September 10 it’s $67.56. In May WCS was at $48.85 (72% of WTI), while on September 7 it’s at $34.25 (50.7% of WTI). So certainly dilbit has sagged badly. But Albian Heavy Synthetic (AHS*) was at $65.85 (97% of WTI) in May, and $64.90 in September (96% of WTI).

      *AHS is a partially upgraded dilbit produced from the Scotford Upgrader. Doesn’t that mean that the real path to higher prices for Alberta Oil is to increase upgrader capacity? Interestingly that’s pretty much what Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union and largest energy industry union, has been saying for years.

  4. So poor are relations that the provincial wing of the NDP is, at least informally, considering splitting with the federal wing.
    There is certainly minimal co-operation between both wings on matters such as sharing supporters’ lists. And, we witness the open hostilities between the provincial and federal leaders. All bad signs and detrimental to the future of the NDP in Alberta and nationally. Trying as I am to contort myself into supporting both, I’m just left with a pain in the back. Things likely won’t end well for either wing — or my wellbeing, for that matter.

  5. “If Mr. Singh wants the federal party to survive in Alberta he would be wise to send them a signal he will approve their selection as the candidate by constituency association members.” Clarification? He would be wise to let local party members choose a pro-Notley candidate?

  6. Rachel Notley is Premier of Alberta mostly because Jim Prentice and his Conservative government blamed Alberta’s citizens for the economic problems caused by the price of oil dropping from $110 per barrel to about $50 per barrel. Prentice told Albertans to look in the mirror for the reason why the provincial government was instituting austerity measures that would cause further hardship to citizens who had no role in creating the province’s economic problems. When many Albertans had already lost their former oil patch jobs they instead decided to throw out the Conservative government in favour of the NDP.

    Notley, however once in the Premier’s chair changed her plans to get a larger share of oil revenue and decided to try to work with the oil industry much to the chagrin of loyal party members who wanted the party to keep its promises.

    With the Alberta media and right wing opposition claiming that the UCP would make everything the way it was in the good old days, Notley decided to out conservative the conservatives in her support of Trans Mountain.

    Now, there is no proof that countries other than the US will pay more for the more costly to refine oil/tar sands oil than light sweet crude from the middle east, Trans Mountain likely won’t deliver Alberta to the promised land of prosperity if it ever gets built.

    A Premier Jason Kenney will do no better than Jim Prentice and will likely re-institute the austerity measures so favoured by neo conservative/neo liberal governments as the answer to government’s economic problems.

    Alberta’s economic problems were a long time in the making and there will be no quick fix by electing the people who caused those problems half a century and more in the past.

  7. It is not just a gulf between Alberta and the Federal NDP.

    It is a chasm between Canadian voters and the Federal NDP. This is only going to end one way.

    Whose idea was it to vote against Mulcair anyway? Federal NDP are not ready for prime time…heck it is like the Keystone Cops watching that gang. The work pathetic comes to mind.

    Notley is very wise to put as much distance between her and the Federal wing of the Party.

    1. Mulcair had to go. He only had to keep his mouth shut on the issue of a balanced budget and the NDP would likely have formed the government in 2016. Instead he announced that an NDP government would balance the budget (keep in mind the Conservative and Liberals hadn’t balanced the budget for many years). That single act opened the left for the Liberals and Justin Trudeau.

      Now, it is true that the Liberals promise anything to get elected and promptly forget all left leaning promises once they have been elected.

      I liked Mulcair and in 2014 I wrote him a letter warning him not to move to the centre right which is the ground Liberals like to occupy. In that letter I told him that if he did mover to the centre right, voters would vote for the real thing (Liberals) every time which is exactly what they did. Thus Mulcair showed he did not have an awareness of political realities. We all know now what I told him not to do and he went ahead and made his foolish statement and blew the best chance the federal NDP ever had.

      I don’t claim to be a political strategist but it doesn’t take a strategist to see what has happened so many times in the past.

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