As Albertans continue to soak up the second half of a summer filled with patios, barbecues, campfires and festivals, it pains me to intrude on the bliss with a political public service announcement.
For those still recovering from the hyper-partisan slugfest that was the provincial election, here’s your warning the over-the top sequel is just around the corner.
Six weeks are all that remain until the federal election race officially gets underway, when lawn chairs will be replaced with lawn signs, and the airwaves will be ablaze with attack ads.
While many of you probably aren’t eager to think about this just yet, here are some cocktail-sipping questions to ponder about how the federal race could play out in Alberta.
Will the election be at all competitive in Alberta?
Though polls show a very close race nationally, it’s increasingly hard to imagine Alberta’s 34-seat electoral map ending in anything but a solid wall of Tory blue.
However, there are two or three seats in Edmonton that may prove to be a fight. In particular, the Liberals will be pulling out all the stops to see Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi survive in Edmonton Mill Woods.
While I’d put Sohi’s fortunes roughly on par with that of the Oilers, local Liberal insiders tell me there is a better chance of re-electing Randy Boissonnault in Edmonton Centre, or picking up the Edmonton Strathcona riding being vacated by the NDP’s Linda Duncan.
How active will Premier Jason Kenney be during the campaign?
In short, very.
As most of Alberta is already sold on defeating the Liberals, Kenney’s efforts to bring down Justin Trudeau will be focused on persuading swing regions in other parts of the country, which could include parts of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
At this point, it is unclear how often Kenney plans to do that from his pulpit in Alberta or whether he will actually travel to those regions to campaign.
With Ontario Premier Doug Ford increasingly becoming a liability to federal Tory leader Andrew Scheer, Kenney could be a needed weapon.
That said, some of his rhetoric isn’t likely to play as well outside of Alberta, and could produce more irritation than inspiration.
What is Kenney’s nightmare scenario?
Given his aggressive campaigning against Trudeau, any Liberal victory would create an awkward working situation for Kenney for the next four years.
In that vein, the scariest scenario for Kenney, and for many Albertans, is a Liberal minority government with the NDP and/or the Green party holding the balance of power.
Polls indicate that is a real possibility.
Still, having to calm the waters with Trudeau is not the only problem Kenney would face. He may also have to do it with his base.
Remember the premier has not been shy about exploiting a rise in separatist sentiments in Alberta, and has even gone so far as to suggest a Liberal triumph would exacerbate those views, impair the provincial economy and even potentially lead to national unity crisis.
Should Trudeau win, Kenney, who claims to be a devout federalist, could easily find himself in the position of having to cool the anger and fear he helped to stoke — like trying to get the tiger back in the cage after letting it loose.
About the only silver lining for Kenney would be that he continues to have Trudeau available as political punching bag.
Does Kenney have ambitions to go back to federal politics?
Asked this week about the possibility of returning to the federal scene if Scheer loses, Kenney answered with a definitive no.
And I agree it seems improbable that after working for close to three years to become premier of Alberta, Kenney would suddenly abandon that post after only a year or so on the job.
Still, this is a rumour that refuses to go away.
Part of it is that Kenney’s mind often seems to be back in Ottawa, while at the same time he has worked hard to establish himself as one of the chief power brokers, or spiritual leaders, of the conservative movement in Canada.
Should he want Scheer’s job, it’s not a stretch to think he could take it.
Who will Rachel Notley vote for?
Kenney has asked this very question a number of times in public, with a certain gleeful self satisfaction, because he knows there is no obvious choice for the provincial NDP leader.
It’s safe to say Notley’s vote won’t go to Scheer, but the other options can’t be much more appealing.
Would Notley vote for her federal NDP counterpart Jagmeet Singh, a leader she has characterized as naïve, elitist and thoughtless toward working people?
Not likely. And the same goes for Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.
That leaves Trudeau, whose pipeline blunders and support for Bills C-69 and C-48, among other things, helped to ensure the Alberta NDP’s defeat last spring.
Given those offerings, Notley’s best choice on election day may be to stay home.