A Liberal fight in Conservative Alberta – what this election could mean to you

The campaign trail is always a long and tiring one. For federal Liberals in Alberta, it might also be an uphill climb.

Amarjeet Sohi is one of three Liberals in the province running for re-election. On a sunny evening, just days into the fall campaign, Sohi knocks on doors in his Edmonton-Mill Woods constituency, asking many of the people who answer just one question.

“I’m here to ask you if I am living up to your expectations as your member of Parliament,” he asks.

Story continues below

Sohi hopes to hear support — he needs it. In 2015, he beat Conservative Tim Uppal by a mere 92 votes. Four years later, the incumbent faces the same challenger but under different circumstances.

Economic pain in Alberta, coupled with pipeline delays, have plagued the federal Liberals on the Prairies and Sohi has been the point man on the pipeline file. Since last July, he has been the Minister of Natural Resources.

Some of the answers he gets to his “living up to your expectations” question focuses on that anger.

“Absolutely we hear concerns around pipelines, but we understand in order to move forward on large energy projects, we need to fix the process,” Sohi says.

“I have been having these conversations for the last four years, so these conversations are nothing new.”

Sohi is one of three Liberal MPs in Alberta running for re-election. He’s joined by Edmonton-Centre’s Randy Boissonnault and Calgary-Centre’s Kent Hehr.

On the same day as Sohi is doorknocking, Hehr also navigates his community and talks to voters. At one door, he begins explaining the federal carbon tax and how it puts a price on carbon.

“For what purpose though?” asks the voter. Hehr brings up climate change and the voter is dismissive, saying “the entire economy and a lot of political parties are scaring people with climate change.”

READ MORE: Alberta Premier vows to campaign to keep federal Liberals from second term

Despite discussions like this, Hehr paints a rosy picture of his campaign so far.

“This is my fourth election running as a Liberal in this city,” he says. “I can say I have never had it better on the doors. [I’ve] never felt better about a campaign, never raised as much money, never had as many volunteers.”

His Conservative opponent, Greg McLean, doubts any of that will translate to votes for Liberals.

“A lot has changed in four years. People have actually seen what electing a Liberal government has done,” McLean says. “To give them another four years, I think, would be a travesty.”

Not surprisingly, McLean’s colleague (and Sohi’s rival) Tim Uppal says he’s hearing the same thing from his Edmonton constituents.

“I’m talking to a lot people who did support the Liberals or Amarjeet Sohi in the last election who are now saying, ‘You know what? We are just so frustrated with Justin Trudeau.’ So many people are saying, ‘Forget it. We’re voting for change this time and we’re going to vote Conservative.’”

READ MORE: Edmonton a key battleground in 2019 federal election: political scientist

Clearly, voter assessments from the candidates are unscientific, at best. That’s where Faron Ellis comes in. He teaches at Lethbridge College and his students conduct polling.

The most recent poll shows Conservative support in Alberta exceeding 70 per cent. But even the political scientist says you don’t need science to understand this election.

“The results in Alberta are pretty much predetermined,” Ellis says.

“All the incumbent Liberals are going to have a tough time retaining their seats, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all it it’s a Conservative sweep.

“It’s conceivable [Justin Trudeau] might be wiped out in Saskatchewan as well. It might not be just Alberta, there may be two provinces where Liberals have no elected representation.”

What that could mean to Albertans depends largely on who wins the election.

The same polls that say Alberta will reject the Liberals also say the party could hang on to power nationally.

“A re-elected Justin Trudeau is going to have a very difficult job getting an Alberta voice around the cabinet table,” Ellis says.

Minimal regional cabinet representation wouldn’t be a first for Alberta.

For most of the governments led by Jean Chrétien, there were only two Alberta MPs.

In 1980, when Justin Trudeau’s father — Pierre Trudeau — beat Joe Clark, no Liberals were elected west of Manitoba. In order to get regional representation in cabinet, the elder Trudeau appointed Alberta senators to his cabinet.

Clark did the same thing in 1979 when his crop of PC MPs included only one from Quebec.

Justin Trudeau might have a difficult time following that parliamentary practice if he loses a number of his western MPs. There are no more Liberal senators and Trudeau has only appointed Independents.

Ellis points out that a minority government is also a possibility. Depending on the size of the minority, a strong showing from the Green Party could lead to a scenario where a Liberal government, propped up by the Green Party, is working to build the Trans-Mountain pipeline and no Albertans are at the cabinet table.

“The outcome will be hugely significant,” Ellis says.

READ MORE: Analysis: A Scheer victory does not guarantee carbon tax repeal

However, the possible scenarios for Albertans aren’t limited to ones involving a Liberal government.

If the Conservatives win nationally, Ellis points out Andrew Scheer would have plenty of Alberta-based cabinet options from which to choose.

“I’d be very surprised if Michelle Rempel is not in a Conservative cabinet,” he says.

Ellis says Edmonton-Wetaskiwin’s Mike Lake could be another consideration, or Ron Liepert from Calgary-Signal Hill. Liepert hasn’t been around federal politics for long but he served in Alberta’s provincial cabinet.

Ellis also says there may be room for some young faces like Michael Cooper or Garnett Genuis. He also points out that the party has seen a lot of turnover since Stephen Harper lost in 2015. Only nine candidates from the Harper years remain.

It is unlikely many of the candidates are thinking much about their cabinet chances.

There are still five weeks of campaigning left, five more weeks of doorknocking and debating with the hopes of attracting a few more voters.

At this point, the Conservatives and the Liberals both say they’re feeling pretty confident about their chances in Alberta.

History has shown Canadians a couple of things: First, polls done early haven’t always proven accurate; second, campaigns matter, perhaps even this year in Alberta.