Economy centre stage in April election in Canada's Alberta province
(Adds Jason Kenney quote)
By Nia Williams
CALGARY, Alberta, March 19 (Reuters) - The western Canadian
province of Alberta will hold an election on April 16,
kick-starting a contest that many polls suggest will result in a
change of government in the country's oil-producing heartland as
it struggles with a sluggish economy.
Premier Rachel Notley's left-leaning New Democratic Party
won a shock victory in traditionally conservative Alberta in
2015, ending 44 years of conservative rule, but inherited a
provincial economy rocked by the collapse of global oil prices.
Notley was initially an ally of Liberal Prime Minister
Justin Trudeau and backed his attempts to please the oil
industry and environmentalists by championing export pipelines
while also introducing carbon pricing.
The relationship soured last year over efforts to expand the
Trans Mountain pipeline, prompting Notley to pull her support
for Trudeau's carbon plan. Ottawa bought the pipeline, whose
expansion remains delayed.
The opposition has criticized Notley for her alliance with
Trudeau, who is viewed by some Albertans as out of touch with
the oil industry's woes.
Alberta's government has grappled with weak oil prices,
persistent budget deficits and a dearth of new export pipelines
that left the landlocked province's crude building up in
storage, resulting in the discount on Canadian heavy crude
blowing out to record levels last year.
As a last resort, Alberta took the controversial step of
curtailing oil production to help prop up prices and investing
in railcars to move more crude to market, a move that earned
approval from some cash-strapped producers in the province's
dominant oil industry, and outrage from critics.
Announcing the date of the election in the oil industry's
corporate hub Calgary on Tuesday, Notley emphasized her
government's commitment to health and education and its efforts
to revitalize Alberta's economy.
"Since the oil price collapsed I know these last few years
have been scary for a lot of families and I have worked day and
night with my team to fight this recession and bring our economy
back," she told supporters.
Opinion polls suggest Notley could be the first one-term
premier in Alberta's history, and cede power to opposition
leader Jason Kenney of the United Conservative Party, a former
top federal cabinet minister.
The UCP have been consistently ahead in the polls since last
year. An Ipsos/Global News poll on Tuesday said 53 percent of
Albertans would vote for the UCP if an election were held today,
versus 35 percent for the NDP.
Notley criticized Kenney for recent allegations that he was
involved in an ethically dubious campaign to discredit a rival
in the UCP leadership contest in 2017.
Kenney has denied any wrongdoing, but some political
analysts say the scandal will dog his party's election bid.
"If you add up the number of actual (UCP) party members to
come out and publicly speak against Jason Kenney, this is
significant," said Lori Williams, a political science professor
at Calgary's Mount Royal University. "But is it going to be
enough to shift undecided voters? That remains to be seen."
In light of the allegations, Notley and the NDP are likely
to make issues of integrity, equality and trust a central part
of their campaign, Williams said.
Kenney brushed off the scandal, saying his party would be
focused on jobs, the economy and getting pipelines built.
"Are you better off than you were four years ago? That's the
question Albertans will be asking when they choose their new
government," he told reporters in Edmonton. "The NDP has to
resort to the politics of personal destruction because they
cannot defend the worst economic record in modern Alberta
(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, G Crosse and James Dalgleish)
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