Orange peeled: Jason Kenney’s UCP defeats NDP with majority

Victoria Adria, 15, and Brooklyn Bears, 13, pose for a selfie at the United Conservative Party's headquarters on election night. JENNIFER FRIESEN PHOTO

Premier Rachel Notley and her NDP government is one and done, knocked from the saddle Tuesday by Jason Kenney whose United Conservatives won a majority in the Alberta election.

The UCP, formed two years ago by a merger of the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose parties, claimed the lion’s share of rural seats, and was leading or had captured many seats in Calgary.

Notley’s NDP held on to its traditional base in Edmonton, which it swept in 2015, but was losing in many of the surrounding municipalities, rural ridings and Calgary constituencies it captured four years ago.

Kenney, who won his riding in Calgary-Lougheed, is a former federal Conservative cabinet minister under Stephen Harper.

He will take the top job after successfully leveraging voter angst over Alberta’s sluggish economy with a jobs, jobs, jobs message and a promise to wage war on all who oppose its oil and gas industry, particularly Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Kenney has derisively called it “the Trudeau-Notley alliance” —a partnership he says has turned Alberta into a doormat for Trudeau and other oil industry foes in return for no more than a faint and as yet unrealized promise of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to the west coast.

Kenney has promised to kill Alberta’s homegrown carbon tax, fight the federal carbon tax in court, and do what he can to help the federal Conservatives defeat Trudeau in the federal October vote.

Trudeau was asked in Kitchener, Ont., earlier Tuesday whether he was concerned about his climate plan should Kenney win.

“We have chosen to put a price on pollution right across the country and there are conservative politicians who are using taxpayer money to fight a price on pollution in court,” he responded.

“They are using your dollars to try to make pollution free again, which makes no sense.”

Trudeau said the federal government would continue to work on growing the economy while tackling climate change in a smart way.

Once Kenney is sworn in, Canada will be back to having zero female premiers.

Notley’s NDP was trying to win a second mandate after toppling the wheezing, scandal-scarred 44-year Progressive Conservative dynasty in 2015 by winning 54 seats in the 87 legislature.

In the previous two decades, the NDP had never been able to elect more than four MLAs, and had been shut out of Calgary since the 1980s.

Interest in the election was high as leaders launched personal attacks while promoting their platforms as the best blueprint for Alberta’s fragile economy.

Almost 700,000 people voted in advance polls, well above the record 235,000 who did in 2015.

The province, once a money-making dynamo thanks to sky-high oil prices, has been struggling for years with sluggish returns on royalties, reduced drilling activity and unemployment levels stubbornly above seven per cent in Calgary and Edmonton.

Kenney argued that Notley’s government made a bad situation worse with higher taxes, more regulations and increases in minimum wage.

Notley, in turn, said Kenney’s plan to freeze spending and pursue more private-care options in health care would have a profound impact on students and patients.

Notley also tried to make Kenney’s character an issue. A number of his candidates either quit or apologized for past comments that were anti-LGBTQ, anti-Islamic or sympathetic to white nationalism.

On the margins of the campaign were the centrist Alberta and Liberal parties. Both elected single members to the 87-seat legislature last time around but were losing across the board in early returns.

Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel lost in Edmonton-McClung.

Kenney now turns his attention to a spring-summer sitting and a platform that includes undoing most of the signature elements of the last four years of changes under the NDP, starting with the provincial carbon tax on fossil-fuelled heating and gas at the pumps.

He has promised to repeal the NDP increase on corporate income tax and drop it to eight per cent. The minimum wage for youth is to be cut. Farm safety and injury compensation plans for farm workers is to be abolished and replaced. A $3.7-billion plan to lease rail cars to ship more oil is to be cancelled.

The climate change program is to be dismantled in favour of a plan to tax the emissions-intensity of major greenhouse gas operations. A large medical lab in Edmonton, part of a plan to consolidate tests, won’t proceed. Changes to overtime pay are to be rolled back.

A sweeping overhaul of school curriculums is also expected to be on hold.

Kenney also plans to fire a shot across the bow of the B.C. government on his first day in office. He has said he will proclaim a law passed by Notley’s government but never proclaimed.

The bill gives Alberta the power to reduce oil flows to B.C. in retaliation for its opposition to the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

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