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Anticipating Alberta's Apathy

This Magazine Staff

IN EDMONTON
Hello? Can anybody hear me?
Probably not. According to the political compass test I just took my politics are libertarian-leftist, which apparently puts me in the same camp as Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and the Dalai Lama. I have no idea what that means in our national election climate, but in Alberta it means I am in the weeds. Directionless. Disenfranchised. Without a voice, representation or any hope of political vindication, simply because I don’t vote Tory.
Remember in 2006 when the Harper Conservatives came to power? For the first time in recent memory the entire voting block of Alberta went Tory blue. Nothing new, really; for almost four decades in Alberta, political leanings towards anything but Conservative have always been seen as a bit of a joke. This is the heartland of Reform, Stephen Harper’s home turf, where right-wingers still decry Trudeau’s National Energy Policy of the early 1980s (even as they consider the same idea in a different context today). To paraphrase one rural voter who summed things up nicely during Alberta’s apathetic provincial election last March: “I don’t like the NDP, and I don’t vote Liberal because I’m born and raised in Alberta, and I dont vote Liberal.”
Whew. With such rhetoric as the prevailing ethos, what’s a non-Conservative Albertan to do?
Not much, according to Dr. Chaldeans Mensah, an Edmonton-based political scientist who recently told the Edmonton Journal that the Conservatives’ only vulnerabilities in Alberta are to be found among Edmonton’s eight (out of Alberta’s 28) parliamentary seats. He’s probably right; still known derisively as ‘Redmonton’ in certain circles, the capital city has a waning reputation of opposition to the status quo. But it’s a thankless opposition fewer and fewer are willing to admit, let alone support or champion.
The real crusher will in all likelihood be yet another low voter turnout in Alberta. People vote for different reasons, but they don’t seem to bother when Conservatives are a lock.
Which is a shame. Alberta is facing a crisis of political issues, not the least of which is the oilsands development that’s causing some international hullabaloo. Despite being one of the most controversial energy schemes in history, growth of the oilsands projects is only going to increase. Regardless of whether you’re for or against exploitation of the resource, no one can deny that oilsands extraction creates a huge environmental footprint that extends dimensionally beyond Alberta’s borders, or that the product is destined for US markets and does nothing to lower energy prices in Alberta. Jack Layton, Stephane Dion and Elizabeth May are talking about all this, while Harper defends the oilsands; but only the Liberals have thus far announced a candidate in Fort McMurray to oppose the Tory incumbent, who won in 2006 with 65 per cent of a 48 per cent voter turnout.
Oh yes, there’s plenty to talk about in Alberta. Too bad Albertans aren’t doing it.

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