CALGARY – The political future of Alberta NDP looks considerably worse after a verdict from the court on Thursday, putting the Trans Mountain pipeline on hold.
The full extent of political consequences of the Federal Court of Appeal's decision can still be seen on Thursday, but with the NDP and Prime Minister Rachel Notley facing a threatening battle for re-election before the end of May next year, experts agree that delays in the pipeline are the last thing the party needs.
"This was one of the worst days, if not the worst day in office for the (Alberta) New Democrats," said Professor David Stewart, professor at the University of Calgary.
Political fortunes in Alberta are often tied to the energy industry, added Professor Lori Williams, professor at Mount Royal University. And while Notley tries to position her party as a driver of the province's continuing economic recovery, she is faced with a situation where she "does not have the leverage" to change her current situation, except to increase pressure on other groups.
That is an ongoing challenge with the pipeline, Williams said. While Alberta has insisted on building the Trans Mountain, decisions are often in the hands of the court or federal government.
In a speech on Thursday night, Notley also took a surprising step, swearing that Alberta will get the Canadian national climate plan "until the federal government brings together its act."
Stewart said that an ancient Alberta puts political tradition into play.
"It paves the way for a defense that in the absence of a pipeline at the next election, which Notley will have to make, that is to play one of the oldest maps in Alberta's politics: Western alienation. government debt. & # 39;
Notley's attempt to distance herself from Ottawa could provide leverage in a situation where she is left with limited options.
Stewart said that if we look at where things stand now, simply getting the pipeline approvals would be a big win that could support the NDP – actually getting construction on the current pipeline is no longer so crucial for its political positioning.
"I did not think that approvals would be enough earlier this week," he said. "But now approvals would look like a big step forward."
In the meantime, the NDP remains vulnerable to criticism from the United Conservative Party, with UCP leader Jason Kenney calling again on Thursday for the government to withdraw the CO2 tax of the province.
Albertans can expect more of the same in the coming months, Williams said.
"(Kenney) is questioning the ability of the NDP government to manage the taxpayer's economy and dollars," she said. "He will have a lot of space to play."
Notley will wait to see if Ottawa will proceed to appeal against the court's decision, and whether the Prime Minister is in the meantime on the carbon tax is something that experts say is still unclear. But part of the justification for the carbon tax was the idea that it provided the "social license" to build the pipeline, which is now under discussion.
"Carbon tax plus no pipeline is a clear indication of the failure of a major government priority," said Stewart.
Mount Royal University politics professor Keith Brownsey said the situation with the pipeline could not come at a worse time for Ottawa.
"The federal government is now in charge of negotiating with the United States about NAFTA … and it's got this mess," he said.
As the elections moved closer, Stewart said that this week's developments will probably polarize the province's political landscape from this point onwards.
"parties other than the UCP and the New Democrats do not look very relevant – I think it's going to be for or against the government, "he said.
Now that Notley has set her in motion, Williams said that while Albertans does not necessarily have to count her and her party for a nine-month election, the campaign will be a tough fight.
"Notley is already on a steep climb to be re-elected in the spring and that hill has just become steeper."
Madeline Smith is a reporter / photographer with StarMetro Calgary. Follow her on Twitter: @meksmith