Wednesday, April 17, 2019

TORONTO — Embattled Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suffered another major hit to his reelection hopes this fall as voters in the western province of Alberta on Tuesday threw one of his political allies out of power in favor of a conservative leader who campaigned as a fierce critic of Mr. Trudeau’s leadership and energy tax policies.

Alberta Premier-elect Jason Kenney and his 2-year-old United Conservative Party faced an electorate full of anxieties about the province’s sluggish energy-based economy. Voters directed their anger at Mr. Trudeau and his environmental allies for failing to push through a key pipeline and, conservatives said, piling costly regulations on Alberta’s large oil, gas and mining sector.

“We have been targeted by a foreign-funded campaign of special interests” that have cost the province “tens of billions of dollars in investment and tens of thousands of jobs,” Mr. Kenney said.

Already reeling from a financial scandal that has engulfed the government in Ottawa, Mr. Trudeau saw his political allies thoroughly repudiated. The result, in which Mr. Kenney’s fledgling UCP took a projected 63 seats to just 24 for the leftist New Democratic Party, was even more painful because the NDP ended 44 years of conservative rule in the western province just four years ago.

Alberta became the third major province in Canada in the past year to elect a conservative-leaning government. Of Canada’s 10 provinces, just three small ones are under the control of Mr. Trudeau and his allies.

“When Justin Trudeau was first elected, he looked around the table at premiers and he saw a lot of friendly faces,” Nik Nanos, chairman of the polling firm Nanos Research Group, told the Calgary Herald. “That’s all out the window.”

Mr. Kenney argued strongly that Mr. Trudeau’s environmentalist agenda focused on fighting climate change had not produced for Canada.

Attacks on the country’s oil production have fostered a boom in American production and have not reduced by “one barrel energy coming from OPEC dictatorships or Vladimir Putin’s Russia,” Mr. Kenney said.

“There is a deep frustration in this province, a sense that we have contributed massively to the rest of Canada but that everywhere we turn we are being blocked in and pinned down,” Mr. Kenney told cheering supporters as the results came in Tuesday evening. “Today we begin to fight back.”

Sinking polls

When Mr. Trudeau led his center-left Liberal Party to victory in 2015, he was riding a wave of popularity. But scandals and a spotty record of achievement have eroded his image. A recent poll by Toronto’s Forum Research puts the opposition Conservative Party at 42% support and Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals at just 29%. Canada must hold another general election on or before Oct. 21, giving Mr. Trudeau a shrinking window to turn around his fortunes.

The government has not fully recovered from Mr. Trudeau’s clumsy attempts to save Canada’s engineering giant SNC-Lavalin from criminal prosecution in a scandal that resulted in the resignations of two Cabinet ministers and his closest personal aide. His carbon tax faces legal challenges from the governments of Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick.

Mr. Kenney rode a wave of popular discontent that offered a preview of President Trump’s reelection hopes south of the border. While Mr. Trump has abysmal popularity ratings in much of Canada, he gets a favorable rating of 41% in Alberta. Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Kenney’s election strategy featured angry attacks on outside elitists and liberals.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Kenney’s supporters wore red and white “Make Alberta Great Again” baseball caps and cheered his economic message that he would help the province’s 200,000 jobless and struggling small business owners by letting the world know “Alberta is open for business.”

“I’m not sure Kenney likes to govern, but he likes to campaign. My sense is he will be in permanent campaign mode pushing hot-button issues for the next four years,” said Roger Epp, a political science professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

Mr. Kenney, 50, held federal Cabinet posts including minister of employment under Conservative Party Prime Minister Stephen Harper. A conservative Catholic, Mr. Kenney is a lifelong politician who began his career in the late 1980s battling pro-choice activists when he was on the student council at the Jesuit-founded University of San Francisco.

Mr. Epp said Mr. Kenney could rise as the natural leader of the other conservative provincial premiers in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec, who oppose Mr. Trudeau’s leadership.

Forum Research President Lorne Bozinoff said Mr. Trudeau’s main political rival, Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, is not a galvanizing figure but Mr. Trudeau’s negatives are also rising. If the prime minister doesn’t turn those around, then he will lose, Mr. Bozinoff predicted.

Mr. Epp said Canadians can expect a polarized campaign with lots of fearmongering on both sides. The Conservatives are already attacking Mr. Trudeau’s government as corrupt, incompetent and out of touch. In response, Mr. Trudeau is presenting himself as the only progressive alternative to the conservatives, a defender of the environment and protector of Canadian “civilization.”

In Ontario, Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford said Mr. Kenney’s victory and his successful attacks on Mr. Trudeau’s carbon tax idea were promising signs for the coming federal elections.

“We see just a [conservative] wave going across this country from west to east,” Mr. Ford told Ontario’s Parliament on Wednesday. “We’re building an anti-carbon-tax alliance like this country has never seen.”

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