Trudeau’s Stampede stops highlight low Alberta support for federal Liberals

Trudeau’s Stampede stops highlight low Alberta support for federal Liberals

CALGARY—At two stops during the last weekend of the Calgary Stampede, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greeted supporters and doubled down on his message of compromise between the economy and the environment.

But on the Stampede grounds, which Trudeau didn’t visit this year, some Albertans expressed distaste and distrust for Trudeau, especially concerning the oil and gas sector.

At a Stampede breakfast hosted by the Sunalta Community Association, Trudeau was joined by Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi and Calgary Centre MP Kent Hehr as he made his way down the block, surrounded by families asking for photos and greeting children as he went. Wearing the obligatory white Stampede hat, he briefly flipped pancakes — a politician’s Stampede staple — before heading downtown to a Liberal donor breakfast at the Laurier Club.

A small group of yellow vest pro-pipeline supporters protested on the corner, just a few steps from their usual City Hall post, holding signs accusing the prime minister of treason.

Inside, Trudeau spoke to a crowd of Liberal supporters, professing confidence for the upcoming election and focusing on the theme of compromise — in particular, criticizing Premier Jason Kenney for what he called a refusal to listen to differing points of view and find a middle ground between economic and environmental concerns.

“Yes, we need to grow our economy, yes, we need to get our resources in the markets. But we also have to make sure that we’re thinking about the long-term protection of the environment,” he said.

Though Trudeau was met with a warm welcome by supporters at both events, Calgary isn’t exactly a Liberal stronghold. Some Albertans see him as the instigator of contentious bills C-48, which bans oil tankers from a northern portion of the British Columbia coast, and C-69, which changes Canada’s environmental assessment procedure.

There’s a deep-seated sense for many that the province’s slowing oil sector and economic downturn are Liberal doings.

Kenney has made it no secret that he blames the federal Liberals for not doing enough to support the energy industry, as well as for delays to the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which Trudeau announced the government would approve in June.

On Stampede grounds, Albertan Matthew Wock strongly agreed. He said he feels the overall sentiment towards Trudeau in Alberta is “pretty poor,” and that despite Ottawa’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline, people don’t believe he has Alberta’s best interests in mind.

He said he hopes that recent provincial elections such as the ones in Ontario and Alberta are an indication that the upcoming federal election might swing in the Conservatives’ favour.

Others, who did not want to provide their names, expressed similar views, saying they don’t think Trudeau cares about Alberta the way he claims to, and that he’s more concerned about his voter bases in Ontario and British Columbia.

At the Sunalta breakfast, Calgary Centre Conservative candidate Greg McLean stood back as Trudeau made his way to the griddle. Several of his supporters were present, wearing blue shirts or McLean buttons. McLean said he thinks the riding is not a guaranteed one for Hehr, and that he’s seeing voters shift back toward the Conservative side.

“I think a lot of people feel somewhat put off by how we’ve been treated here in Alberta,” he said, adding he thinks people will be voting with the economy in mind.

But the economy isn’t the only topic that has some voters expressing criticism of Trudeau. At the breakfast, university student Isabelle Reynolds confronted the prime minister, challenging him about the treatment of Mi’kmaq opponents of a natural gas project in Nova Scotia.

She told reporters afterward that though Trudeau said he had listened to concerns about the project, she wasn’t satisfied with his response.

Though federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer had a full schedule for his day at the Stampede last weekend, those were the only two stops for Trudeau Saturday before he left for British Columbia. It’s less than previous years — in 2018, he attended a breakfast, spoke at a donor event and made his way to Stampede grounds.

Scheer was also looking ahead to the federal election during his Stampede rounds, giving a campaign-style speech and saying “a better and brighter future” is on the horizon for Albertans.

Leading up to the last federal election in 2015, leaders of all major federal political parties showed up to Stampede. This year, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh did not attend.

With files from Canadian Press and Madeline Smith

Rosa Saba is a reporter/photographer with Star Calgary. Follow her on Twitter: @rosajsaba

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