Western decisions put pressure on PM
If indeed, all politics is local, two contests in Western Canada over the weekend, involving no more than 5,500 voters, had the power to shake the Conservative establishment in the nation’s capital.
In one, Conservatives in Calgary’s Signal Hill riding finally rid themselves of a six-term embarrassment named Rob Anders, handing the nomination to a former provincial cabinet minister, Ron Liepert, in a family feud for the ages.
In the other, the voters of Kitimat, B.C., who have been promised untold economic riches for their support of the $6.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project, took a look at the gifts offered by energy giant Enbridge and thumbed their nose at the project.
There were common denominators in the twin votes.
Both were wrenching contests. In Calgary, it pitted Conservative versus Conservative; in Kitimat, neighbour against neighbour.
Both losing sides were accused of bullying and pushing the rules in their unsuccessful quest for victory.
Most importantly, both were a repudiation of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and senior Conservative ministers in Ottawa.
On the surface, the end of Anders — if this is really the end — after 17 years, should be hailed as a victory for democracy and those who reject buffoonery in politics.
Unless he decides to run for another nomination or seek redemption as an independent, this marks the end of a career for a man who sees Liberal and NDP “hacks” under every bed, has accused Tom Mulcair of being complicit in Jack Layton’s death, has insulted Canadian veterans and the memory of Nelson Mandela, and has now finally accumulated sufficient baggage to be shown the door in a Tory stronghold.
Except Anders, in a typical overreach, had branded the vote as a battle for the “soul” of the Conservative party and he had won a lukewarm endorsement from Harper and the full-throated backing of Jason Kenney, the industry minister and powerful regional minister for Southern Alberta.
Kenney, in fact, used robocalls on Saturday to try to tip the scales to Anders.
For his efforts, Kenney was told by Liepert to mind his own business.
But a battle between blue Conservatives and red Conservatives — a battle for the party’s soul?
David Taras, the political analyst from Calgary’s Mount Royal University, says there are not that many shades of blue between the two men and that Anders finally caught up with a challenger “who came into this contest fully armed.”
In Kitimat, which would be the port and the storage facility for Alberta bitumen headed to Asia, a project the Harper government has deemed a national priority, voters ignored an aggressive media and door-knocking campaign by Enbridge, its appeal for the security of future generations and its promise of $17 million in economic benefits for the town and the creation of hundreds of jobs.
Instead, an environmental group known as Douglas Channel Watch, which was headed by a postal worker who launched the campaign with $200 in funds, according to The Canadian Press, won the day.
And it wasn’t even close. Almost six in 10 residents felt the danger of pipeline rupture or a tanker spill overrode the economic benefits.
The federal cabinet has until June to decide whether to back a National Energy Board decision that the Gateway project go ahead, subject to 209 conditions.
If cabinet was to give a similar go-ahead, there appears to be electoral peril looming on the West Coast for the Conservatives.
Kitimat, which had the most to gain financially from the project, is the canary in the B.C. coal mine, the first to provide actual vote results on the fate of a pipeline that faces widespread discontent among a wide swath of British Columbia voters, not just native people and environmentalists. There appears to be little upside to Conservative approval because, with court challenges looming, there would be no economic benefit in the province before the 2015 election.
The Kitimat results are non-binding but highly symbolic.
The Conservatives are not going to lose Calgary Signal Hill.
But two votes that went late into the evening Saturday night show that the unlikely alliance of Calgary Conservatives and Kitimat voters will not be told what to do by big business or big government.
Tim Harper is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.