And then there were none. As of the victory on Tuesday of Alberta’s United Conservatives, Canada’s first ministers club is once again male only.
Of the quartet of female premiers who led Canada’s largest provinces as recently as five years ago, not a single member is left.
But before jumping to the conclusion that gender has played the key role in the relatively swift demise of Christy Clark, Pauline Marois, Kathleen Wynne and Rachel Notley, it is worth considering that they all came to the fore in an age of ever-increasing electoral volatility.
Second terms in government used to be the norm in most provinces. But there have been eye-catching breaks in that pattern over the past few years.
Over the three and a half years Justin Trudeau has been prime minister, seven provincial incumbents have led their parties to defeat. P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan could become the eighth when his province goes to the polls next week.
That’s a trend the ruling federal Liberals might have to keep in mind as they look to their own re-election bid this fall.
Those of Trudeau’s predecessors who were first elected with a majority were all granted second terms in power. But as provincial developments indicate, history does not forever repeat itself.
Between now and the federal campaign, Trudeau will have to resolve a pipeline riddle made more problematic by the outcome of the Alberta election.
The proactive Alberta climate change policy the prime minister initially used to justify the approval of the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline will not survive the change in that province’s government.
But Trudeau has also consistently maintained that the expansion of the Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline is in the national interest. If he seriously believes the project must be completed for the greater good of the country, then surely its fate cannot ride on the electoral vagaries of a single province?
If Trudeau stays the course and relaunches the Trans Mountain expansion by June 18 — a later date than had been anticipated — the credibility of his climate change policy could take a hit. But if he does not, it is his sincerity that stands to be called into question.
Meanwhile, though, it is probably premature to ship candles to B.C. to help its residents cope with Jason Kenney’s threat to cut off their oil and gas.
The incoming Alberta premier has said his first act in office will be to enact a law passed under the NDP, but never brought into force, which would allow Alberta to restrict energy shipments to B.C., so as to force that province into compliance with the Trans Mountain project.
But once the Alberta law is enacted, the odds are it will be challenged in court, a move that would likely result in the suspension of its application until the issue of its constitutionality has been resolved.
On election night, Notley said she planned to serve as leader of the official Opposition in the reconfigured Alberta legislature. Her party may have lost the election, but it has emerged from the campaign with a solid footing.
Notley’s 24-member strong caucus is the third largest provincial NDP contingent, after those in Ontario and B.C.
And that makes an end to the pipeline schism that has divided the New Democrats highly unlikely. With governing experience under their belt, the Alberta New Democrats are in a position going forward to offer a credible alternative to Kenney’s Conservatives.
It is not a status the party will sacrifice by joining the anti-pipeline camp for the sake of restoring peace in the NDP family.
Chantal Hebert is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.