Justin goes to Wildrose Country:
The party has had few MPs elected in Alberta, where the memory of Pierre Trudeau's National Energy Program (NEP) still stings. The last Alberta Liberal MP, Anne McLellan, lost her seat in 2006.
But Dominic LeBlanc, who has held a seat in New Brunswick since 2000, says the party's fortunes are improving.
"If somebody had said to you that we would have increased our vote in Brandon, Man., the way we did, if somebody would have said that we would come within X-hundred votes of winning in Calgary Centre last fall in a byelection, people would have laughed two, three years ago," LeBlanc told CBC News as he arrived at the caucus retreat.
And we're still laughing now. By-elections in safe Tory seats are near meaningless. The base doesn't bother showing up because they know it doesn't matter. The greatest organizational problem facing any major political party isn't reaching the middle, it's motivating their base. Had the fate of the government hung in the balance the margins in those by-elections would have been much wider.
That NEP still stings can be attested to by a quick chat with many Albertans of a certain age, or by a glance at news article comment treads. Click on a story about Justin Trudeau and, almost inevitably, there is a NEP rant. It's been thirty-four years since that inter-regional vote buying scheme was foisted upon the Canadian West by a deeply cynical Liberal government. It's been more than a quarter century since the Mulroney government belatedly scraped the program, years after global price had rendered it's statist pricing scheme a dead letter.
But the population of Alberta today is nearly twice what it was in 1980. The majority of modern Albertans have no personal memory of NEP. It's a folk memory kept alive by the oil industry and conservative commentators. For a large swath of the electorate it's not the memory of NEP that is holding them back from embracing Trudeau, it's the Liberal Party's political leanings and culture. They don't trust a political party which is based out of Toronto, which will win and lose the next election based on what happens in the 905, and that instinctively regards Alberta as a backwater saved from complete disgrace only by the presence of the much beloved Mayor Nenshi of Calgary.
There is something of the federal Liberal Party that smacks of Alison Redford. Put aside the meaningless party labels. Redford was a Liberal in all but name. The tremendous sense of entitlement, the barely disguised contempt for the common Albertan and the basic failure to understand the culture that has created Canada's most successful province. The spoiled heiress who came home to run the family business in a socially responsible manner. That faint odour is detectable among every Liberal Party operative I've ever met.
Justin Trudeau doesn't emit the same level of entitlement. He's isn't intelligent enough. But there is a sneaking suspicion among the more observant voters that maybe, just maybe, the lad isn't writing his own off the cuff remarks. That cleverer men are at work and that, should the unthinkable happen, it is they who will govern the nation come 2015.
Albertans remember NEP but they're hardly embittered dead enders about it. That sort of angry obsession with the past is characteristic of only one region of the country: Quebec. It's not a healthy fascination with what came before, it's an alternate universe to project one's fantasies upon. Quebec is obsessed with the past because, at a very basic level, it doesn't believe it has a future. A dynamic place like Alberta has a future. The province has completely surpassed the heights it reached during Peter Lougheed's glory years. That's why Albertans have moved past NEP in a way that the Quebecois have never moved past Lord Durham.
What worries Albertans about Justin isn't his daddy's name, it's his daddy's bad ideas and tremendous arrogance. A repeat of that the whole country could do without.