Alberta election 2012: three reasons why all Canadians should pay attention

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

For the past couple decades, Alberta elections have been a mere formality: a popular Progressive Conservative premier would call an election and then the PCs would go on to win a convincing majority.

This time around, things are a little different.

Recent polls have Alison Redford's PCs in a dead heat with Danielle Smith's Wildrose Alliance Party. The uncertainty means Albertans are, more than ever, engaged in a provincial race. According to the Edmonton Journal 500,000 Alberta residents tuned-in to watch last week's televised leaders' debate.

People who don't live in Alberta should also be paying attention to the Alberta election.

Here's why:

1. The debate about separation of church and state makes a comeback.

The Toronto Sun's Warren Kinsella wrote that "Alberta is on the cusp of plunging itself into a divisive, needless debate, one that could spill over into other provinces."

He's referring to Smith's social conservative leanings and past musings about conscience rights — a controversial means of allowing health-care professionals and marriage commissioners to refuse to provide services based on their beliefs.

"The debate centres on some of the most difficult issues of our era: reproductive choice for women, equal marriage for gays and lesbians, the wall that exists (supposedly) between church and state," Kinsella writes.

"If elected, she will unleash social and political chaos unlike anything Alberta has seen since the bad old days of Social Credit. That's bad for Alberta. And what's bad for Alberta is bad for Canada, too."

2. Alberta's economic prowess is good for the rest of Canada.

Billions of dollars accrue from the oil sands tax revenues every year, and 60 per cent go into federal coffers, according to the David Suzuki Foundation.

Moreover, economists at TD Bank estimate 60 per cent of the total output and employment benefits from oil sands development will migrate to other parts of Canada through higher demand for manufactured goods, such as steel.

The next premier of Alberta will be the steward of this economic engine.

Wildrose policies on the oil patch have been decidedly Alberta-centric, while Redford has tried to develop a national strategy, particularly around energy, in partnership with the federal government.

Whatever the outcome,  Alberta's next premier will have a significant impact on national policies relating to energy security, climate change and environmental regulation.

3. Alberta oil to go east?

Danielle Smith has a plan for Alberta's oil: send it to eastern Canada.

"As we look to move our oilsands to market in the face of resistance to the South and West Coast, an all-Canadian solution is looking increasingly attractive," Smith said in a speech last month according to Postmedia News.

"Let's upgrade more oilsands in Canada using retrofitted existing facilities across the country. This would increase the use of domestically produced crude, it would eliminate imports, then we would export the remainder into new markets using an Atlantic marine route."

Former Liberal MP Dan McTeague, who now operates Tomorrowsgaspricetoday.com, told Yahoo! Canada News that this would be good for the rest of Canada.

"Alberta inputs mean cheaper inputs, which ultimately mean cheaper prices at the pump."

Redford hasn't supported Smith's proposal and remains a staunch backer of the Northern Gateway proposal, which would connect the oilpatch to Asia's growing energy market.