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Despite NDP stamp of approval, pipeline rally on Alberta Legislature's steps looked like a UCP event

Alberta Trade Minister Deron Bilous at the Rally4Resources Rally (Photo: David J. Climenhaga)

The situation may have felt normal to the cadre of Opposition United Conservative Party MLAs there, but I imagine some of the NDP backbenchers huddled on the steps of the Legislature in Edmonton yesterday afternoon felt pretty uncomfortable.

If not, they darn well should've.

I'm not talking about the effects of the icy wind that whips through the coldest spot in this cold city, but the angry pipeline proselytizers summoned up, mostly from UCP ranks or worse by the sound of them, for Thursday afternoon's big pro-pipeline rally.

It was an unedifying sight. Political reality of Alberta may require a noisy push by Premier Rachel Notley's NDP to get Ottawa to press British Columbia to let the Trans Mountain pipeline be completed before Kinder Morgan packs up its Russian steel and goes home to Texas. So, yeah, I can forgive Trade Minister Deron Bilous for spending so much of his time at the podium on the Legislature's steps ripping into the B.C. NDP for the benefit of the 600 or so people who showed up.

But if a progressive political party is going to put its stamp of approval on such a gathering, as the NDP most certainly did, it should be damn sure the majority of people there are its supporters.

And if you ask me -- and, no, I didn't check IDs -- aside from a few Unifor members and a couple of dozen freezing ministerial aides, the NDP base mostly decided to give this rally a miss, even if it was in Edmonton. This crowd looked pretty much like the Bill 6 demonstrations of 2015, only smaller, without the turkey, the Anabaptists or the sense of humour. This is appropriate, I guess, for a supposedly non-partisan rally organized by the "Rally 4 Resources movement," a group that has a sour-gas whiff of oil industry Astro-Turf about it.

In other words, this seemed like a UCP crowd to me, and not a particularly nice one. Even if Mr. Bilous got a cheer or two, as well as a few boos, these weren't people who are going to see a flash of light on the road to Damascus and start voting NDP any time soon.

And when the crowd tried to shout down federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi with cries of "go home" -- he's from here, you knuckleheads, and he was trying to take your side of this argument, God knows why the Liberals bother -- it reminded me of something the Wildrose Party and some of its less savoury internet friends might have cooked up. No wonder the former Wildrosers up there behind the NDP looked so smug.

Well, I know what I think inspired that chant, and that proved to be an excellent moment to head back toward the bright lights of Jasper Avenue. Maybe someone told the participants to stand up and stop dragging their knuckles in the dirt after I'd gone. I certainly hope so. I have my doubts, though, since one of the next speakers on the agenda was UCP Leader Jason Kenney.

At least no one was chanting, "Lock 'Er Up" this time, although I'd bet you some of them were thinking about it.

Some observers thought this looked like we'd all gone through the looking glass. When the NDP started urging people to attend this event, my friend Jason, union builder and cynic, wondered if the NDP has finally jumped the shark. I don't want to ask myself the same question for fear I might not like the answer.

With friends like Kenney, Rally 4 Resources, and the usual suspects in the Alberta commentariat, Ms. Notley and her strategic brain trust might want to give their heads a shake about how closely they wish to be tied to these guys in the run-up to an election.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to fly back from Lima, Peru, to meet on Sunday in Ottawa with Notley and B.C. Premier John Horgan to try, as the mainstream media puts it, to break the deadlock between Alberta and B.C.

Trudeau's been saying repeatedly, as did Mr. Sohi yesterday, that the pipeline will be built no matter what British Columbia thinks. The Alberta NDP vows to economically punish British Columbians if their government won't knuckle under. I'm not sure where the incentive for Horgan to compromise is in that kind of posturing, which sounds more like an ultimatum than a bargaining position. I guess we'll see on Sunday.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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