It is no secret to any Canadian that the federal Liberal Party is not very popular in Alberta. This is even more so true given the economic hardships of the energy industry coupled with the legacy of Canada’s first Prime Minister Trudeau (Pierre Elliott Trudeau 1980–1984), which is now projected onto the second. What is a surprise to many, is that somewhere amid a pandemic, record low oil prices, and an economic downturn, that Premier Kenney’s popularity with Albertans slid lower than the Prime Minister’s.

Since his earliest days, Kenney has looked for a fight with Trudeau and his government, under the guise of a cause to defend; recent examples of fighting the carbon tax and fighting for fairness come to mind. In the 2019 provincial election, the UCP should have been solely focused on the NDP, but the marquis fight in that campaign was Trudeau vs. Kenney. The UCP and Jason Kenney went to great lengths to tie Rachel Notley to her “anti-pipeline ally Justin Trudeau.” With the NDP job loss record, and the Trudeau “job-killing carbon tax” top of mind for Albertans, Kenney emerged the victor. His campaign pillars of ensuring pipelines would be built, getting “our fair share” and promising Albertans a return to prosperity served as a winning formula.

Despite being faced with an economic crisis and a health pandemic, Kenney has continued this fight. The range of targets is long and varied, but most notably the red target is placed solely on equalization. Kenney is so hellbent to change the current equalization formula that Albertans will vote on a referendum question on equalization in this year’s municipal elections. A Trudeau win guarantees the results of that vote fall on deaf ears.

On the eve of the election campaign notice, Trudeau announced a new senator for Alberta – as Alberta was beginning the campaign process for electing Senators. Alberta has a history of voting for “Senators in Waiting” – while there is no legal requirement for the Prime Minister to appoint vacant seats from this list, it has been done. Senator Doug Black comes to mind. With a municipal election in sight, Kenney announced this spring that Albertans would once again elect “Senators in Waiting” and with the campaigns of many underway, Trudeau’s apparent disdain for Kenney was all but clear in appointing a new Alberta Senator. Kenney will up the rhetoric as the campaign continues, reminding Albertans of Trudeau’s perceived disregard for Albertans.

The 2019 federal election saw Trudeau’s Liberal team shut out in Alberta – a clear victory for Kenney in the province. But since then, the world has changed and 2019 feels like a lifetime ago. In 2021, Trudeau is coming out swinging.

While Kenney has taken every opportunity (from pipelines to vaccines) to throw Trudeau under the bus, Trudeau has discounted Kenney in most cases. He set up regional offices, put better candidates in place, and showed up with his boots (and mask) on for the Calgary Stampede. One can surmise that he was preparing to jump in the ring with Kenney again.

This campaign is a battle between Trudeau and O’Toole throughout the rest of the country, with Jagmeet Singh popping up intermittently. In Alberta, though, the battle is unquestionably between Trudeau and Kenney. This campaign battle was evident with Trudeau and Singh’s campaign stops in Alberta – both took shots at Kenney, not O’Toole. Battleground ridings like Calgary-Skyview, Edmonton-Mill Woods, and Edmonton-Centre will tell the tales of this 2021 fight.

With Canadians still dealing with the effects of an unrelenting pandemic and half of the country battling wildfires, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole by all accounts should have an easy time maintaining his seat count in Alberta. This snap election call appears to be a unifying force. But, make no mistake, his cage match between his political adversary Trudeau and his friend Kenney could significantly impact O’Toole’s support. Kenney’s sliding popularity, particularly in urban ridings, could give O’Toole the run of his life and Trudeau an opportunity to feel that Alberta is at the table again.

Authored by: Natalie Sigalet (Edmonton) and Jessica Conlin (Calgary).