Kenney jumped out front in early returns Tuesday in Alberta’s election, while Rachel Notley’s NDP was holding strong in Edmonton.
The UCP were leading in rural ridings throughout the province and in some Calgary constituencies.
It’s an election expected to define or, in the case of Kenney, redefine Alberta’s relationship with the federal government and specifically Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Kenney, a former Conservative cabinet minister under Stephen Harper, campaigned on what he derisively called “the Trudeau-Notley alliance.”
It’s a partnership he said has turned Alberta into a doormat for Trudeau and other oil industry foes in return for no more than a faint and as yet unrealized promise of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to the west coast.
Kenney promised to kill Alberta’s homegrown carbon tax, fight the federal carbon tax in court, and do what he can to help the federal Conservatives defeat Trudeau in the federal October vote.
Notley fought back over the campaign. She said her success working with Trudeau — or picking fights with him as necessary — is what led to progress on Trans Mountain, and she expected construction to begin this year.
She said Kenney’s promise to challenge Trudeau in court on everything from the carbon tax to proposed energy industry rule changes was cynical, self-defeating shadow-boxing given the collaborative realities of political decision-making.
Trudeau was asked in Kitchener, Ont., earlier Tuesday whether he was concerned about his climate plan should Kenney win.
“We have chosen to put a price on pollution right across the country and there are conservative politicians who are using taxpayer money to fight a price on pollution in court,” he responded.
“They are using your dollars to try to make pollution free again, which makes no sense.”
Trudeau said the federal government would continue to work on growing the economy while tackling climate change in a smart way.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, whose province is one of three challenging the federal carbon tax, said he hoped Kenney wins the election.
“Hopefully today we’ll have another partner with my good friend Jason Kenney,” said Ford.
Notley’s NDP was trying to win a second mandate after toppling the 44-year Progressive Conservative dynasty in 2015.
This election, the Progressive Conservatives were no more. The PCs merged with another right-of-centre party, the Wildrose, to create the new United Conservatives under Kenney in 2017.
Interest in the election was high as leaders launched personal attacks while promoting their platforms as the best blueprint for Alberta’s fragile economy.
Almost 700,000 people voted in advance polls, well above the record 235,000 who did in 2015.
The province, once a money-making dynamo thanks to sky-high oil prices, has been struggling for years with sluggish returns on royalties, reduced drilling activity and unemployment levels stubbornly above seven per cent in Calgary and Edmonton.
Kenney argued that Notley’s government made a bad situation worse with higher taxes, more regulations and increases in minimum wage.
Notley, in turn, said Kenney’s plan to freeze spending and pursue more private-care options in health care would have a profound impact on students and patients.
Notley also tried to make Kenney’s character an issue. A number of his candidates either quit or apologized for past comments that were anti-LGBTQ, anti-Islamic or sympathetic to white nationalism.
On the margins of the campaign were the centrist Alberta and Liberal parties. Both elected single members to the 87-seat legislature last time around and were hoping to come up the middle.
Each pitched its own political Hail Mary to grab the spotlight. The Liberals pledged a provincial sales tax and the Alberta Party promised to withhold provincial income taxes.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press