For all the outrage it generated, there was some truth in a recent comment from the federal minister of rural economic development.
While being interviewed about her government’s about-face on the carbon tax, Gudie Hutchings credited the influence of Atlantic Liberal MPs and suggested that if the West wanted similar clout, “perhaps they need to elect more Liberals in the Prairies.”
It’s pretty cynical to imply voters are being punished for electing the wrong party, but it’s probably also true that the government would be more sensitive to our concerns if Alberta was a Liberal stronghold.
But this isn’t merely a hypothetical exercise — there are indeed Liberals on the Prairies, including in Calgary. Did electing the “right” party advance Calgary’s or Alberta’s interests in a positive and meaningful way? As it turns out, you’d be hard pressed to find any evidence of that.
While Hutchings may have been clumsily trying to improve Liberals fortunes in the West, Calgary Skyview MP George Chahal has been doing his part to sink the party’s fortunes here. Re-election was always going to be a tall order — especially given the Liberals’ plunging poll numbers — but after his recent vote on the aforementioned carbon tax about-face, Calgary looks quite barren for the Liberals for the foreseeable future.
There’s always a tricky balance for MPs in toeing the party line and representing one’s constituents; it’s ideal when those two objectives align. In Chahal’s case, he’s opted to be loyal to a crumbling brand at the expense of his constituents. Breaking ranks with your party might not help you win a cabinet position, but losing an election makes that all moot.
While the Atlantic Liberal MPs kicked up a fuss over the carbon tax being applied to home heating oil, Alberta’s Liberal MPs have meekly acquiesced to the government’s new double standard. When it was time to vote on a motion calling for the carbon tax exemption to be extended to all forms of home heating, Chahal (and Edmonton’s Randy Boissonnault) voted no.
But what was so important about upholding the status quo? After all, as the federal housing minister recently told the CBC, there’s less need for price incentives now thanks to other government measures. What an opportunity, then, for Chahal to stand up and say a carbon tax break on home heating for folks here would be the right and fair thing to do.
Unfortunately, Chahal has not been willing to stand up and say anything at all. His vote on the carbon tax motion was the closest thing to a stated position from him through this entire debate. He managed to release a statement on the war in Gaza, but couldn’t be bothered to put out a statement defending the government’s decision or explaining why he planned to vote as he did on the motion.
It’s not just on the carbon tax where toeing the party line has taken precedence over being a voice for local concerns. When it comes to the proposed Clean Electricity Regulations and the potential negative effects here in Alberta, Chahal has spent more time sparring with the Alberta government than actually addressing concerns.
While the province might be overstating the negatives, it’s not as though there aren’t negatives. Independent experts have identified various aspects of the plan that are likely unrealistic and costly for Alberta. The value of local representation in government would be the presence of a voice willing to say, “I support the overall objectives of this plan, but I’ll fight for the changes that will improve these regulations.” Instead, we’re only getting the first half of that statement.
Chahal isn’t just dooming his own political prospects, he’s dragging down every other Calgary Liberal candidate in the next election. The way things are going, Calgary is likely going to end up with several MPs in the next governing caucus.
“Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” airs weekdays from 12:30 to 3 p.m. on QR Calgary