April 16, 2019 / 6:00 AM / in 10 days

Canada's oil-rich Alberta goes to the polls as national vote looms

CALGARY, Alberta, April 16 (Reuters) - Voters in Alberta, Canada’s main oil-producing province, head to the polls on Tuesday for an election that opinion surveys show will see the right-of-center United Conservative Party oust the left-leaning New Democratic Party government.

A victory by Jason Kenney’s UCP would set the western province on a collision course with Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberal government over climate policy and carbon pricing in the run-up to the October national election.

Kenney, a former federal Cabinet minister, accuses Trudeau’s Liberals of taking the oil and gas industry for granted. The UCP is expected to take 50 percent of the vote versus 40 percent for the NDP led by Premier Rachel Notley, according to the latest Ipsos/Global News poll.

Kenney has cast himself as champion of Alberta’s beleaguered energy industry and vowed to take more decisive action on jobs, the economy and pipelines.

“We have a positive mainstream plan to get Alberta moving again ... a plan that announces to the world: Alberta is open for business again,” Kenney said at a campaign event on the weekend.

The NDP ended decades of conservative rule in Alberta when it swept to power in the 2015 election, but inherited an economy hammered by a global oil price crash.

While economic conditions have improved, many voters have lost patience with persistent budget deficits, higher unemployment and a lack of progress on new oil export pipelines.

“The NDP is offering more of the same leadership and the UCP is promising the return of jobs and economic prosperity,” said Jared Wesley, political scientist at the University of Alberta.

“But the big promises from Jason Kenney involve fighting (over pipelines and regulations), with no guarantee anything will actually come out of it,” Wesley said.

Both parties support new oil pipelines, including the Trans Mountain expansion that will triple the amount of crude reaching the Pacific Coast, and measures to prop up Alberta’s energy industry, which struggled last year with record discounts on Canadian crude because of pipeline congestion.

The UCP is also planning to cut corporate taxes, but overall both parties are seen as pro-energy.

“If the UCP gets in, it’s probably positive from a business view, but I don’t think the market will trade on it,” said Robert Fitzmartyn, head of energy institutional research at GMP FirstEnergy in Calgary.

LEADERSHIP RACE CONTROVERSY

Nearly 700,000 Albertans have already voted in advance polls and the NDP is hoping controversy surrounding the 2017 UCP leadership race won by Kenney will sway voters.

Canadian media organizations have reported that during the race, Kenney’s camp colluded with a “kamikaze” candidate to discredit his main rival. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are looking into allegations of irregular campaign contributions.

“Would you be able to dedicate yourself to the fight for a pipeline, the fight to diversify our economy, the fight to get those extra contracts upgrading and refining our resources while your leadership is under RCMP investigation? I don’t think so,” Notley said at a campaign event in Calgary on Monday.

The 2.6 million voters in Alberta, Canada’s fourth most-populous province, can cast ballots from 9 a.m. (1500 GMT) to 8 p.m. (0200 GMT Wednesday).

Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Steve Scherer and Peter Cooney

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