Two polls suggest upcoming election could threaten future of Alberta’s power line projects

Two recent polls suggest that change could be dramatic when Alberta voters go to the polls on April 23 to elect members of the 28th Legislative Assembly, and that could affect three major power line projects.

A poll conducted by Forum Research on March 26, hours after the legislature was dissolved and the election called, showed that 41% of Albertans, 18 years of age and older, said they favored the Wildrose Party compared to 31% who said they supported the Progressive Conservative (PC) party.

The Wildrose party sides with opponents of the East Alberta transmission line (EATL), West Alberta transmission line (WATL) and Heartland lines.

The EATL is a 310-mile, 500-kV transmission line being developed by ATCO Electric that originates in the Gibbons-Redwater area northeast of Edmonton and terminates at a southeast hub in the Brooks area south of Calgary. The WATL is a 279-mile, 500-kV transmission line being developed by AltaLink that originates at Genesee, Alberta and terminates at Langdon, Alberta. The Heartland project is a 41-mile, double circuit 500-kV line being developed by AltaLink to connect the Heartland region (northeast of Fort Saskatchewan) to existing 500-kV transmission facilities that currently run along the southern edge of Edmonton, according to data onTransmissionHub.com.

While the PC party has been the majority government in Alberta since 1971, Forum Research President and CEO Lorne Bozinoff told TransmissionHub on March 28 it looks like the province could soon see a major power shift.

“Alberta has a history of staying with one party for long periods of time, like 30 years, and then switching,” Bozinoff said. “This looks like it could be one of those switching elections.”

A poll conducted for the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal newspapers before the legislature was dissolved also showed the PC Party’s popularity was slipping quickly.

According to the newspapers’ polls, 53% of decided voters supported the PC party – also knows as Tories – as recently as mid-January, while support for the Wildrose Party was at 16%. Now, little more than two months later the PCs have only 37% support of decided voters, compared to 34% for Wildrose.

“The question is, ‘Will the Tories survive?’,” Graham Thomson, a columnist with the Edmonton Journal, told TransmissionHub on March 28. “The history of Alberta is of long-standing governments being knocked out overnight.”

“When [Albertans] switch, they switch big-time,” Bozinoff said. “In Alberta, there’s not a history of having two evenly-divided parties. The winning party wins a huge majority, and it looks like it could be heading toward that.”

If that indeed happens, it could represent a significant threat to the future of the EATL, the WATL, and the Heartland line.

“The Wildrose party, the Alberta party, the Liberal party, and the NDP have all said – to us – that they would repeal legislation that authorize the transmission lines,” Colleen Boddez, founder of the Alberta Landowners Council told TransmissionHub on March 26.

Thomson said concern over the EATL, the WATL, and the Heartland line is greater in the rural areas of the province than in the cities, which shows that the Wildrose party has been “very good about cashing in on what we call ‘wedge issues’ like property rights, which ties in to the power line issue.”

“Albertans are really cheesed off about their private property rights being hosed by various pieces of legislation,” John Kristensen of the group Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans (RETA) told TransmissionHub on March 29. The dissolution of the legislature provides “a window of opportunity,” he added.

“People who are upset are really upset about those power lines,” Thomson said. “The Wildrose has actually tapped into that [anger], and that’s a big problem for the government. That’s an issue that just won’t go away … and it plays into the Wildrose narrative that you can’t trust this [Tory] government.”

Bozinoff said the growth in Wildrose popularity didn’t happen overnight. “They were doing well in Calgary last month and they were doing fairly well in the rural south, but now they’re also doing well in the rural north and it could be due to the transmission line issue,” he said.

Whether the decline in the popularity of the Tories is enough to shift the balance of power remains to be seen. “The PCs could drop significantly in public support and still win a majority,” Thomson said.

Even if the PC party were to lose 22 seats from the level it held at the end of the 27th legislature, it would still have 44 seats, which would constitute a majority in the 87 seats that will make up the 28th Legislative Assembly.

With the election looming, change is arguably a certainty; whether the change will be dramatic enough to affect the projects currently under consideration will be decided when voters go to the polls on April 23.

This article was updated on March 289 to include comments from RETA.