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Conservative victory in Canada's Alberta may spell trouble for Trudeau

 Conservative victory in Canadas Alberta may spell trouble for Trudeau

By Nia Williams

Calgary, Alberta (Reuters) - A right-leaning, pro-energy party won a landslide victory in Canada's main oil-producing province of Alberta late on Tuesday, signalling momentum may be building against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau months ahead of a federal election in October.

The United Conservative Party (UCP) trounced the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) government by tapping into frustration over the economy and a struggling oil and gas industry.

"Alberta is open for business!" UCP leader Jason Kenney said in a victory speech in Calgary on Tuesday.

Kenney's supporters, many wearing cowboy hats, roared when he drove directly into the venue in his blue campaign pickup truck emblazoned with the slogan, "Alberta Strong & Free."

Kenney, who had dominated in polls ahead of the vote, promised to defend Albertans against Trudeau and the federal government who, he said, were taking advantage of the province and its oil and gas.

The vote comes at a challenging time for Trudeau, who has been mired in a relentless scandal over alleged interference in a corporate corruption case that has led to the resignations of two Cabinet members and his top advisor.

The scandal has cost the prime minister his lead over rival Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, polls show.

Kenney's victory also appeared to signal a conservative shift in the country ahead of the national vote. Alberta is the third major province to have picked a right-leaning premier over the past year, following Ontario and Quebec.

Results of the vote, with the count nearly complete, showed the UCP had won 63 out of 87 seats in the provincial legislature.

Shares of major energy companies climbed in early afternoon trading, with the Toronto Stock Exchange energy index up 1.2%. Suncor Energy was up 1.2% at C$44.47, Cenovus Energy surged 2.8% to C$13.53, and Canadian Natural Resources Limited was up 2.5% at C$41.51.

"To many of our fellow oil and gas workers who are out of work, underemployed, or otherwise without hope, it feels like spring has returned to Alberta," said Mark Scholz, chief executive of the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers also welcomed the UCP win. Chief Executive Tim McMillan said Alberta now had an opportunity to lure back investors that left the province during the last few years.

'CLEAR MANDATE'

Kenney has promised to champion Alberta's energy industry and step up the fight to get new oil export pipelines built, but he will face the same dependence on fluctuating oil prices that previous Alberta governments have faced.

"This is a pretty clear mandate for the UCP. Now we have to see if Jason Kenney can live up to his promises, especially in reviving the economy," said Andy Knight, professor of political science at the University of Alberta.

"He's going to face some of the same challenges that (Alberta NDP premier) Rachel Notley had."

Notley's government introduced a carbon tax to help cut emissions of greenhouse gases in 2015, when Trudeau took power, a measure Kenney has promised to scrap.

However, such a move by Kenney could be countered by federal government measures. Earlier this month, Trudeau imposed a carbon tax in four provinces that do not have plans to tackle global warming, and has made clear he would do the same for Alberta if needed.

Kenney has blamed Trudeau for a lack of progress on new oil export pipelines, including the Trans Mountain expansion that will triple the amount of crude reaching the Pacific Coast from Alberta's oil sands.

The federal government bought the project from Kinder Morgan in August 2018 to ensure it gets built, and will announce next month whether it still thinks the expansion is in the public interest. The project also faces fierce opposition from environmentalists and indigenous groups.

"The world needs more Canadian energy," Kenney said during his speech as his supporters chanted: "Build that pipe!"

(Reporting by Nia Williams; editing by Steve Scherer and Bernadette Baum)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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Updated Date: Apr 18, 2019 01:06:38 IST