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Photo Credit/Matt Jiggins

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Momentum, encouragement, impetus — these are all words that are used to talk about what the recent win by the Alberta NDP indicates for the prospect of the federal party. But they mean nothing, because the real keyword is energy.


Few can doubt that the lynchpin of any Canadian national energy plan is the tar sands. With this being the case, Mulcair is left with the task of leveraging the recent Alberta win to build confidence in his party’s ability to manage energy nationwide.


On important issues beyond energy, the federal NDP have found their base. By opposing Bill C-51 from the beginning, Mulcair gallantly fought off the Liberals, who alienated their base by betraying their otherwise liberty-focused platform.


On Keystone, the NDP’s early opposition now lands them in a strategic sweet spot. For longtime opponents of the pipeline, the NDP’s firmness will be attractive. For supporters of the pipeline, Obama’s recent veto on construction makes the issue irrelevant.


The NDP’s opposition to the now-dead Keystone XL can still invigorate environmentalists, but is inert in the mind of the mainstream voter.


As it stands, polls show gains for Mulcair, presumably resulting from the thrust of the Notley victory on the profile of the NDP. But this boost may not live to shape results come October.


Mulcair’s federal success relies on the Alberta NDP demonstrating competence in handling the economy. For those cautious about turning over Canada’s economy to the social democrats, Alberta will be the testing ground.


A key barometer for NDP electability will be employment. If Notley can stem the flow of laid-off workers from the oil sector in her first few months in office, the federal NDP can assert themselves as a fiscally-savvy contender to the tight-belted Harper government.


For Notley, encouraging the domestic transport of some oil out-of-province is essential to keeping the economy going amid deflated oil prices. If Notley is successful in this respect, she will provide Mulcair with an opportunity to shape a nationwide plan to curb the rising cost of energy, particularly in Ontario’s manufacturing sector.


Mulcair’s task is as easy as supporting an existing proposal. Conveniently, Notley campaigned in support of the Energy East Pipeline, which would transport tar sands bitumen to the eastern provinces. The power of oil availability to drive down energy costs goes without saying.


A coordinated energy project centred on the Energy East Pipeline would also allow the NDP to make gains in Ontario, the home of 121 seats and an energy-reliant manufacturing sector. Greater access to oil in Ontario would be particularly meaningful in the wake of a contentious cap-and-trade tax introduced by the Ontario Liberals under Wynne.


Considering that Mulcair is naturally pitted against Trudeau in a competition for the leftward vote-split, these gains are critical. On energy, the NDP have stumbled upon a synergy between their federal and Alberta branches, and thus secured for Mulcair the support of a critical premier. The Liberals have failed to do this.


Between now and October, Mulcair has the task of converting the success and vision of Notley into confidence in the federal NDP on the economy, and on energy. The road to Parliament Hill starts in Alberta.

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