'Give me a call': Lone NDP Alberta MP open to joining Liberal cabinet – but won't cross floor

As Justin Trudeau searches for ways to include Alberta and Saskatchewan in his new minority government, one person he might want to phone is the NDP’s newly elected Edmonton MP.  

Heather McPherson, the lone progressive Alberta MP in a blue sea of Conservatives, has a message for the Liberals, who were mostly shut out of Western Canada. The Edmonton-Strathcona MP said she’s open helping the Liberal government as it attempts to fill a void after voters rejected Liberal MPs at the ballot box in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“I think it’s important that we look at how we can represent Alberta,” McPherson said. “If the prime minister is interested in having somebody from Alberta that is a New Democrat, then he is he’s always able to give me a call.”

McPherson emphasized she would not leave the NDP to join the Liberals and admitted both parties would need to resolve many details before an opposition MP could even consider sitting at the cabinet table.

“I have no interest in crossing the floor, if that’s what you’re asking,” McPherson told CBC News.

Some kind of formal agreement would likely be needed between the Liberals and the NDP for McPherson to sit in cabinet, where she would be bound by cabinet secrecy.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said on the morning after the Oct. 21 election in Burnaby, B.C. that “everything is on the table” when asked about the different ways the NDP might support a Liberal minority government.

But the following day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ruled out forming a coalition-style government, though he acknowledged the need for more Western representation.

“This is something that I take very seriously, as a responsibility, to ensure that we are moving forward in ways that benefit all Canadians,” Trudeau told reporters during his first news conference after the election. “I will be listening, and working, with a broad range of people to ensure that happens.”

McPherson doesn’t oppose Trans Mountain

After the NDP’s first post-election caucus meeting, its leader reiterated his stance on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

“I’ve been firmly opposed to Trans Mountain,” Singh said on Wednesday. “I will continue to be opposed to it.”  

Unlike Singh, McPherson does not oppose the construction of the pipeline and says fossil fuels will still play a role in Canada’s energy future.

“It’s important to remember is that this pipeline is already there,” McPherson said. “The pipeline has been approved and it’s going forward, and that’s great for Albertans, it’s great for Albertans’ jobs.”

But rather than focus on divisive and sometimes awkward issues within her party, such as pipeline politics, McPherson wants to talk about the things which unite New Democrats, like tackling climate change.

“There’s an awful lot that we agree on,” McPherson said.

A section of pipe is hoisted at a stockpile site for the Trans Mountain expansion project. (Trans Mountain Corporation)

But a Conservative MP from an Edmonton riding that neighbours McPherson thinks the NDP’s divergent views on pipelines means the party can’t adequately represent Alberta in cabinet

“If you have one MP that supports the pipeline, and the leadership and the rest of the party doesn’t, I don’t think that really helps,” Edmonton Mill Woods MP Tim Uppal said. “I think you need to have strong clear direction and you just don’t have that from the NDP.”

Uppal said if Trudeau genuinely was attentive to the concerns of western Canadians he would listen to Conservative MPs and repeal recently enacted legislation that changed federal environment assessments and restricts oil tanker traffic on B.C.’s north coast.

Western alienation is real

Regardless of whether McPherson gets a call from the Liberals, she said she intends be a “progressive” force for Western Canada in Ottawa.

“I think there’s a lot of the weight that came with this particular result,” McPherson said. “Being the only progressive person elected in Alberta or Saskatchewan for that matter.”

“Forty-percent of Albertans voted for a progressive voice and they did not get 40 percent of the seats. And so there is one progressive representative for it for all of those people, and so that’s a responsibility.”

Western alienation, McPherson said, is a real and growing concern, and she says Ottawa needs to do more to include all provinces.

“Albertans feel that they haven’t been heard by Ottawa.,” McPherson said. “We saw that time and time again. The Conservatives take Alberta for granted. The Liberals are obviously very unpopular in Alberta.”

McPherson worries some provincial leaders are throwing fuel on the move to exit the Canadian federation, known by some as Wexit. She said the vast majority of Albertans are proud Canadians.

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