Tories deliver bolt from blue
Redford’s Conservatives defy poll predictions to emphatically repel threat from upstart Wildrose and extend 41-year dynasty in Alberta politics
In a dramatic outcome that surprised even the most ardent Tory supporters Monday night, Albertans returned the Progressive Conservatives to power and extended the party’s 41-year lock on power.
With Danielle Smith’s Wildrose leading opinion polls for much of the 28-day election contest, many experts had predicted the new, right-wing party would be the one to finally topple the long-ruling Tories.
But in what one observer dubbed a “second miracle on the Prairies,”
It was Premier Alison Redford who was celebrating another majority government for the PCS.
The Progressive Conservatives are now on track to become the longestserving provincial government in Canadian political history.
It’s also the first time that Albertans have elected a woman as premier.
“Today, Alberta, you spoke. You spoke loudly. And I want you to know, I heard you,” Redford told roaring supporters at Calgary’s downtown Metropolitan Centre.
“This election was about choice, a choice to put up walls or build bridges . . . tonight Alberta chose to build bridges.”
In High River, Wildrose supporters were disappointed to have lost, but Smith welcomed the opportunity to hold the government to account as the new official opposition, a role the Liberals held during the last legislature.
“Well, folks, tonight we found out change might take a little longer than we thought,” Smith told supporters at the Highwood Golf and Country Club in High River.
“I relish the opportunity and I am grateful for the responsibility that Albertans have bestowed upon us. Today, I stand at the helm of the official opposition.”
With votes still be counted in many Alberta ridings at press time, the Conservatives were on track to form a majority with 61 seats, followed by the Wildrose with 18, the NDP with four and the Liberals with four.
The popular vote, as of 10:45 p.m., saw the Tories with 44 per cent, the Wildrose at 35 per cent, the NDP and Liberals at 10 per cent, and the Alberta party at one per cent.
When the legislature dissolved in March, the PCS had 66 seats, Liberals eight, Wildrose four, NDP two, and Alberta Party one. There was also one independent and one vacancy.
Four new seats were added for this election, taking the total to 87.
NDP Leader Brian Mason, who Progressive Conservative party Leader since 2011 Riding: Calgary-elbow Age: 47 Born: Kitimat, B.C. Current home town: Calgary Education: Law degree from University of Saskatchewan Work outside politics: Worked in Ottawa as a policy adviser in the prime minister’s office. Opened law firm in Calgary, spent much of 1990s in Africa, focusing on human rights litigation, constitutional reform and education. In 2005, she was appointed by UN to help administer Afghanistan’s first parliamentary election. Political career: Won close race in 2008, was named justice minister in Ed Stelmach’s cabinet. Won victory in October 2011 leadership race to replace Stelmach. was on pace to double his party’s representation to four seats, said he was excited by the party’s performance.
“We’re going to need a slightly bigger phone booth,” he told his supporters in Edmonton. “We’re going to have a renewed NDP opposition in that legislature.”
But Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, who was looking at a decline in the number of seats his party held from the previous legislature, said the result was not the one that the Liberals were hoping for. But he said he respected the decision of the voters.
“The people are wise,” he said. “And it is out of deference and respect for that wisdom that I congratulate premier-designate Alison Redford on an election well fought.”
It was victory that surprised politicians, pundits and pollsters.
University of Calgary political scientist Doreen Barrie called Redford’s victory “a second miracle on the Prairies,” a reference to former premier Ralph Klein’s victory in the 1993 provincial election.
“It’s very significant,” said Barrie, adding that the win gives Redford a strong mandate to implement the changes that she wants.
“She will be able to clean up the party in a way that she wasn’t able to before the election.”
Barrie said the PC party must be happy with the outcome.
“She has faced the fiercest opposition of any Conservative leader,” Barrie said.
“This party, the Wildrose, has sort of blown the whole thing apart in this election campaign and they thought they were blowing up the Conservative party as well.”
It was a hard-fought, spirited and often nasty 28-day race.
The PCS staggered out of the gate, burdened by a string of controversies — including limiting the terms of a public health-care inquiry, news of a “bullying” letter sent by Tory MLA Hector Goudreau to a northern school board and Gary Mar’s startling suspension as Alberta’s envoy to Asia. She also had to deal with ongoing fallout from the so-called “no-meet” committee.
But following a charged television debate, the focus suddenly switched from the Progressive Conservatives to the poll-leading Wildrose.
Smith’s opponents took aim at what they called Wildrose’s insular “firewall” policies — such as its aggressive stance on federal equalization.
Opponents also charged the party with planning to inject more private care into the health system, though Smith insisted Wildrose is committed to making any changes under the Canada Health Act.
Smith then faced a backlash over issues concerning racial identity and gay rights, thanks to Calgary candidate Ron Leech saying religious minorities couldn’t represent the whole community as well as Caucasians could, and Edmonton candidate Allan Hunsperger who had blogged that homosexuals would end up in a “lake of fire.”
Smith fired back at critics by stressing that a Wildrose govern-
Today, Alberta, you spoke. You spoke loudly. And I want you to know, I heard you CONSERVATIVE LEADER ALISON REDFORD
ment would not tolerate discrimination against any individual regardless of ethnicity, religion or background.
But in the end, it was the Tories that came out on top.
“I congratulate Premier Redford and the PC party on a strong race. I guess the polls played jokes on all of us,” said the Wildrose’s Rob Anderson, who won his Airdrie seat. “The people of Alberta have spoken, but maybe the fearmongering worked better than we thought it would.”
Smith said she knew when they started out that the party had their work cut out for them, but they ran a great campaign.
“We ran on our ideas ... and we ran with our ideas with conviction and clarity,” Smith said.
“That being said, I acknowledge that we wanted to do better and we expected to do better. Am I surprised? Yeah. Am I disappointed? Yeah. Am I discouraged? Not a chance.”
Progressive Conservatives were delighted — and a bit astonished — by the results.
“Wow is about the best I can say,” said PC party president Bill Smith as the results continued to roll in.
“It’s been a battle and our folks came through and our leader hit the right chords with people about what the future of Alberta looks like with an Alison Redford government and now it’s up to the PC government to fulfil those promises.”
A jubilant Alison Redford speaks to Tory supporters at PC headquarters in the Metropolitan Centre on Monday night, vowing a new era of change for Alberta.
Tory supporters cheer as they watch early results come in at PC headquarters at the Metropolitan Centre in Calgary on Monday.