Despite polls that showed Alberta’s upstart Wildrose party would win last Tuesday’s election, and with all signs that the national Conservative Party was moving — if informally — to support Wildrose and its leader Danielle Smith, Alberta premier Alison Redford led Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives to yet another victory, prolonging its 41-year reign in Alberta.
The PCs won 61 seats, returning with a staggering majority in Alberta’s provincial assembly just five seats short from the last election, with Wildrose taking just 17 seats. Any pollster prior to Tuesday’s election would have predicted the opposite result — a Wildrose landslide, in fact.
The final result saw the PCs win a 43.95% plurality of the vote (a negative swing of 8.7%) to 34.29% for Wildrose — a 27.51% swing towards the newly enshrined conservative party which, if expectations of victory had not been so high, would have been seen as a massive victory.
The Liberal Party won just 9.89% and won 5 seats (a net negative swing of 17%) and the New Democratic Party won 9.82% and just four seats.
So what happened!?
Wildrose had led narrowly, but consistently, throughout the four-week election campaign, seeming all but certain to end the PCs’ decades-long control of Alberta’s government. In fact, Wildrose seemed to be riding the cusp of a realignment of provincial politics in Canada’s fourth-largest — and richest — province.
Following the elections, pundits pointed to all sorts of reasons for the collapse in Wildrose’s perceived lead: Wildrose’s famous discipline could not stop errant comments that gave voters pause on abortion, on environmental policy, on LGBT rights. Urban voters in Edmonton and Calgary came out en masse for the PCs. Undecideds broke massively in the final few days for the PCs, not Wildrose. That’s all true, of course — even if Smith’s Wildrose party has been billed as a northern version of the U.S. tea party, Albertans are still Canadians, and Canadian conservatives (especially urban Canadian conservatives) are still less moved by social issues than American conservatives.
Even though Wildrose fell far short of polling expectations — and ThreeHundredEight.com can explain in great detail that collapse — the fact is that Wildrose has now established itself as the more conservative of the two major parties in Alberta — and one that received significant support from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s federal Tories. And, of course, Wildrose will be able to hold Redford’s feet to the fire in the national assembly as a true opposition:
At least Alberta had a real election. Hard-fought contests between political parties and ideas are the rule in most provinces and at the federal level, but this has not been true for a while in Alberta, where elections are usually a colossal waste of time. But not Monday. Yes, Ms. Redford won a solid majority, but she surely knows that she will face a real opposition over the next four years, one that will hold her accountable for promises made during the campaign. That hasn’t happened in Alberta since 1993.
The two biggest losers from the Alberta election are the Liberal Party and Harper, both of which loom ominously for federal Canadian politics.
Oddly enough, in an election where the PC demise was predicted, the collapse of the Grits doubled that of the collapse in support for the PCs (the Grits went from about 26% in the last provincial election to under 10% in this election). Much of that collapse is undoubtedly a swing from undecideds and Liberal supporters to the PCs, as shown above in the viral “I never thought I’d vote PC” YouTube clip, but it also follows a federal election last year that saw the Grits wiped out, ceding their official opposition status to the NDP under the late NDP leader Jack Layton.
Harper, who channeled semi-public federal Tory support toward Wildrose in his home province, saw Wildrose win just 17 seats for his efforts.
It is dangerous to make predictions about federal politics in Canada on the basis of provincial elections, especially in such an idiosyncratic province as Alberta, but the result can not be good news for either the federal Grits or the federal Tories.
Meanwhile in Alberta, Redford leads the still-majority PCs, but does so for the first time as the further left of the two major Albertan parties, with a mandate for a relatively stronger role for government (up to a point — remember that Alberta is still the conservative bastion of Canada).
Last word goes to the Calgary Herald‘s Don Braid:
Eventually, voters got the sense of a serious disconnect between Wildrose and mainstream attitudes about tolerance, environment, and much else.
The PC campaign magnified every nuance, of course, but Redford’s party was essentially correct: Wildrose was not ready to run this place.