In the aftermath of the upstart conservative Wildrose Party’s electoral freefall in last month’s Albertan provincial election, former Albertan premier Ed Stemlach earlier this week claimed that Wildrose leader Danielle Smith’s comments on climate change may have been the decisive factor that sent Albertan voters running back to the long-standing Progressive Conservatives:
“These are serious matters,” he told reporters…. “You’re going to go to Europe today and tell them you don’t believe in climate change? And you are going to sell them oil?”
Stemlach said that’s the question he heard at the doors while campaigning for Tory candidates during the election.
“You don’t have to believe in it or disbelieve it. That’s not the issue,” he explained. “Your customer is demanding it, so if you are selling black suits and your customer wants white, what are you going to do? Convince them that black is white?”
Although the Wildrose had been tipped to win the election from nearly the moment it was announced, and although prime minister Stephen Harper and the federal Conservative Party was seen as informally backing Smith and Wildrose, it lost badly to the PCs in the April 23 election, winning just 17 seats in the provincial legislature with 34.3%, far behind the PCs with 44.0% and 61 seats. The Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party languished in third place, with just under 10% each and five and four seats, respectively.
Smith’s comments doubting climate change were just one of several controversial moments — Wildrose candidates often voiced socially conservative views on contraception, abortion and gay marriage throughout the election campaign, stepping on Smith’s more popular election message of budget discipline. Momentum, nonetheless, seemed to be with the upstart Wildrose party as Canada’s answer to the U.S. ‘tea party’ and as the most direct challenge to PC rule in Alberta — the party has controlled Alberta’s government since 1971.
Stemlach resigned in October 2011 after five years, succeeding longtime Albertan premier Ralph Klein, giving current Albertan premier Alison Redford just months in the job before April’s election. Redford, in winning a full mandate, is seen as having done so with the support of longstanding PC supporters as well as strategic Liberal and NDP voters, who feared the socially conservative views of some of the Wildrose candidates.