Category Archives: Alberta

Alberta election results: Conservatives lose 44-year hold on power


For the first time since 1935, Albertans will have a government that is led neither by the Progressive Conservative Party or by its socially conservative and agrarian predecessor, Social Credit — and in its place will be a social democratic government that will not be quite as friendly to the province’s oil industry.Canada Flag IconAlberta Flag Icon

Ironically, when the Progressive Conservative government was supposed to lose an election in Alberta in April 2012 to the upstart right-wing Wildrose Party, it actually won a landslide victory instead, delivering a mandate to then-premier Alison Redford. When the New Democratic Party of British Columbia was projected to win a victory in Alberta’s neighboring province of British Columbia, would-be NDP premier Adrian Dix actually lost seats to Liberal premier Christy Clark in the May 2013 provincial election.

Pollsters took their hits for both Alberta’s 2012 vote and British Columbia’s 2013 vote. But they were correct in Alberta’s 2015 election, which brought to an end a record 44-year streak in government for the center-right Progressive Conservative Party.

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RELATED: Alberta’s Prentice could fall prey to oil price collapse

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But instead of Wildrose, it was Alberta’s New Democratic Party (NDP) that emerged victorious in a landslide ‘orange wave,’ validating late polls that gave the NDP a runaway win. It’s a staggering victory for a party that’s never held more than 16 seats in the province’s 87-seat legislative assembly.

It’s also a staggering victory for Rachel Notley, who’s served as the NDP leader only since October 2014, but whose father, Grant Notley, was a popular NDP leader between 1968 until his death in an airplane crash at the age of 45 in 1984. Notley’s death came just two years before his party became the official opposition for the first time in Alberta. Sharp-tongued and competent, Notley held her own in a leader’s debate last week, demonstrating to Albertan voters that she could be trusted as their next premier.


With oil prices still depressed at around $60 per barrel, Progressive Conservative premier Jim Prentice previewed a pre-election budget that called for tough spending cuts and income tax increases in response to an anticipated $5 billion deficit for the budget. His call for snap elections now seems like a moment of hubris for a new premier that returned to politics after four years in the private sector. The decision will push the Progressive Conservatives into third place, truncating Prentice’s potential premiership by a year.

Without a doubt, Prentice will become the first political victim of the massive drop in oil prices in the past nine months.

But Prentice had always based his career in federal politics as a minister in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, not in Albertan politics. By the time he returned, he was running at the head of a badly tarnished Progressive Conservative brand in the province after Redford was forced to resign amid scandals over the level of her spending as premier. After Redford and her predecessor Ed Stelmech seemed to pale in comparison to Ralph Klein, the 14-year premier, Prentice appeared like a return to form — especially after Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and eight other Wildrose MLAs crossed the aisle to join the PCs in support of the Prentice government. Smith, who failed to win re-nomination among the voters of her new party, will leave politics; her successor as Wildrose leader, Brian Jean, has surpassed Prentice’s PC to become the leader of the opposition. That’s an amazing result for a party that was written off as a zombie movement just months ago.

‘Grim Jim,’ as he became known in the final days of the campaign, had already conceded that Alberta is in store for a fiscal adjustment — voters decided, however, that they preferred Notley’s version to Prentice’s. Moreover, after 44 years, the damage to the PC brand in the post-Klein era was already done long before Prentice, a capable public servant, took the reins of government. Prentice, in brief remarks after the outcome, resigned not only as Progressive Conservative leader, but also as the newly elected MLA from the Calgary-Foothills constituency just minutes after Canadian news networks declared him the victor.

Notley’s NDA is expected to pursue slightly more progressive policies than the Progressive Conservatives, and they will still have to face a tricky budget deficit. With a plan to raise corporate taxes from 10% to just 12%, and with a plan to resurrect a royalty review (last enacted by Stelmech) to determine whether Alberta’s government should be entitled to a greater share of the province’s mineral wealth. In contrast to the rhetoric that painted Notley and the NDP as wild-eyed leftists, the plan is only marginally more progressive than the PC budget. Nevertheless, Notley will struggle to achieve a balance among placating business interests, raising revenues to plug the budget gap and stimulative spending as the oil-dominated economy stumbles. She’ll begin by facing a skeptical opposition, especially among Wildrose stalwarts, that believes there is still plenty of room to cut Alberta’s budget before raising taxes on corporations or individuals.

Everyone expected the NDP to do well in Edmonton, but in the tripartite nature of Albertan politics, polls as recently as 10 days ago showed that the Progressive Conservatives would hold ‘fortress Calgary’ and Wildrose would dominate in the rest of Alberta in largely rural constituencies. The reason that Notley will lead a majority government is due to the inroads that she was able to make against the PC in both Calgary and the rest of Alberta.

Notably, Notley’s opposition to the ‘Northern Gateway’ pipeline, the issue that tanked Dix’s hopes to lead an NDP government in British Columbia, didn’t harm her in Alberta. Onlookers in the United States will note that she’s ambivalent about the construction of the Keystone XL, too — while she doesn’t necessarily oppose its approval by the US government, she’s made clear that her government will not prioritize Keystone, instead focusing on the Energy East and other more feasible pipelines. Nevertheless, the promise of tighter scrutiny on the oil industry will mean a tougher regulatory environment.

Provincial politics, as a rule, are much different than Canadian federal politics, and provincial results don’t necessarily predict future national results. Prentice’s defeat is a minor blow to Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, who appointed Prentice as one of his top ministers until Prentice resigned from federal politics in 2010. Moreover, it leaves Newfoundland and Labrador as the only province with a Conservative or Progressive Conservative premier — and Paul Davis’s Tories are trailing by 20 to 30 points in polls as the September 2015 provincial election approaches.

It will certainly bring to an end speculation that Prentice could one day succeed Harper as the federal Conservative leader. Taken together with foreign secretary John Baird’s resignation in March, it’s good news, perhaps, for Peter MacKay, the justice minister and former defence minister.

But the NDP, which is now the official opposition at the national level, has fallen behind both Harper’s Tories and Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party. So many provincial factors contributed to the NDP victory in Alberta, including a presumably wide swing from Alberta Liberal Party supporters to Notley, mean that you should draw with caution any conclusions from the Alberta election for the October federal vote.

Alberta’s Prentice could fall prey to oil price collapse


When former federal minister Jim Prentice (pictured above), once among the closest allies of prime minister Stephen Harper, took on the office of Alberta’s premier last September, there was a sense that the province’s long-ruling Progressive Conservative Party was back on track.Canada Flag IconAlberta Flag Icon

In the nine years since the indefatigable Ralph Klein left office, the PC held onto power under a series of increasingly ineffective leaders. The well-meaning Ed Stelmach, one of Canada’s leading officials of Ukrainian descent, lasted five years, and responded to the province’s first budget deficit in a generation by trying to tax the corporate oil interests that command so much power in both Alberta’s public and private sectors. Alison Redford, who won a poll-defying landslide in the 2012 provincial elections against the populist, right-wing Wildrose, so alienated voters with extravagant expenses, including a $45,000 bill for her trip to attend former South African president Nelson Mandela’s funeral, that she was forced out by her own caucus in March 2014.

So Prentice’s return to provincial politics, after a successful stint in the Harper administration and a detour to the private sector, signaled that the responsible adults had returned. There’s nothing particularly flashy about Prentice, But he oozes the quiet competence of a business consultant, and he has the Tory instincts of a rare Western Canadian politician who was never part of the Reform/Alliance (like Harper), but instead the old Progressive Conservative Party that merged into the Alliance to form today’s Conservative Party.

Just a few months into the Prentice era, the sometimes controversial leader of Wildrose, Danielle Smith, resigned the leadership and caucused with the Progressive Conservatives, bringing half of Wildrose caucus with her.

Even as oil prices started a precipitous fall last autumn, Prentice appeared like a premier in command, even if the sudden change in global oil markets suddenly left Alberta with a gaping hole in its budget. Prentice, who spent his first months in office shaking up the Albertan bureaucracy, seemed as much up to the challenge as anyone, and he promised his government would take the hard choices to close the budget deficit in three years, taking care not to raise corporate taxes to chase away potential business at a time of uncertainty for an economy so dependent on natural resources. Continue reading Alberta’s Prentice could fall prey to oil price collapse

Redford steps down as Alberta premier amid crisis for governing PCs


Despite the last-minute surge in support for the Progressive Conservative Party that led premier Alison Redford to an improbable landslide victory in April 2012, her resignation as premier this week is the latest sign that the party’s four-decade run governing Alberta may soon come to an end.Alberta Flag IconCanada Flag Icon

Redford, who took office in October 2011, will resign effective Sunday, creating a scramble for the PC government to find a new leader and a new premier in Canada’s wealthiest and fourth-most populous province — also the home province of Canada’s Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

Deputy premier Dave Hancock will serve as interim premier for the next four to six months until the party chooses a new leader.

Redford stepped down after facing a revolt within her own caucus, most notably over a decision to attend the funeral late last year of former South African president Nelson Mandela:

The embattled premier has been facing down critics since early this year, when she expensed about $45,000 for a trip overseas for Nelson Mandela’s funeral.  For weeks, Redford ignored calls to refund the money, which many called an extravagant and unnecessary use of public funds.

In mid-March, Redford apologized and repaid the costs associated with the trip, but it appeared the damage was already done.  Critics lambasted Redford for what they called a sense of entitlement as more revelations of questionable spending were brought to light, including allegations that Redford had flown on her own government plane while Progressive Conservative MLAs took half-empty flights to the same destinations.

Redford’s decision also follows a Leger poll earlier this month that showed her party trailing the even more socially and economically conservative Wildrose Party by a margin of 38% to 25% (the provincial Liberal Party would win 16% and the provincial New Democratic Party would win 15%).  More ominously, the poll gave Redford a 20% approval rating, compared to a 64% disapproval rating.  Other polls show the PCs trailing by an even wider margin — a March 19 ThinkHQ poll gave Wildrose a 46%-to-19% advantage.

MLA Len Webber broke from the PC caucus last week to stand as an independent, and Donna Kennedy-Glans did the same on Monday, with other PC legislators promising to follow.

The Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith, remains controversial, even within Alberta, a province with some of Canada’s most conservative voters.  But the uproar over Redford’s spending decisions plays right into the message of fiscal restraint that Smith has hammered since becoming the Wildrose leader in 2009. Continue reading Redford steps down as Alberta premier amid crisis for governing PCs

Longtime conservative Albertan premier Ralph Klein has died

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No one symbolized the conservatism of western Canada more than Ralph Klein, who died today at age 70.

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Elected Alberta’s premier in 1992, Klein served until 2006, championing the ‘Alberta Advantage,’ and presiding over what became Canada’s wealthiest province, the heartland of today’s Conservative Party.

Tory leader Stephen Harper has represented a Calgary riding in the House of Commons since 1993, and the Reform Party, later the Canadian Alliance, got its start among Calgarian conservatives like Harper and Preston Manning.  Harper engineered a merger with the then-decimated Progressive Conservative Party at the national level, resulting in the united center-right government he leads today.

Klein, who remained firmly planted in Albertan provincial politics, nonetheless became the ideological godfather of the more fiscally conservative, more Western, and more aggressive conservatism that came to Canadian federal politics in the early 2000s under Harper.

Despite his resignation (with a push from his Progressive Conservative colleagues) as premier in 2006, Klein’s legacy may also be one of the reasons that Albertan premier Alison Redford, despite slumping polls, held on to win a full term as premier in the April 2012 Albertan provincial election in the face of a more stridently populist and socially conservative challenge from the newer Wildrose Party.  The win continued a Progressive Conservative run of power that’s been uninterrupted since 1971.

As Don Braid of The Calgary Herald writes, much of Klein’s legacy is in his campaign to eliminate Alberta’s debt:

It’s deeply ironic that at the moment of his death, Ralph Klein’s legacy has been formally overturned, as a new wave of Alberta politicians revert to debt, borrowing and deficit as the chief tools of government. Klein banned those things. He paid off debt and then made it illegal. A man who knew how to squeeze a penny, he was the perfect leader to throw off the crushing debt Alberta faced when he took office in late 1992.

Read it all, but there’s much more from The Calgary Herald here, including this video and this timeline of his life.

Colby Cosh at MacLean’s notes his legacy on debt, but also on federalism and the assertion of Alberta’s growing regional power, despite Klein’s prickly attitude toward eastern Canada — he once termed eastern migrants to his province ‘creeps and bums’:

The ways in which Ralph Klein is misunderstood outside Alberta seem to mirror the ways in which Alberta itself is misunderstood; although attachment to religion is actually lower in Alberta than in Ontario and the Atlantic Provinces, it is Alberta that is thought of as an atavistic, “socially conservative” hate factory. The real difference between Alberta and other provinces is more structural than ideological or religious. Alberta has a strong lingering streak of laissez-faire utilitarianism because most of its citizens are no more than a generation removed from those who came here for jobs.

The Globe and Mail gathers some of Klein’s more memorable quotes here, including this quintessential quote from when he was Calgary’s mayor from 1980 to 1989:

“Everyone knows I have sins. I eat too much. I still drink. I gamble and, God forbid, I still see some of my old friends.” – In April, 1982, explaining how he hadn’t let being mayor completely alter his lifestyle.

The Toronto Star‘s Petti Fong considers Klein’s relationship with the Chinese community here, and Don Martin’s take at The National Post here.

Photo credit to John Ulan of the Canadian Press.

Former Alberta premier Stemlach: Climate change doomed Wildrose

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.  Continue reading Former Alberta premier Stemlach: Climate change doomed Wildrose

Albertan provincial election results

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!? Continue reading Albertan provincial election results

Wildrose may be leading among federal Tories

With the Albertan provincial election just a week away, this latest nugget cannot be good news for the Progressive Conservative party:

A majority of Alberta’s 28 federal MPs are quietly “leaning” in the direction of the Wildrose party, which is seeking next week to end the Progressive Conservative dynasty in the province, says Calgary MP Rob Anders.

“I think I can safely say that the majority of members of Parliament inside the Alberta caucus, that I’m aware of, are leaning Wildrose,” said the MP for Calgary West, according to Monday’s edition of the Hill Times, an Ottawa-based weekly political and public policy newspaper.

“There are still a few stragglers who are supporting the Progressive Conservatives, but they’re more reluctant to make a public admission of that because they see the numbers and where things are heading.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has told his MPs in Alberta, B.C. and Quebec to feel free to publicly endorse whichever candidates they choose, since all three provinces have parties on the centre-right competing for voters who back Harper federally, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said last month.

The news breaks as the PC leader and current premier Alison Redford had to deny reports of a rift with former premier Ralph Klein, whose nearly two decades at the helm of the PC lock on Alberta’s government looms over the campaign, which could see the PCs forced out of office for the first time in 41 years. Continue reading Wildrose may be leading among federal Tories

Wildrose continues to stoke prairie wildfire

A new poll out in Alberta shows Wildrose taking a 43% lead to the Progressive Conservative’s 30%, with less than three weeks to go until the provincial assembly election — a stronger result even than polls earlier this week that showed Wildrose taking a narrow lead over the PCs, who have governed Alberta since 1971. 

The poll shows Wildrose nearly even with the PCs in the capital city of Edmonton, but with nearly a 20-point lead in Calgary and nearly a 20-point lead everywhere else.  The New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party continue to battle for third place in the low teens (NDP at 12%, Grits at 11%).

Don Baird at the Calgary Herald frames the campaign in stark dynamics, contrasting the tightly controlled Wildrose campaign to the more freewheeling PC campaign, but also in their ideological roots:

Ideologically, the two parties are now so widely separated they can’t possible reunite for many years.

[Premier] Alison Redford has whittled her PCs down to their origins as traditional Peter Lougheed progressives, firm believers in the state’s power to shape  economics and behaviour.

Danielle Smith’s Wildrosers are latter-day Preston Manning Reformers, suspicious even of the governments they run themselves, but trusting of individuals.

That characterization is definitely not a good sign for the long-governing PCs in what constitutes the most conservative province in Canada — the tea-party-like Wildrose has been able to claim a mantle of the “true” conservative party with its emphasis on budget-cutting and smaller government.

The PCs are starting to respond with vigour, emphasizing Wednesday that Wildrose would endanger ‘conscience rights’ by allowing officials to refuse health care or other governmental services on the basis of personal opposition to same-sex marriages, contraception or abortion.

Baird — if you are reading just one person on Albertan politics, by the way, it should be him — agrees that the PC campaign has no choice but to launch a “bogeywoman” attack on Wildrose and on the prospect of Smith as Alberta’s premier:

The stakes aren’t just power. They’re history, too. Redford is on the brink  of becoming the last Alberta PC premier, forever filed with Kim Campbell as a female leader who suffered for the sins of men before her.

Anybody who thinks the PCs will just accept this fate is deluded. Their real campaign begins now. It will bring 20 days of bogeywoman politics aimed at [Smith].

Wildrose takes clear polling lead in Alberta

From ThreeHundredEight, which now projects Wildrose in majority territory in advance of Alberta’s April 23 provincial assembly elections.

If Wildrose — think of it as an Albertan answer to the U.S. tea party movement — holds on, it could knock the Progressive Conservative Party out of power for the first time in four decades.

Alberta’s Tea Party makes a run at power

As the federal Canadian political scene solidified with the New Democratic Party’s selection of a leader last Saturday, attention this week has turned west to Alberta, where Premier Alison Redford (above, top) has called a long-awaited general election for April 23.

Alberta, Canada’s fourth-largest by population and its richest by GDP per capital, is an odd province politically — it has been governed by a conservative party for over a century, going back to 1917, when the United Farmers of Alberta entered electoral politics and swept the Liberal Party out of office.  In 1935, the more radical Social Credit took power — and stayed there until 1971, largely under the premiership of Ernest Manning, who served from 1943 to 1968, governing Alberta with a strongly Christian and prairie populist political power base that had little do with the “social credit” theories from which the party’s name originated.  Thereafter, the Progressive Conservatives took power, where they’ve remained ever since; under the premiership of Ralph Klein from 1992 to 2006, Alberta generally prospered with a strong economy buoyed by oil wealth as well.

Klein’s successor, Ed Stelmach, continued the streak in the 2008 elections, in which the Progressive Conservatives won 72 of the 83 seats in Alberta’s legislative assembly (the Liberals took 9 and the NDP the other 2).

But times being rough with a financial crisis, and with 41 consecutive years in power tricky for any party to navigate (let alone in a society with open elections), Stelmach’s popularity waned and Redford succeeded him last October.

With the Liberals and NDP terminally unpopular in Canada’s most reliably conservative — culturally and economically — province, it seems unbelievable that it took so long for a new conservative alternative to emerge.

That alternative — the Wildrose Party, so named for the wild roses that grow in the prairie province, burst onto the scene in 2008 and started to lead polls for the first time in 2010 (at the same time a little certain conservative movement in the United States was making trouble on the far right as well).  Its popularity waned as the economy seemed to improve and as Redford emerged, but it has now gradually clawed back into an essential tie for first place under leader Danielle Smith (above, bottom). Continue reading Alberta’s Tea Party makes a run at power