Almost 45 years of Tory rule – but now Alberta is itching for change

On May 13 the Canadian province of Alberta will head to the polls. Only this time it will be different; there is actually a chance that the government might change.

For over four decades now the province has passively accepted the status quo – The Progressive Conservative (or ‘PC’) government – but change is brewing. The PC government will almost certainly be gone this year – but the question is over who will take its place.

Alberta is steeped in conservative tradition and loyalty. The Centre-right Progressive Conservatives have governed since 1971, and the province has had just three governments since the 1920s – all Right-wing, since the defeat of the Liberal government on August 13, 1921.

The province is also home to incumbent Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is often criticized as an anti-environmentalist with his government’s heavy investment and subsidisation of fossil fuels.

Stephen Harper is no native to Alberta – an Ontarian, he left his home province in search of greener – or perhaps ‘bluer’ – pastures.
But there’s a problem. Alberta is Canada’s hub of oil and gas.

Alberta oil has been putting food on the tables of Albertan families for generations, and has made the province extremely wealthy and, regardless to say, an economic leader in the country.

But oil prices are taking a dive. And with it, around 32,000 jobs will bleed within the next year in Alberta, leaving the economy in peril. Much like the mining crash in Australia, the Albertan oil bust has blown a big financial hole in the provincial government’s books, ending four decades of clean-slate trends.

The hole is big – $7b big, and tough decisions are being made as a result.

In early 2012 the PCs were plunged into crisis with an expenses scandal which eventually triggered the resignation of Premier Alison Redford on March 23. By now support for the government had fallen to an incredible new low with less than 20% of Albertans intending to vote for the party which, in the 90s, recorded above 60% support. This saw the rise of a relatively new force – the Wildrose party. A right-wing, economically liberal ‘alternative’.

A tearful and self-sorry Redford left Dave Hancock to the job whilst the PCs desperately  head-hunted for a leader to save them from almost inevitable death. By now Alberta was in revolt against self-serving politicians.

Alison Redford’s teary resignation. Possibly the last elected Tory premier of Alberta.

On September the 15th Jim Prentice took the chains from Hancock and planned the PC comeback. For a while it worked. The PCs, over just a couple of months, climbed as high as 46% in the polls, sending Wildrose plummeting from a pleasing 50% to just 14%.

Things got bad for Wildrose. Very bad. Shockingly, 12 MPs, including the leader, defected to the PCs.

Then began the PC’s second fall from grace.

They’ve fallen so far they’re essentially back at square one, now regularly polling in the low 20s, thanks to tough budget decisions that include tax hikes and cuts to services. The Premier is also having to constantly apologise about the Redford era of government, promising the PCs have changed.

But something incredible has happened. For the first time, Albertans haven’t redirected to the first Right-wing alternative; they’re moving left… in droves.

Polling is giving us mixed messages, but some suggest the lead of Alberta’s only Centre-left party, the Albertan New Democrats, is at 34%. That’s 12 points ahead of their main rival, the PCs. Although most polls indicate the New Democrats (NDP) trail the Wildrose party by 1-2 points. The fact the Right are being threatened in Alberta shows what the troubled economy has done to the political landscape.

Albertans are no longer feeling safe and secure in their positions. They want real change.

Not impressed at 34%? Consider this; last election the NDP managed only 9% of the total vote with almost 80% picking Wildrose and the PCs.

Times are certainly changing in Alberta, the province is strongly regarded as conservative heartland. But the blue fortress is being torn down by a new revolution; a kind of politics Alberta has never seen before. NDP leader Rachel Notley has been clever with her sides campaign, desperate to show voters just how ‘old and tired’ the PCs are:

Alberta has long rejected the policies of the Left, for a number of reasons, among them the Left’s more sympathetic position on green politics. But now with oil taking a dive, Alberta might just need new jobs – green jobs – to survive as an economy.

Rachel Notley – leading the revolution.

Jim Prentice – briefly breathed air back into the PCs.

Brian Jean, Wildrose leader. Promising a few nice tax cuts… but big public service cuts.

Bennett Morgan. 


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