Twenty years since Alberta’s epic 1993 election.

Colleen and Ralph Klein (screenshot from CBC news archive)
Colleen and Ralph Klein (screenshot from CBC news archive)

Today marks the 20th anniversary of Alberta’s 1993 election, known in Tory political circles as “the miracle on the Prairies” and to others as the election that interrupted the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals (in which the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Wayne Gretzky-led Los Angeles Kings). This election was Alberta’s most competitive in decades and saw the 22 year governing Progressive Conservatives led by former Calgary Mayor Ralph Klein face-off against the reenergized Liberals led by former Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore.

The Tories emerged as the victors of the closely fought election, successfully distancing themselves from the unpopular former Premier Don Getty, who Premier Klein had only replaced the year before the election. Significant retirements of long-time Tory MLAs brought a new batch of candidates on “Ralph’s Team” to compete with an impressive and well-funded slate of Liberal candidates.

Hoping to ride the wave of electoral discontent that the Reform Party would ride in the federal election later that year, the Liberals challenged the Tories on many traditional conservative issues and attracted some social conservative candidates who might not find a natural home in the Liberal Party. A few of these successful social conservative Liberal candidates, including Edmonton’s Julius Yankowsky, would later cross the floor to the Tories.

With both the PCs and Liberals campaigning on fiscal conservative platforms geared toward eliminating budget deficits and paying down debts, there may have been less policy difference between the two parties than could normally be expected.

Laurence Decore (screenshot from CBC news archive)
Laurence Decore (screenshot from CBC news archive)

Similar to last year’s provincial election, where a “Lake of Fire” helped cost Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party more than a few votes in  closely fought campaign, a controversial social issue played a defining role in the 1993 election. Political scientist Peter McCormick wrote in the Canadian Annual Review of Politics and Public Affairs, 1995, “…it was generally agreed the Liberal leader Laurence Decore’s causal raising of the abortion issue was one of the reasons his party lost the 1993 provincial election.”

On June 15, 1993, Premier Klein’s PC Party was re-elected with 51 seats out of 83 and 44% of the provincial vote. Premier Klein would lead his party through three more election victories before he retired in 2006. Winning every seat in Edmonton and a handful in rural Alberta, Calgary and Lethbridge, the Liberals elected 32 MLAs and earned 39% of the provincial vote.

A number of Tory stalwarts, including Bonnyville‘s Ernie Isley, Leduc‘s Donald Sparrow and St. Albert’s Dick Fowler were unseated by Liberal candidates. A Liberal candidate was even successful in capturing Calgary-West, the coveted constituency represented by Premier Peter Lougheed from 1967 to 1986. The Liberals have never again come this close to forming government in Alberta.

Ray Martin (screenshot from CBC news archive)
Ray Martin (screenshot from CBC news archive)

Led by Edmonton-Norwood MLA Ray Martin, the official opposition New Democrats lost the 16 seats they had won in the previous election. Electoral boundary redistribution, retiring incumbents, and the defection of Stony Plain NDP MLA Stan Woloshyn to the Tories did not help. With a rise of support for the Liberals in Edmonton and the Tory’s new popular leader Premier Klein, the NDP were abandoned by many of their traditional supporters in this election.

Watch this archived CBC news report on the 1993 election (points to anyone who can name the journalist narrating the CBC report).

12 thoughts on “Twenty years since Alberta’s epic 1993 election.”

  1. Huh, I didn’t know an NDP MLA defected to the Tories! But then again, I was only beginning to pay attention to politics back then. Seems like a strange move though.

  2. @Fan O’Bach – thanks for the comment. Yes, it is a little odd. Stan Woloshyn was first elected as the NDP MLA for Stony Plain in the 1989 election and then crossed to the Tories in 1992 (Woloshyn was reportedly a former card-carrying Progressive Conservative member when he was elected as an NDP MLA).

    As a PC MLA, Mr. Woloshyn served as a cabinet minister and he retired in 2004.

  3. Also, the 1993 election saw the election of a handful of MLAs currently in the Assembly including Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth (then a Tory) and PC MLAs Gene Zwozdesky (then a Liberal), Yvonne Fritz, and Moe Amery.

    Unsuccessful in their 1993 candidacies were Tories Dave Hancock in Edmonton-Whitemud (he was later elected in 1997) and Ron Liepert in Edmonton-Highlands (later elected in Calgary-West in 2004).

  4. “…it was generally agreed the Liberal leader Laurence Decore’s causal raising of the abortion issue was one of the reasons his party lost the 1993 provincial election.”

    Unlikely, as the Liberals actually increased their support levels somewhat afterward. Immediately before Decore’s abortion comments, they were polling at 35%. In the next poll, they got 37%, and on election day they got 40%.

  5. @The Invisible Hand – Thanks for the comment. I looked through the news archives of the election, but couldn’t find much detailed reporting on polls over the course of that campaign. Maybe the abortion comments didn’t seem to have much to do with it at the time, but a few sources reference it in publications afterward.

    – Dave

  6. When I researched it awhile back, these were the only polls I could find from the 1993 election.

    “Recent Tory poll” before writ drop: PC 53, Liberal 34, NDP 13
    May 20 poll: PC 52, Liberal 35, NDP 9, Other 4
    (Decore’s abortion comments came immediately after this one.)
    June 9 poll: PC 48, Liberal 37, NDP 12, Other 2
    June 15 election: PC 45, Liberal 40, NDP 11, Other 5

    What were Peter McCormick’s stated reasons for believing that the comments were a reason the Liberals lost?

  7. As a former resident of Calgary-West I remember that election very well.

    The reason Calgary-West went Liberal is because Danny Dalla-Longa actually door knocked the heck out of the constituency and his PC competitor Ron Leigh was an alderman who even though my dad liked Ralph Klein could not stomach voting for.

    I remember Dalla-Longa came to our door on a dark and cold night well advance of the election and we thought he looked goofy.

    Why didn’t Decore win? I remember the sentiment at the time that most in Calgary wanted change but couldn’t trust that the Liberals weren’t going to be worse than Getty.

    In Calgary voters really didn’t know Decore and he didn’t resonate like Ralph did.

  8. Too bad the Wildrose has such an inept leader and can’t topple the Tories. Time for a change at the top!

  9. ” Ralph Klein’s Real Legacy
    Albertans can thank the ‘King’ for their one-party state. ”

    Frank Dabbs and others…

    http://thetyee.ca/Views/2006/09/08/RalphKlein/

    excerpt: “Klein’s political creature is not quite a plutocracy, not quite an oligarchy, not quite an autocracy and not quite a Canadian Family Compact. Neither is it quite a democracy. Liberal Opposition Leader Kevin Taft argues that “Klein’s idea of government isn’t just process, it’s a series of habits, a political culture and a set of entitlements that has become entrenched.”

    excerpt: “… “Real democracy requires the idea of the good of the community. Real democracy challenges, indiscriminately and irreverently, all forms of privilege. In Alberta, people are no longer portrayed as citizens and wage earners in a democratic community. They are now consumers, investors and stakeholders, acting as individuals in the private marketplace. Everything public is discredited.”

    excerpt: “In the absence of an effective, representative, responsible legislature, new mechanisms have evolved to carry out policy scrutiny, development and review.”

    “new mechanisms” excerpt: “the government established an elaborate public consultation process called the “multi-stakeholder advisory committee” (MAC). The government named representatives from its choice of “a broad range of stakeholder groups.”

    After conducting a review of government regulations and policies, the MAC made recommendations for legislation, regulation and public administration to “balance resource development with environmental protection and minimize the impact on landowners of coalbed methane development.”

    This is properly the work of elected and accountable politicians. It involves public policy and government performance that should be debated in the legislature.

    A similar process underway for oil sands will institutionalize this post-democratic process of policy review and change.”

  10. Mark Lisac excerpts re his analysis of the Klein Revolution

    re: implementing corporatism as governing ideology and method:

    Excerpt: “When I look at the way things are going and write about a drift toward a corporate state I mean a different method of government, not just a government influenced by business.”

    Excerpt: re: “corporatism” implemented by Klein gov/t

    “As a general concept, that’s hardly new. It smacks of a theory pushed in various forms around Europe and North America over the last two centuries; different versions went under names like syndicalism or corporatism.”

    excerpt: ” It separates political decisions from elections.”

    Excerpt: “…the effect of such ideas has always been the same: to make it easier for part of society to impose its will on another part”

    A Mark Lisac column in Edmonton Journal, Sept 17, 1993, p.12

    Excerpts from: “Gov’t sorting out who’s in control:

    and that column opens his 9th Chapter in The Klein Revolution ( I highly recommend it. Lisac’s take still explains AB politics. Corporatist with a veneer of democracy.

    My summary of corporatism using Lisac’s analysis and his term “joint-venture”: Vested interests in joint-venture with PC’s make the public policy decisions between elections. Citizens and the common good subordinated to the various corporate groups vested interests. )

    http://www.insightalberta.ca/books.html

    Excerpt: “Who is running things here?
    That’s far more than a rhetorical question.
    Someone will end up running things. Who it is will say a lot about what kind of government we have. “

    Excerpt: “They apparently want to reduce the role of the legislature and to shift responsibility, although not necessarily power, from the minister.

    Excerpt: “ The government has been trying instead to rechannel the politics of health. It will try the same with education and other service areas.
    The round table was an attempt to move public policy matters out of the hands of elected politicians and into the hands of another body largely made up of people directly involved with the industry.”

    “corporatism” excerpt: “
    “As a general concept, that’s hardly new. It smacks of a theory pushed in various forms around Europe and North America over the last two centuries; different versions went under names like syndicalism or corporatism. The old United Farmers of Alberta embraced a variant with their theory of group government.

    When I look at the way things are going and write about a drift toward a corporate state I mean a different method of government, not just a government influenced by business.”

    Excerpt: “…changes which tend to undermine the legislature.

    …new budget system … easier for the government to change its programs without legislature debate.

    …new method for making public policy tries on the surface to put the job into the hands of the general public and in particular into the hands of groups directly affected.

    …actually keeps a controlling power in the hands of the government, a government which relies on the mass appeal of a popular leader.

    It tends to stifle criticism on grounds that the people have spoken, although some people have a stronger voice than others while some may have no say at all.

    It tends to devalue debate.

    It separates political decisions from elections.

    … the effect of such ideas has always been the same: to make it easier for part of society to impose its will on another part.”
    =========

    To understand AB politics, past and present,
    Lisac’s book The Klein Revolution and John Ralston Saul’s Unconscious Civilization (2010 version is best)IMHO.

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