Tag Archives: Harry Strom

Harry Strom, the last Social Credit Premier of Alberta, rides in the Calgary Stampede Parade alongside Lieutenant Governor Grant MacEwan.

Calgary Stampede an important marker of political change in Alberta

Billed as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, the Calgary Stampede is a must-stop destination for political leaders of all stripes and all levels of government. The event also provides a good historical marker of how quickly the political winds of change can sweep through Alberta.

Premier Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta

Rachel Notley

One year ago at last year’s Stampede, Dave Hancock was Premier of Alberta, Jim Prentice was an unstoppable candidate in the Progressive Conservative leadership race, the memory of Alison Redford was fresh in the minds of Albertans, Danielle Smith led the Wildrose Official Opposition, the Alberta Party was still on the fringe, and the NDP were in the midst of a leadership race many political watchers saw as a sideshow.

Now to this year’s Stampede, Rachel Notley is Premier of Alberta and there are 53 NDP MLAs in the Alberta Legislative Assembly (including 15 from the Calgary area), a former Member of Parliament named Brian Jean leads the Wildrose Official Opposition, former Calgary alderman Ric McIver leads a 9-MLA PC Caucus, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark is an MLA, and Mr. Prentice has disappeared from the political landscape.

Stephen Harper Calgary Stampede

Stephen Harper

The changes that took place between the two Stampedes are an important reminder about how quickly political change can happen, even in a province that is known for turning political parties into governing dynasties.

With the October 19 federal election less than four months away, it is also an important reminder to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper that even voters in the Canadian conservative movement’s spiritual homeland cannot be taken for granted. That thought must have crossed Mr. Harper’s mind as he met with Ms. Notley for the first time this week in Calgary.

The provincial election win has boosted the NDP’s credibility and organizational strength, especially in Edmonton, but it is not clear how this will translate in the federal election. Ms. Notley’s win has created opportunity for the federal NDP in Alberta, especially for candidates like Janis Irwin in Edmonton-Griesbach and Linda Duncan in Edmonton-Strathcona. As Tom Mulcair‘s federal NDP focus their resources in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, it is to their advantage to put the Conservatives on the defensive in Alberta, a situation that has not happened very often.

Kent Hehr Liberal Calgary Centre

Kent Hehr

Meanwhile, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has reason to be optimistic after his party’s candidate’s came close to winning by-elections in Calgary-Centre in 2012 and Fort McMurray-Athabasca in 2014. The Liberals have also nominated a slate of high profile candidates that includes Kent Hehr in Calgary-Centre, Darshan Kang in Calgary-Skyview and Amarjeet Sohi in Edmonton-Mill Woods.

The Conservatives are still expected to hold most of Alberta’s ridings in the upcoming federal election but the NDP and Liberals could make gains in the major urban centres.

The truth is that federal Conservatives have always taken Alberta voters for granted, and they have had reason to. Albertans have not elected more than 2 non-conservative MPs in any federal election since 1993. The Conservatives even held all 28 of the province’s federal ridings between 2006 and 2008.

With a federal election fast approaching and and increasingly stale government approaching ten years in Ottawa, the Conservatives may need to spend more time campaigning in Alberta in the next few months, or else there could be a whole new cast of federal politicians wearing plaid shirts and cowboy boots at next year’s Calgary Stampede.

NDP leader Rachel Notley speaks to a crowd of more than 2,000 Albertans at a May 4 election rally in Edmonton.

An Orange Chinook howls in Alberta. Is the PC dynasty at its end?

How badly do the Progressive Conservatives need to mess up for Albertans to want to elect an NDP government? It may sound like a silly question in the context of Alberta politics, but we might find an answer on May 5.

Judging by the more than 1,500 Albertans who showed up at an NDP rally in Edmonton yesterday, the momentum behind Rachel Notley‘s NDP is real.

Jim Prentice Alberta Premier

Jim Prentice

“I think the PC Party needs a break from government and Albertans need a break from the PC Party,” Ms. Notley told the massive crowd at the Ramada Hotel on Kingsway Avenue. “You don’t have to repeat history on Tuesday, you can make history,” she said.

Legions of Albertans tired of Jim Prentice‘s long-governing PC Party have rallied around the NDP in this election. With the confident Ms. Notley at its helm and a moderate Lougheed-like platform, the NDP campaign in this election has been near flawless. With exception of a few bumps, including a fiscal miscalculation that was quickly fixed and one candidate’s past praise of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the NDP machine has run smoothly.

In contrast, the PC campaign has appeared distant, robotic and fraught with controversy. The latest controversy has forced Mr. Prentice to call for a review of MLA expenses. Metro Edmonton uncovered the expenses last week, which included one Edmonton PC MLA who expensed $12,500 for a Christmas Party.

‘The PCs sound, in fact, like Social Credit Premier Harry Strom, the one they beat in 1971,’ wrote Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid. Albertans young enough to have voted in the last election are at least 65 years old, meaning that most voters will not remember the last time we had a change in government in Alberta, 43 years ago.

Mr. Prentice wanted this election to be about his spring budget, but Albertans appear to have decided this election is about trust and acceptability, two areas where the PCs have a poor track record.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

Standing in the crowd at the NDP rally, I spoke with two senior citizens who were very excited to experience their first political rally. It is also the first election they will vote NDP. They voted for the PCs in the last election and in many elections before that, they told me.

If the Orange Chinook is real, what will the results look like on election night?

Most media coverage since the leaders’ debate has focused on the NDP and PC parties, but outside of the major urban centres, Brian Jean‘s conservative Wildrose Party is expected to be a big factor. You only need to take a quick drive outside Edmonton City Limits and you will immediately notice the campaign signs change from NDP orange to Wildrose green.

The PCs have placed third behind the NDP and Wildrose parties in most recent polls, but it would be foolish to predict a that party’s defeat even with only on day left in the election campaign. After 43-years in government, the PC Party Establishment is pulling out all the stops to ensure it wins re-election, including its recent fear campaign against the NDP.

It is also important to remember that the constant stream of polls showing the NDP leading the Wildrose and PC parties might not necessarily be reflected in the number of MLAs elected in our first past the post system (as we saw in the 2012 election when the Wildrose Party earned 34% of the province-wide vote and only 19% of the seats in the Assembly).

If a party’s support is too concentrated in one area of the province, it may win seats but not enough to form a majority government. And if a party’s support is too thinly spread across the province, it could be shut out.

On May 5 we will find out if Albertans are ready to take a break from the PC Party and embrace an Orange Chinook. It could be Alberta’s most interesting election night in 43 years.

The magic of Tory reinvention. A new era for Alberta.

Social-Credit-A-new-Kind-of-leader-1971-1

“A new kind of leader,” an advertisement from the Social Credit Party published in the Calgary Herald in 1971.

As the Progressive Conservatives brandish their new slogan, “A new era for Alberta,” many Albertans might be confused about which political party has been in power for the past 43 years.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an era as “a long and distinct period of history.”

If we were to apply the geological time scale of the Earth to Alberta politics, we would now find ourselves in the Honeymoon Period of the Prentice Era of the Progressive Conservative Eon (I will resist the temptation to name any political dinosaurs).

Alison Redford Not Your Father's PC Party

A PC Party election ad used during the 2012 election.

And despite the PC Party Eon having stretched more than four decades, PC Party candidates in four Alberta by-elections being held on October 27 are not running on their party’s record as the government since 1971. They are running on their party’s record since Jim Prentice became leader of the PC Party on September 6, 2014.

And it is too early to tell whether Mr. Prentice will oversee “a long and distinct period.” His two most recent predecessors each lasted less than five years in office.

The PC Party’s “new era” slogan is somewhat reminiscent of another slogan used by Harry Strom‘s Social Credit Party as the 36 year old governing party tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to win re-election in 1971. But, unlike the Socreds in the 1970s, the PC Party has become masterful at reinvention, consistently rebranding their party since Peter Lougheed retired in 1984.

Unlike Mr. Strom, who was overshadowed by his popular and larger than life predecessor, Ernest Manning, Mr. Prentice would never be caught in public uttering the words “Alison” or “Redford.” But while the PC Party tries to put their recently departed leader’s legacy behind them, the opposition parties and candidates will eagerly remind voters about the past two years of PC government.

Just two years ago, the PC Party led by Alison Redford were re-elected in a hotly contested campaign under the slogan “Real life leadership” (see the campaign advertisement above). This slogan was a reference to both Ms. Redford’s time spent overseas as a United Nations lawyer and provided contrast with her predecessor, Ed Stelmach, and the perceived inexperience of Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.

During the 2012 election campaign, a controversial advertisement published in some urban newspapers featured the slogan “Not your father’s PC Party,” which suggested to younger and more liberal-minded Albertans that the PC Party had entered a new era (and again provided a contrast to the perceived social conservative values of the Wildrose Party).

Ed Stelmach

Ed Stelmach

Six years ago, borrowing from the success of Barack Obama‘s “Change we can believe in” slogan, the PC Party led by Mr. Stelmach chose “Change that works for Albertans” as their slogan in the 2008 election. The slogan suggested that Mr. Stelmach’s main opposition, the Liberals, would provide change that would not work for Albertans.

Like his successors, the PC Party under Mr. Stelmach worked hard to distance itself from the legacy of his predecessor, Ralph Klein.

In the four by-elections being held at the end of October 2014, the opposition parties are also using new slogans to help brand their campaigns. “Send the PCs a message” is a slogan being used by the Wildrose Party, and it is meant to remind Albertans that by-elections are an opportunity to show dissatisfaction with the PC Party’s past two years of scandal and misdeeds.

The NDP are using the slogan “Albertans deserve better,” which is a true statement, but it seems unlikely that most Albertans outside Edmonton city limits are about to look to the NDP as a better choice.

While slogans alone will not win or lose an election campaign, they can cleverly help define the narrative each party or candidate is advancing and can serve as a rallying cry for or against voters choosing change at the ballot box.

If you have a few moments after reading this post, I encourage you to take a glance at the extensive ‘List of Political Slogans‘ page on Wikipedia.

Social Credit celebrates 77 years in government.

Social Credit Party Alberta

Supporters celebrate 77 years of Social Credit rule in Alberta.

CALGARY STAR-TRIBUNE

In 1935, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ hit song “Cheek to Cheek” topped the music charts and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers became the first western Canadian team to win the Grey Cup. It was also the year that the Social Credit Party formed government in Alberta.

Fresh from celebrating the party’s 21st consecutive election win, Premier Rob Anderson will join party faithful this weekend to celebrate the Social Credit Party’s 77th year in government.

 Long abandoned are the social credit monetary policies that defined the party when it formed government in 1935. Social Credit in 2012 embraces what political watchers have called the Conservatism of the New Albertan Century.
Rob Anderson MLA Wildrose

Rob Anderson

“One of the regular talking points of the Official Opposition is to claim that after 77 years of Socred rule, the province of Alberta is some grim, dark, horrible place to live,” said Premier Anderson. “It’s entirely untrue, of course. And it doesn’t say much for the Opposition that they say such terrible things about this great province.”

“Alberta is the best place to live, work and play in Canada,” said the Premier.

On Friday night, Premier Anderson will join Traditional Family Values Minister Rob Anders, Telecommunications Minister Ezra Levant and Treasurer Jason Kenney in paying tribute to former Premiers William Aberhart, Ernest Manning, Harry Strom, Preston Manning, Stockwell Day, and Monte Solberg.

Only once in the party’s 77 year history has it faced the threat of electoral defeat.

Harry Strom Alberta Premier

Harry Strom

While the history books record Premier Harry Strom as the great conciliator of Canadian confederation, he led the dynasty to its narrowest victory the 1971 election. New to the office, Strom fought back young Peter Lougheed‘s liberal-minded Progressive Conservatives, leading his party to form a small majority government.

Four years later, Strom led Social Credit to a decisive victory over the Tories.

Many historians credit Social Credit’s survival in 1971 to the failure of the Daylight Savings Time plebiscite.

Lingering in the opposition benches in the 41 years since 1971, the PC Party has been unable to topple the long-standing government.

Current PC Party leader Raj Sherman has called the Social Credit Party old and out of touch.

“The simple fact is that over the past 77 years the government has backed itself into a corner on revenue and desperately needs to find a way to return to solid financial ground,” said Sherman, an emergency room doctor.

“While Albertans deserve to have a say in all matters of public policy, I am troubled by this administration’s penchant for government by polling – particularly when they are so selective about the feedback that they choose to heed,” said Sherman.

NDP leader Rachel Notley has called on Premier Anderson to tear down the economic “Firewall” that divides Alberta from the rest of Canada. “Too often the Socreds make poorly studied, reactionary decisions based on industry lobbying”, said Notley.

“As things stand now, we are closing our eyes, crossing our fingers, and hoping for the best,” Notley said.  “Albertans deserve better,” said Notley.

Albertans can follow the weekend’s celebrations using the Twitter hashtag #after77years.

tory attack ad tame by all standards.

Social-Credit-Its-a-Big-Decision

Alberta's culture of negative attack ads began with this nasty Social Credit Party newspaper ad during the 1971 election.

Alberta’s political twitterati were atwitter yesterday after a Progressive Conservative radio advertisement was leaked to the Calgary Herald. The ad defend the new law passed by Premier Alison Redford‘s government that will lower a driver’s legal blood alcohol level from 0.08 to 0.05 and respond to the constant, and sometimes creative, criticism of the new law by Danielle Smith and her Wildrose Party.

Judging by the amount of earned media the Tories have already received about the yet-to-be-aired ad, the ad may have already paid for itself.

Unlike the negative ads saturating the airwaves in the Republican Party presidential nomination race south of the border, this Tory radio ad is very, very tame. The ads point out a clear difference between the two parties on a real policy issue that both parties believe they have something to gain from.

Albertans should expect high levels of sensationalism from mainstream political pundits in over the course of the next week. How many times can we expect the phrase “the gloves off” to be used in the next few days? Lots.

The Tory Party’s shift in tactics is important to note. Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid points out on his blog that the ad marks an attitude change in a PC Party that would typically dismiss the opposition (and romp to another election victory).

Normally invulnerable, the Tories may be worried that accusations and evidence of intimidation and bad governance may be starting to stick. The growing pile of Tory political miscalculations and mistakes are starting to pile up with an election call expected by the end of March.

Some of the latest Tory missteps include Dunvegan-Central Peace MLA Hector Goudreau’s threatening letter to school board officials in his constituency, the war of words between Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths and Alberta Urban Municipalities Association President Linda Sloan, and the ensuing tweet of Premier Redford’s now-former Chief of Staff Stephen Carter. Along with Elections Alberta announcing an investigation into allegations of illegal political donations.

Yesterday, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation released information showing that 21 MLAs, mostly Tories, are being paid $1000 per month for being members of a legislative committee that has not met in over three years. Lacombe-Ponoka PC MLA Ray Prins has been collecting $18,000 a year for being the chair of the committee.

Bonnyville-Cold Lake PC MLA Genia Leskiw pleaded ignorance when asked about the extra money she was collecting from the committee, telling the CBC that “I don’t even look at my paycheque.

Maybe the Tories should be worried.

pre-election games: progressive conservatives and wildrose spar with new ads.

As the Spring 2012 provincial election approaches, the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose Party have rolled out a series of television ads (on YouTube) delivering their political pitches to Albertans.

The Wildrose ads, as David Climenhaga and Graham Thomson have already written, are cast with two faces of leader Danielle Smith.

To quote Mr. Climenhaga, ‘Bad Danielle is going to slap you around a bit now for even thinking about voting for Alberta Premier Alison Redford… while she’s gone, Good Danielle may offer you a cup of coffee, apologize for her partner’s behaviour and try to sweet-talk you out of your troubles…”.

The first Wildrose ad, ‘Flip Flop’, takes a negative angle and could be confused with the Conservative Party ads from the last federal election. Accentuating the negative, these types of ads were deadly for federal Liberal leaders Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff.

The second Wildrose ad features leader Ms. Smith speaking about education, which I believe may be the best of the ads released by any party so far. Ms. Smith is clear, confident, and shockingly warm for a conservative politician (though I still would not trust the former Calgary School Trustee to run our education system).

The first of the two Progressive Conservative ads introduces Premier Redford and the second ad features the Premier talking about the promise of education. They are rather plain and fuzzy feeling, which is surprising considering Premier Redford’s interesting background (including her surprisingly extensive international experience).

The theme of the PC ads appears to be ‘look how good your quality of life is,’ which appears to be a reaction to the negative tone of Wildrose ads. Although they cry for excitement, these dull and numbing ads should not hurt the PCs so long as they do not linger too far into the Harry Strom-like “don’t even think about doing anything drastic like voting for another party’ because ‘we’ve renewed… really… we have… a new leader… look at our exciting new leader!’ territory.

forty years of political hegemony over alberta.

Calgary Herald August 31, 1971 Peter Lougheed Alberta Election Now

The cover of the Calgary Herald on August 31, 1971.

Forty years ago today, Albertans voted to end the 36 year rule of the Social Credit League and let the light shine as Peter Lougheed‘s Progressive Conservatives scored their first majority election victory and Albertans voted to adopt Daylight Savings Time.

The August 30, 1971 election saw the Lougheed Tories edge out Premier Harry Strom‘s Social Credit by a narrow vote (296,934 votes to 262,953 votes) that was not reflected in the number of MLAs each party elected (49 PC MLAs and 25 Social Credit MLAs). The NDP also landed their first solid beachhead in the Assembly with the election of leader Grant Notley in the northern Spirit River-Fairview constituency. The only party leader to not win a seat in the Assembly was Liberal leader Bob Russell, who placed third in St. Albert.

Since that day forty years ago, the PC Party has won nearly every general election with ease. With the exception of the 1993 election, where the Liberals led by former Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore appeared to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against rookie Premier Ralph Klein, the PCs have thrown every opposition leader into a meat grinder.

The PCs have not survived as one of the most successful political organizations in Canada by being nice guys. While driven by a vague set of principles, Alberta’s natural governing entity is essentially an amorphous blob on the subject of policy, following trends and public opinion – straddling the ideological centre while appeasing the various corners of its very large political tent. This positioning has allowed the PC Party to appeal to a wide-range of Albertans, who already largely self-identify as “conservative.” Being the sure bet for an election win has also helped the PC Party recruit talented candidates from across the political spectrum and build strong (and well-funded) local organizations across the province.

The PC Party is also ruthless on the subject of keeping its hold on power. As PC members vote select a new leader on September 17, 2011 it may be smart for the leadership candidates to reflect on the historical fact that only one PC leader, Premier Lougheed, was allowed to leave gracefully on his own time. Each leader following Premier Lougheed – Don Getty, Ralph Klein, and Ed Stelmach – were in one way or another shown the door when they appeared to be a threat to the PC Party’s continued political success.

vintage campaign advertisements from the 1971 alberta election.

Tomorrow, August 30, 2011, is the fortieth anniversary of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Association’s first election victory. In that election the Alberta PCs, led by Peter Lougheed, defeated the 36-year governing Social Credit League led by Premier Harry Strom, and has been re-elected in each election since. Here is a look back at some of the campaign advertisements published in Alberta newspapers during that monumental election:

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad Think About It

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "Think About It"

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "Independent"

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "Independent"

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "A New Kind of Leader"

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "A New Kind of Leader"

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "We've Changed"

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "We've Changed"

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "Lower Taxes"

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "Lower Taxes"

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "August 30"

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "August 30"

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Ad "Recreation Centres"

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "Recreation Centres"

Alberta Progressive Conservative Rally Ad 1971 Election

Alberta Progressive Conservative Rally Ad 1971 Election

Alberta NDP 1971 Election Ad "You owe it to yourself"

Alberta NDP 1971 Election Campaign Ad "You owe it to yourself"

Alberta Social Credit Calgary Candidates 1971 Election Ad

Alberta Social Credit Calgary Candidates 1971 Election Ad

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Ad "Taking Things for Granted"

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "Taking Things for Granted"

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Ad "It's a Big Decision"

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "It's a Big Decision"

Alberta Social Credit Rally Ad 1971 Election

Alberta Social Credit Rally Ad 1971 Election

Alberta Liberal Party Calgary candidates 1971 Election Ad

Alberta Liberal Party Calgary candidates 1971 Election Ad

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Ad "Compare"

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "Compare"

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Ad "Experienced. Respected. A New Kind of Leader. Harry Strom"

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "Experienced. Respected. A New Kind of Leader. Harry Strom"

Alberta Progressive Conservative Calgary Candidates 1971 Election Ad "Now is the time for a breakthrough"

Alberta Progressive Conservative 1971 Election Campaign Ad "Now is the time for a breakthrough"

albertan gothic: ed stelmach’s resignation: the morning after.

Albertan Gothic: Premier Ed Stelmach and his wife, Marie, at yesterday's media conference.

It has been fascinating to watch Premier Ed Stelmach‘s career as Premier culminate towards yesterday’s announcement that he will not lead his party into the next provincial general election. As someone who was too young to remember Don Getty‘s resignation and Ralph Klein‘s accession to the throne, it was certainly an interesting political experience for me to see the entire political life of a Premier for the first time.

It is not a secret that since entering the Office, Premier Stelmach struggled to define his leadership style. Under his Premiership, the general policy direction of his government sometimes appeared to be drifting towards numerous locations at the same time. The Progressive Conservatives have been in office for nearly 40 years and have become a natural governing party that in many ways creates and adopts policy as would a an amorphous blob.

With both his party’s popularity and personal approval rating having drastically dropped since the 2008 election, it would not be surprising to learn that more than a few PC MLAs and cabinet ministers were planning not to seek re-election if there was not a change in leadership. I have also heard that tension between the Premier and Finance Minister Ted Morton, and MLAs and the Premier’s Chief of Staff, Ron Glen, also heavily contributed to yesterday’s announcement.

Malcolm Mayes' Edmonton Journal political cartoon in January 2008 (I'm the Mac).

I had a special relationship with the Premier that began in December 2007 when his lawyers threatened to sue me over my ownership of the URL edstelmach.ca. After forwarding the URL to the wikipedia entry of the last Social Credit Premier Harry Strom, I received a threatening letter from the Premier’s lawyer demanding that I cease and desist (and govern myself accordingly). The Premier may have been insistent that his name was his name, but when push came to shove they backed down (and helped me increase this blog’s readership by at least 500%). Without malice three years later, it turns out that I was closer than I thought with my Premier Strom comparison.

Likeness to Premier Strom aside, it would be unfair to say that Premier Stelmach has not achieved anything while occupying his current office. Always a class act, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said it well in an interview with the Calgary Herald yesterday:

“Right now I think it’s not time to think about politics. It is time to think about Premier Stelmach’s legacy as a really decent human being and a really dedicated public servant.”

He promised and implemented the long-awaited Lobbyist Registry. His 2010 budget provided a five year commitment to stable funding for Health Care and Education, two departments that had felt the brunt of the budget cuts in the 1990s. His government established the Capital Regional Board, which started a long-overdue armistice that ended the regional turf wars between municipalities in the Edmonton region. His personal commitment to ending homelessness should also not be forgotten, as his government has supported the development and funding of municipal 10 year plans to end homelessness.

Many of these accomplishments have been overshadowed by the decision to raise and then again tinker with the natural resource royalties collected by the provincial government, which angered many in Calgary’s energy sector. The downturn in the economy and the return to deficit budgets also changed how many Albertans viewed the PC government, after years of being told that “deficit budgets were illegal” during Premier Klein’s tenure. The forced merger of the province’s nine regional health authorities into one mega-health authority known as Alberta Health Services also raised serious questions about proper planning and the value of centralization in Health Care. His government’s decision to challenge rural landowners over property rights and the construction of high powered electrical transmission lines also created conflict in areas of the province that had been PC strongholds for decades.

Premier Stelmach’s eventual departure does not automatically save the PC Party from their low support in the polls. The party now needs to select a new leader while facing an organized and well-funded opposition in the form of the Wildrose Alliance, who have leaned heavily on federal Conservative Party organizers to build their party machinery. The Liberals and New Democrats remain competitive in some Edmonton and Calgary ridings and the new Alberta Party announced this week that Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor had become their first MLA.

Although Premier Stelmach will remain leader of the government to oversee the next provincial budget, attention will now be turned toward his potential successors. Finance Minister Morton appears to be the early favourite and could even soon resign his cabinet post to focus on a leadership bid. An immediate Morton coronation could be postponed by the entrance of candidates such as former federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice, Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner, Justice Minister Alison Redford, or Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove. It would also be interesting to see some younger talent, like Housing Minister Jonathan Denis or Battle River-Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths throw their names in the race.

Regardless of Premier Stelmach’s departure and the leader the members of that Party chooses in the upcoming leadership contest, the big question is whether the PCs be able to redefine themselves as they approach 40 years as our province’s governing party? Will a new PC Party leader be able to satisfy Albertans’ new found appetite for political change?