On March 20, 1989, Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives were re-elected with a majority government but Premier Don Getty was defeated by voters in his Edmonton-Whitemud constituency. It was a stunning embarrassment for the then 18-year governing PC Party.
Twenty-five years later, on March 20, 2014, Alberta’s still-governing PCs selected Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Dave Hancock to serve as Premier of Alberta until a replacement could be chosen for the embattled departing Premier Alison Redford.
Mr. Hancock was president of PC Party during the dying days of Mr. Getty’s premiership, when it appeared as though the Tories would be defeated by the Liberals led popular former mayor Laurence Decore.
Mr. Getty’s resigned in 1992 after being dragged down by low public approval ratings and a disgruntled caucus. A divisive leadership race chose his successor, Ralph Klein, who soon after led the Tories to win a majority government in the 1993 election. Tory partisans of a certain age fondly refer to this period as “the miracle on the prairies.”
Mr. Hancock’s experience as party president during the early 1990s and his 43 years of involvement in the province’s natural governing party could help him calm the dissent in the unwieldy PC caucus.
Facing increased pressure from the opposition Wildrose Party, the next four to six months will be an incredibly important time for the Tories, as the upcoming leadership race will define the PC Party in advance of a fast approaching 2016 election.
The parallels between the early 1990s and today are not perfect, and perhaps not even fair, but they serve as a reminder about the ability of the PC Party to reinvent itself. Even at its most damaged and divided, as it appeared to be this week, the PC Party remains a political force to be reckoned with.
With Alberta’s daily political scene dominated by the loud and partisan voices of the governing Progressive Conservatives and the official opposition Wildrose, it has become easy to miss what is happening in Alberta’s other political parties. Here is a quick look at some news from the other parties represented in the Legislative Assembly – the Liberals and NDP – and the parties sitting outside the dome – the Alberta Party, Green Party, and Social Credit Party.
A surprise win by past candidate Mike Butler in the party’s vice-president (communications) contest surprised many Liberals at the annual meeting. Mr. Butler is a supporter of cooperation with other parties like the NDP, Alberta Party and Greens, and has helped organize ‘soapbox’ events in Edmonton to promote cross-party dialogue.
The Alberta NDP will hold their annual conference in Lethbridge in November, hoping to build on recent gains in the southern Alberta city. The NDP have seen significant growth in Lethbridge, with both federal candidate Mark Sandilands and provincial candidate Shannon Phillips significantly increasing their party’s support in recent elections.
NDP executive member Chris O’Halloran was chosen to serve as the interim president following Nancy Furlong‘s departure to accept a new job in Ontario. A new president will be selected at the November annual meeting.
Following the resignation of leader Glenn Taylor after the last election, the Alberta Party set September 21, 2013 as the date it will choose their next leader. Calgary businessman Greg Clark is so far the only candidate to step into the race to lead the party.
Not unfamiliar with Alberta politics, Mr. Clark worked as a spokesperson for the Liberal Caucus in the mid-1990s after that party first formed official opposition under Laurence Decore. He ran against Premier Alison Redford in Calgary-Elbow during last year’s election, placing 6th5th with 518 votes.
In April, the Social Credit Party held a policy convention in Innisfail where members of the small party affirmed policies that support human rights of the preborn, disallowing casino gambling and no sales tax. The Socreds also pledge to make the Alberta Treasury Branch the “economic engine of Alberta.”
Leader Len Skowronski ran in Calgary-Hawkwood in the last election, placing 7th out of 8 candidates with 105 votes. The Social Credit Party ran 3 candidates in the 2012 election.
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 LaurenceDecore.
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.
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.
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).
Over those 45 years, Mandel is only the second Edmonton Mayor to leave on his own terms. In 1988, Mayor Laurence Decore stepped down to become leader of Alberta’s Liberal Party. Mayor William Hawrelak died in office in 1975. All other Mayors or interim Mayors were defeated in an election.
Here’s a short history lesson about Edmonton’s mayoral elections:
When Mayor Vincent Dantzer retired from municipal politics in 1968, he was succeeded by Mayor Ivor Dent. Dent was defeated by former Mayor Hawrelak in the 1974 election. When Mayor Hawrelak died in office in 1975, Alderman Terry Cavanagh became interim Mayor. Interim Mayor Cavanaugh contested the 1977 election and was defeated by Cec Purves. Mayor Purves was then defeated by Mr. Decore in 1983. When Mayor Decore resigned in 1988, Alderman Cavanaugh once again filled the role of interim Mayor and was defeated in the 1989 election by Councillor Jan Reimer. Mayor Reimer was later defeated by businessman Bill Smith in the 1995 election. Councillor Mandel unseated Mayor Smith in 2004.
Who can Edmontonians expect to run in our first real open mayoral election in a generation?
As I said on election night, despite her party’s strong showing and newly acquired official opposition status, one of Ms. Smith’s biggest challenges will be to deal with many of her party’s supporters and MLAs who will be disappointed they did not form government. With 17 MLAs and a strong record of fundraising, I expect that Ms. Smith’s party and the powers that finance it will allow her to have a second chance, rather than destabilizing the delicate coalition of fiscal hawks and social conservatives they helped her build.
Last week, an anonymous online video emerged that made waves in the ranks of the Wildrose Party. Borrowing music from Michael Bay‘s Transformers 3: Dark Side of the Moon, the anonymous creators of the online video clumsily detailed the threat that certain individuals posed to the “grassroots” of the Wildrose Party and suggested the chance of a potential coup d’etat against leader Ms. Smith (the video is now removed from the Dailymotion site).
Like blogger David Climenhaga, I hesitate to read too much into the twisted innuendo of internal party politics that this online video delved into. And I would not be surprised if, at their upcoming AGM, Ms. Smith begins taking a more hard-line approach to party discipline, similar to the approach taken by Stephen Harper when he became leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.
For the first time in decades, conservative supporters of the Wildrose Party are sitting outside to the ruling coalition of which they had previously been a pillar constituency. As Premier Alison Redford builds a new moderate political coalition, she will not have to dwell on the every-want of the “Socred Retreads,” as she called them in her speech to last weekend’s PC AGM.
Despite Wildrose MLAs relentlessly criticizing Premier Redford in the media, it must be frustrating for many Wildrose Party supporters to now watch their former party, the long-governing Progressive Conservatives, turn away from the anti-debt orthodoxy that defined former Premier Ralph Klein‘s era in Alberta politics. Without the hype of personality politics behind it, the short-sighted policies of Premier Klein’s govermnent look and feel like they are from a by-gone era. Gone are the days when even a hint of long-term investment was sacrificed in favour of short-term balanced budgets or at-any-cost debt reduction.
Premier Redford, like Premier Ed Stelmach before her, is talking about taking an adult approach to long-term financing of capital projects and maintenance of public infrastructure. With the bulk of the hard-line fiscal conservative hawks sitting in the opposition benches, Premier Redford and Finance Minister Doug Horner are afforded more fiscal flexibility.
Instead of waiting for “cash-in-pocket” to build and maintain important public infrastructure, the Tories are pushing forward with capital financing. Their newly discovered fiscal flexibility could give the Tories an opportunity to fix the problems created by their predecessors.
With a provincial election expected to be called early next week, three of Alberta’s main political parties – the Progressive Conservatives, New Democrats, and Wildrose Party – have nominated full-slates of 87 candidates. The official opposition Liberal Party, with 60 candidates nominated, is rushing to fill their remaining 27 candidacies. Expected to nominate more than 30 candidates in this election, the Alberta Party has already nominated 27 candidates. The Evergreen Party, which has risen from the financial ashes of the defunct Green Party, has sixteen candidates nominated across the province. [Last week, I spoke on CBC Calgary's The Eyeopener how different political parties are progressing in candidate nominations].
Calgary-Bow:Ellen Phillips has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate.
Calgary-Buffalo: Comedian and writer Cory Mack has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate in this downtown Calgary constituency.
Calgary-East: Ali Abdulbaki has been nominated as the Liberal Party candidate.
Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill: The Alberta Party has nominated Jason Webster and the Liberals have nominated Don Thompson.
Drayton Valley-Calmar: The Liberals have nominated Chantel Lillycrop as their candidate.
Edmonton-Castle Downs: Kim Cassady has been chosen as the Liberal Party candidate in this north Edmonton constituency. Mr. Cassady ran in the 2010 City Council election and was the Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Highlands in the 2001 provincial election. Previous to his first provincial run, he worked for Edmonton-Glenora Liberal MLA Howard Sapers.
Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood: The Liberal Party has nominated University of Alberta student Keegan Wynychuk as their candidate. The Alberta Party has announced Cameron McCormick will be their candidate.
Edmonton-Manning: Official Opposition Chief of Staff Jonathan Huckabay was chosen as the Liberal Party candidate in this north east Edmonton constituency. Mr. Huckabay worked as legislative assistant to PC MLA’s until Raj Sherman was suspended from the governing caucus. The Alberta Party has nominated Mark Wall, professor of Church History and Theology and Dean of Students at Vanguard College.
Edmonton-Strathcona: University of Alberta student Ed Ramsden has been acclaimed as the Liberal Party candidate.
Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville: Matthew Levicki has been nominated as the Evergreen Party candidate.
Livingstone-Macleod: The Liberals have appointed Alex Macdonald as their candidate in this south west Alberta constituency. Mr. Macdonald works as a strategic advisor to Liberal leader Dr. Sherman at the Assembly and played a key role in former Liberal leader Laurence Decore‘s campaigns in the early 1990s.
Sherwood Park: Teacher Chris Kuchmak has been chosen as the Alberta Party candidate.
Whitecourt-Ste. Anne: Vern Hardman has been acclaimed as the Liberal Party candidate. In 2011, Mr. Hardmand was an unsuccessful candidate for the PC nomination in the neighbouring Stony Plain constituency.
Surveys conducted by Environics, Angus Reid, and Lethbridge College in the final months of 2011 tell a different story, showing the Tories with a commanding lead placing more than 20% ahead of the opposition parties. Finding different results, the Forum survey shows the PCs up one-percent from a previous survey conducted by the same firm in December 2011 and the Wildrose up six points in the same period of time. I will wait to see whether other surveys begin to show similar results before I begin to believe that the PCs and Wildrose are this close in electoral support.
It is important to remember that surveys and polls are snapshots of where a population is at an exact moment in time. They are helpful at detecting trends, but as all political watchers should remember – campaigns matter – and Albertans will have an opportunity to see their political parties in full electoral action in the coming months.
Without Premier Ed Stelmach as their lightening-rod in Calgary perpetually unhappy oil company community, the Wildrose Party appears to have lost the steam from the high point they sat at in mid-2010. In response, they are trying their best to cast Premier Alison Redford as a flip-flopper and have come out strong with negative advertising aimed at the Tories. There is plenty to criticize in the Tory record book, but the relentless angry and outrageous attacks lend little suggestion that the Wildrose Party would be a very pleasant crew if they ever form government.
As I said in the National Post, there are not many people talking about the Wildrose Party forming government these days – except Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith. Ms. Smith appears to be doing very little to manage the expectations of her party’s core activists, many whom are still wearing the [wild]rose coloured glasses they donned when the their party hit the peak of its meteoric rise in 2010.
Not properly managing expectations can be a politically deadly mistake. While the political environment was different, the most appropriate example may be the Alberta Liberal experience following the infamous 1993 election. With early polls showing a meteoric rise in the polls for the long-outcast Liberal Party, leader Laurence Decore had pumped expectations of forming government so-high that when his party only formed Official Opposition, he faced open revolt from his caucus and defections to the Tories. The Liberals have not come close to this high-point since.
I also point to the quick rise and fall of Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day or Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, who both filled their supporters minds with great expectations of electoral glory, only to disappoint when the votes were counted.
What results of the Forum survey and other surveys suggest to me is that the PCs remain Alberta’s big-tent political party – one that both blue conservatives and moderate liberals are comfortable joining – and that the opposition is increasingly polarizing to the political left and right.
The rise of the conservative Wildrose Party to what may become the default opposition and the increase in support for the social democratic NDP may leave a difficult space for the moderate opposition parties that want to occupy the political centre – the Liberal and the Alberta Party.
In May 2008, Marz introduced a motion that “Bill 203, the Election Statutes (Fixed Election Dates) Amendment Act, 2008, be not now read a second time but that it be read a second time this day six months hence.” Marz’s motion was passed when 36 PC MLAs (including Allred) out-voted 5 opposition MLAs.”
Now it is November 2011, the Progressive Conservatives are still in office, Premier Ed Stelmach is gone, Premier Redford is in, Mr. Marz is retiring, Mr. Allred is being challenged for the PC nomination (and may retire), and Alberta might get fixed-election dates.
A seasoned strategist, Mr. MacDonald is said to be the man behind Mr. Decore’s infamous ‘debt clock’ that helped launch the Liberals into Official Opposition status in the 1993 election (and their best showing since the 1917 election). While the addition of Mr. MacDonald may boost their roster, it eats into the narrative that Tory MLA-turned-Liberal leader Dr. Raj Sherman is promoting about the birth (or re-birth) of the “new Liberals.”
Also biting into Dr. Sherman’s “new Liberals” narrative is the nomination of five former one-term MLAs as his party’s candidates in five potentially winnable constituencies – Mo Elsalhy in Edmonton-McClung, Bharat Agnihotri in Edmonton-Ellerslie, Weslyn Mather in Edmonton-Mill Woods, Rick Miller in Edmonton-Rutherford, and Bruce Miller in Edmonton-Glenora. Some of these are good candidates, but certainly not new.
A new face in the next election, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith has floated in conservative political circles since the 1990s and two of her party’s four MLAs have been in the Assembly for more than a decade. The “nascent” or “rookie” Alberta Party has existed in various forms since the 1980s and their leader Glenn Taylor ran for the NDP in the 1997 election.
Refusing to believe that new will ever be old or old will ever be new, the New Democrats have put a fresh face on an veteran politician. NDP leader Brian Mason has a fresh face – at least for the short-term – as he has shaved his mustache for Movember to raise awareness about prostate cancer. Mr. Mason has told the media that his trademark cookie-duster will return, meaning that once again, old will be new again.
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.
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.
You might be forgiven if you have not paid much attention to the Alberta Liberal Party leadership contest, which is currently under way. The Liberal contest is not as exciting as the Progressive Conservative’s leadership contest, as flashy as the Wildrose (now minus the Alliance), or intriguing as the new Alberta Party, but it is important enough not to ignore. The Liberal Party is still the Official Opposition and while it has taken a beating in the polls and public image over the past few years, its next leader will play a role in the next provincial election.
Here is a look at the candidates for their leadership:
Laurie Blakeman Slogan: Laurie4Leader Elected Experience: MLA for Edmonton-Centre from 1997 to the present. Background: Laurie Blakeman is known as a vocal and unrelenting critic of the governing Tories. As Deputy Leader under party leaders Kevin Taft and David Swann, she also served as critic for Finance, the Environment, and Culture.
Her strong views as an unapologetic feminist representing Edmonton’s densest urban constituency have made her an enemy to many conservatives, but her skills as Opposition House Leader have gained her respect from some Tory MLAs across the floor. She is also one half of Edmonton’s political power couple, her husband is Ward 8 City Councillor Ben Henderson.
In 1998, Ms. Blakeman supported then-MLA Linda Sloan‘s leadership bid. She declined to run for her party’s leadership in 2004, telling the Globe & Mail that “she doesn’t have the fire in her belly to run” and again in 2008 admitting that fundraising was not her strength. Earlier this year she publicly mused about joining the Alberta Party, but instead decided to seek the Liberal Party leadership.
(Disclaimer: I like Laurie Blakeman have volunteered for her election campaigns in 2004 and 2008).
Bill Harvey Slogan: Returning to responsible government Elected Experience: Liberal candidate in Calgary-East in 2004 and 2008. Background: Calgary financial advisor Bill Harveyentered the leadership contest this week with a message that Liberals need to return to their past roots to succeed in the future. The main message on his website reminds Liberals of their 1990′s glory days under former leader Laurence Decore and is peppered with fiscal conservative language.
Hugh MacDonald Slogan: None Elected experience: MLA for Edmonton-Gold Bar from 1997 to present Background: Since stepping into his role as the opposition labour critic during his first-term and making headlines over the government’s shaky handling of rotting pine shakes roofing and lack of whistle-blower protection, Hugh MacDonald earned a reputation as a dogged critic of the Tories. As Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, his focus on uncovering Tory scandals sometimes makes him appear on the verge of paranoia, but he is relentless and hardworking. It is not uncommon to see Mr. MacDonald buried in books, doing his own research in the Legislature Library.
Mr. MacDonald is a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal partisan. Even if the Liberal Party is wiped off the political map in the next election, Hugh MacDonald will fight to the end (clasping a battle-axe in one hand while caped in blood-soaked battle armour under a Liberal Party flag). Inside the Liberal Party, Mr. MacDonald appeals to the stalwart crowd who believe that it is not the Liberal brand that has damaged their party, but that party members who have not adhered enough loyalty to the Liberal brand are responsible for the party’s 80 years of electoral defeat.
Bruce Payne Slogan: 87 Strong Elected experience: Nominated as the Liberal candidate in Calgary-Varsity Background: An unknown outside some Calgary political circles, it is difficult to know whether Bruce Payne is actually a serious candidate in this contest.
His 87 Strong slogan is in reference to the 87 constituencies that will be created when the next election is called. His campaign also takes a shot at the current Liberal MLAs and their tendency to attack the Tories for every “scandals, faux-pas, screw-ups, miscues and arrogant decisions” without a long-term strategy.
His campaign manager is the former Liberal Caucus communications director Neil Mackie, who departed from his job at the Assembly earlier this year.
Raj Sherman Slogan: None Elected experience: MLA Edmonton-Meadowlark from 2008 to present Background: Former Tory MLA Raj Sherman could be both the wildcard and the front-runner in this contest. Six months ago he wanted nothing to do with the Liberal Party as he sat in the PC caucus as Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Health & Wellness. Since writing the bluntly-worded email that led to hm being kicked out of the PC caucus, Dr. Sherman has attained a folk hero status among many Albertans.
After opening up their leadership vote to any Albertan without having to purchase a membership, I have a difficult time seeing Dr. Sherman as anything but the front-runner in this contest.
Although his opponents will criticize him for switching parties, it is hard to believe that Dr. Sherman has ever actually “belonged” to any political party. On February 13, 2008 PC candidate Dr. Sherman told the Edmonton Journal, “Ideas belong to society, they don’t belong to a party. For me, it wasn’t so much about parties as about getting the idea to the people who make decisions.”
Dr. Sherman has the support of former MLA Bharat Agnihotri, and I have been told that Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr and Calgary-McCall MLA Darshan Kang are lending their support to his campaign.
Not yet entered the contest:
There may be a sixth candidate to enter this contest. Word on the street is that the executive of a medium-sized Calgary-based energy company may announce his candidacy next week.