[HJH: Due to limited resources, I’m posting this one without links then adding them in as I get the opportunity.]
It’s tough to convey this to people who weren’t born and raised here, but the province of Alberta votes conservative. Always.
The energy boom of the late 50’s flushed our economy with cash, drastically improving our standard of living, and made the deeply-religious and rural Social Credit party feel outdated in a growingly secular and urban province. They had such a lock on power, though, that opposition parties couldn’t establish a foothold. So when the young-and-hip Peter Lougheed came along in the late 60’s, pledging to modernize Alberta and use its newfound riches to make it a major player in Canada, Albertans were so smitten by the fresh voice that they switched en-mass.
The Progressive Conservatives were indeed progressives in comparison to what we once had, and they flaunted it. Several easy majorities followed. When scandal broke or times got rough, they simply cycled out the troublesome people before an election and shifted to the centre, stealing policies liberally from their most popular opponents. Albertans repeatedly bought it, handing out further majority governments over and over.
Until the 2010’s, that is. The Wildrose party under Danielle Smith angled itself as a fresh alternative to the endless trail of scandals that the Conservatives offered. Initially, Albertans seemed overjoyed at this, which scared the bejeezus out of me: while the Conservatives bounced between centrist and right-wing, depending on what would earn them votes, the Wildrose was solidly on the right.
But in the last week, a miracle happened: what looked to be a majority Wildrose government flipped to a majority Conservative one! Smith’s wooing of right-wing extremists backfired, as they took advantage of their greater freedom in the fresh upstart by spouting bigoted bullshit. Despite being quite moderate herself, Smith wound up defending them to maintain party unity. This pissed off left and right-wingers alike. Meanwhile, the Conservatives did what had always worked: punt out the old leaders, put in a fresh face (Alison Redford) who promised everything had changed and there would be no more scandals, then move to the centre by stealing all the popular policy ideas. Emptied of conservative bigots, their campaign was boring, assured, and in the dying days of the election infinitely more appetizing. So despite the scare, nothing changed.
And thus, everything had to change. Redford inevitably resigned in scandal. Her replacement, Jim Pretence, was desperate to avoid splitting the right-wing vote and so woo’d back the extremists. This cost the Conservatives support from the left, the Wildrose support from the right, and most of the returning recruits flopped badly on arrival. Come election time, he ran an amazingly incompetent campaign, with troubles ranging from over-promising on policy to simple gaffs. The Wildrose were the quiet ones this time, pushing typical right-wing policies and doing a decent job of mending fences to their base.
On the left, the Liberals are too centrist to distance themselves from the centre-stealing Conservatives, nor the much-hated federal Liberal party. They seem to be quietly slipping into obscurity.
That just leaves the New Democratic Party, or NDP. Never a big player in this province, they nevertheless managed to nab a small but respectable share of the vote in 2012. Their campaign this year has been very good, and leader Rachel Notley has smoothly handled the few bumps while simultaneously managing to be a fresh face and good-ol’-girl. She and the NDP not only locked up the leftist vote, they’re in control of the centrist portion too and the latest poling suggests they’ll earn a majority.
After nearly 80 years of right and then centre-right governments, Alberta may be about to elect a left-to-far-left government.
That is big…. if it pans out, of course. I know I’ll spend this evening riveted to the live results.