We have seen watershed elections in Alberta. There was the 1921 election that ended the reign of the Liberals and brought in the United Farmers of Alberta.
There was the 1935 election, that ended the time of the United Farmers and brought in Social Credit.
And now we have reached 1971, possibly the most influential election in Alberta history.
Manning was no longer leading the Social Credit Party, having resigned in 1968 after 25 years in office and a year after the last election that was the ninth consecutive majority government for the Social Credit Party.
By this point, the Social Credit Party had reached that point that many parties do. The public sees them as old-fashioned, tired and the voters begin wanting to have a change. Manning left before that change could happen, and it fell to Harry Strom to lead the party into the next election.
Strom could have waited to call an election until 1972 but he chose to call it in 1971. He was going to call a spring election, hoping to catch farmers when they are optimistic about crops and more likely to vote for the party in power. In the end though, he chose to have the election on Aug. 30.
Strom had been in the Legislature since 1955 and had plenty of experience, having served as the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Alberta Minister of Agriculture in the 1960s. Unfortunately, many people watching the election, and its lead-up, felt he lacked charisma, especially compared to Peter Lougheed.
As soon as Strom had come to power as premier, he created the Alberta Service Corps, which allowed young Albertans to work on environmental and public service projects. He also put anti-narcotic legislation into the school curriculum of the province. Trial kindergarten programs were also implemented in Edmonton and Calgary. His government also expanded distance learning in Alberta with the creation of Athabasca University and starting the foundation for the ACCESS Television network.
While Strom lacked charisma, he was seen as a considerate and honest person. He was humble, and preferred to be called Harry rather than premier. When he travelled, he stayed in inexpensive hotels and ate meals in the basement cafeteria.
The Progressive Conservatives had spent the previous four years gearing up for this new election. While six MLAs had been elected for the Progressive Conservatives in 1967, that had expanded to 10 by August 1971.
Going into the campaign, the Social Credit Party spent $580,000 on the election but the lack of charisma for Strom hurt the party and there was not much in the campaign to give voters any sort of optimism. Strom did not draw big crowds except when Manning was with him.
The high use of television as a campaign tool also didn’t help Strom in the election and the party only spent $72,000 on television advertising. The party mostly focused on radio advertising, which was far less effective.
Strom criticized the Progressive Conservatives often in the campaign, stating that the public would not be fooled by,
“glib promises of government give-away programs hastily hatched up at election time.”
The Social Credit Party did offer $1,000 grants to first time home buyers, available to families with an income of less than $15,000. The platform of the party also included improving recreational facilities through the province and funding for pre-school programs.
As for the Progressive Conservatives, they developed slogans and branding that enforced the party’s key messages about change and prosperity. The advertising budget for the party was $120,000, with $80,000 for television.
The PCs were also careful with all of their messaging, touting the party as an alternative, rather than opposition. As well, Lougheed visited every constituency during the election campaign so he could meet and greet with voters.
“Premier Aberhart restored the bankrupt economy to good financial health. With premier Manning, the emphasis shifted to the development of natural resources. Under my administration the emphasis is the development of the individual Albertan.”
Storm pushed the message of his party that it would preserve that which was good, but make necessary changes as well.
Lougheed promised to give more money to parks and recreation areas, while adding that parks needed to be rezoned to preclude all resource development. He also promised to pledge a pollution control commission.
At one point during the campaign, during an Edmonton rally, Lougheed had flour dumped on his head from the ceiling. It was never discovered who orchestrated the prank.
Nonetheless, Lougheed was incredibly popular on the campaign trail, and he took every opportunity to attack the Social Credit Party. At one point he said,
“They’ve got talent. They’ve got one talent. It is a talent of whitewash and hiding under the rug serious problems. I’ll give them credit for that talent and that’s about it.”
As the campaign reached its end, Strom stepped up his attacks on the opposition parties. He criticized the 116 platform promises, which would cost the province too much due to the $500 million more needed to pay for the promises. He said,
“Either they are not serious about these promises, or they plan to double taxes. It can’t be any other way.”
Of course, Strom made promises as well, including $50 million in promises in one day.
Lougheed for his part continued to push the image of change and why it was needed. He said,
“I sense a growing momentum and a desire for change.”
One man who attended a rally said that Lougheed was a new Diefenbaker.
“It has been the most exciting election this province has ever seen. We, in my view, are on the threshold of greatness.”
Through the campaign, Lougheed toured in a loaned motor home, visiting nearly every part of the province that he could.
Many pundits were also predicting that it would be a close election, with a possible Social Credit victory. The Montreal Gazette said,
“This complacency and reliance on resources is attacked the hardest by Mr. Lougheed, the man with the best chance in a third of a century to end the Social Credit era.”
In all, the campaign saw 243 candidates, running for 75 seats. This was below the 241 that ran in 1935 when the Social Credit party first swept to power.
This election saw the voting age lowered from 21 to 18, which would bring in many new voters, most of whom voted for the new and dynamic Progressive Conservatives.
In the Aug. 30, 1971 election, the Progressive Conservatives gained 39 seats to finish with 49. The party had taken power in Alberta, ending 36 years of power for the Social Credit Party. The PCs saw a popular vote increase of 20.4 per cent as they took 46.4 per cent of the total vote.
“I would like to say to all of you. Put aside all party differences. I would like to extend my congratulations for a job of public service to the Social Credit movement and league, Premier Strom, Premier Manning, to all the people who have worked for the Social Credit movement for more than 36 years. They have made a remarkable contribution and I think they should be justly responded to.”
This began 44 straight years of Progressive Conservative leadership of Alberta.
The Social Credit Party lost an astounding 30 seats, finishing with only 25. This was not only the lowest number of seats the party had ever won, but also the first time the party had ever lost an election.
Strom said of the loss,
“The voter is supreme in this province and I accept his decision no matter what it is.”
Strom also congratulated Lougheed on his win.
Manning said of the loss,
“Naturally I am disappointed to see the defeat of the Social Credit government but our party is built on the constructive side and I am quite confidence we shall see a return to power sometime in the future.”
The NDP won one seat, with Grant Notley taking a seat in Spirit River-Fairview. Notley had been leader of the party since 1968 and he would have a big impact on Alberta, as would his daughter but we will get to that.
There was also a daylight saving time plebiscite and this time, Albertans voted to approve it with 61.47 per cent saying they wanted it in place. On April 30, 1972, Alberta as a whole officially observed daylight saving time.
The election also saw 47 new faces in the Legislature, more than half of those who would sit in the Legislature. Voter turnout was also 70.2 per cent, way up from 63.1 per cent in 1967.
After Alberta went through a monumental shift in its politics, the Progressive Conservatives got down to work almost immediately in moving the province into a new direction after over three decades of Social Credit rule of the province.
In his first speech from the throne, Peter Lougheed spoke about his belief in open government. To that end, he put cameras in to broadcast meetings of the Legislature beginning in March 1972. He also announced major changes to the royalty structure of the oil and gas industry in Alberta. He also sought greater control for the province when it came to oil and gas resources, and to reduce incursions by the federal government in natural resource development. In 1974, he incorporated the Alberta Energy Company and passed the Natural Gas Pricing Agreement Act.
Lougheed also purchased Pacific Western Airlines to assure the development of North and Western Canada, and make Alberta a gateway to the north.
It wasn’t just about planes and oil and gas though. His government immediately started to expand the arts and culture aspect of Alberta, which at the time was considered a cultural desert. In 1974, the province created Heritage Day, and Edmonton held its first Heritage Festival. He also put the province’s support behind Edmonton hosting the 1978 Commonwealth Games in their bid for the early 1970s.
His government also repealed the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act in 1972. The act had been put in place by the United Farmers of Alberta and expanded by the Social Credit Party. Over the course of almost half a century, the Alberta Eugenics Board, over 5,000 cases of sterilization were approved, with 2,832 sterilizations performed.
Harry Strom continued on as the Leader of the Opposition, the first Social Credit leader to serve in that role in history, until 1973 when he resigned. He remained in the legislature until the 1975 election, choosing not to run for re-election.
He was replaced by Werner Schmidt, the vice-president of Lethbridge Community College who did not hold a seat in the Legislature.
The New Democratic Party as still led by Grant Notley, who represented Spirit River-Fairview.
As for the Liberal Party, they had failed to capture a seat in the previous election and were now led by Bob Russell, who did not win his seat in the 1973 election and finished fourth in a by-election in 1973. He resigned as party leader in 1974, and was replaced by Nicholas Taylor, who also did not have a seat in the Legislature.
In the campaign, the Progressive Conservatives campaigned on providing administrative competence and promises. Lougheed promised to create the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, reducing income taxes by at least 28 per cent, and increasing social program spending.
In regards to the Heritage Fund, which would be built off oil and gas revenue, Lougheed said,
“Most of the money will simply be invested. We have all sorts of opportunities to spend it but we are talking about investing.”
The party campaigned on Vote Today for Alberta, 43 Months of Progress, and in an effort to work off the charisma of Lougheed, Lougheed Leadership.
There were few major spending promises, beyond $200 million for irrigation projects in southern Alberta.
The Social Credit Party hoped to come back to power, and ran a campaign promising low-interest loans to Albertans for a number of things including housing and farming. Schmidt promised more revenue sharing with municipal governments and a larger emphasis on free market enterprise.
Throughout the campaign, the Social Credit Party called itself the Alberta Party.
The party was only able to put forward 70 candidates, five less than the full amount.
The NDP ran its campaign, stating it was the only real opposition to the Progressive Conservatives. Its strategy was also not to emphasis socialist programs, but focus on the Progressive Conservative’s and its spending, especially when it came to the oil sands.
The party was also able to run candidates in every riding, but Notley mostly stayed in his riding during the election as he barely won it in 1971 and wanted a larger majority in the 1975 election.
Notley said during the campaign,
“The day will come when we form a government in this province.”
He was right, but he was 40 years too early in his prediction.
For the Liberals, they focused on the charisma of their leader Nick Taylor, and opposing the industrialization policy of the Progressive Conservatives. The party campaigned on the slogan of The Alternative but only fielded 46 candidates in the election and most of the party’s resources were put into urban candidates they felt had the best chance of winning.
In all, 293 candidates were running in the election, hoping to gain a seat in the 75 ridings.
There were no major issues in the election campaign. Lougheed stated that oil and gas were the main concern for the Progressive Conservatives. He called it the central issue, while also focusing on the economy and local issues.
The Liberals knew they had an uphill battle. They had not formed government in half a century and rarely won a seat at this point. Most newspapers related that there was an uphill battle for party to gain any seats in the election. Leader Nick Taylor said he knew the party had no chance of forming government but hoped to win five or six seats to establish a base for future jobs. He said,
“It is an eight to nine year job I’ve undertaken.”
Most election watchers considered it a foregone conclusion that the Progressive Conservatives would win the election. The Vancouver Province wrote,
“With one set speech and only three of four promises, Peter Lougheed is cruising his way through one of the great non-campaigns of recent times.”
Most of the candidates for the Progressive Conservatives also didn’t take part in debates in their ridings. Even Lougheed, who had been part of a debate in 1967, didn’t take part in debates this election. The party said,
“We are not going to get involved in forums or open line shows to attract attention to our opponents and help them get their point across.”
This election also saw 33 women running for election, a record for the time and twice as many who ran in the previous election. In all, women formed 11 per cent of the total number of candidates.
In the March 26, 1975 election, the Progressive Conservatives surged to a massive majority with 69 seats, 20 more than they had before the election. This was the most seats won by any party in the history of the province to that point.
Lougheed said of the win,
“The results show that we do have the support of the citizens of Alberta in dealing with natural resource policy and maintaining our ownership rights. We feel pretty strongly that Alberta has an important role to play in Confederation and a leadership role to play in the West because we are the energy province.”
The Social Credit Party lost 21 seats, falling to four, by far the lowest number of seats the party ever had. Schmidt also lost his election in Taber-Warner and soon left provincial politics.
“The people of Alberta have shown that they prefer the politics of opportunism and charisma over the politics of principle.”
Despite running 75 candidates, the NDP only won one seat, that of Notley, who won his seat with 50.83 per cent of the vote. Despite not winning more, the party was pleased that it had come second in northern areas of the province, and in all 16 ridings in Edmonton. Notley said he would work with the Social Credit Party to form an effective opposition. He said,
“We are going to work closely together. We’ve got two jobs to do. New Democrats must continue to organize themselves into the role of an opposition party, and as a legislator, I’ve got to work very closely with the other opposition MLAs.”
The turnout for the election was 59.58 per cent.
For nearly the entire 1970s, the Progressive Conservatives had been leading the province and the era of the Social Credit Party was nearly a decade in the past now.
Heading into the 1979 election, the Progressive Conservatives spoke of 79 in 79, with their quest to win every seat in the Legislature. This mirrored the 63 in 63 that was the unofficial slogan of the Social Credit Party in the 1963 election.
To this, Nick Taylor, leader of the Liberal Party said,
“We need an election, not a coronation.”
Tommy Douglas, former premier of Saskatchewan said of it,
“When I hear talk of ’79 in ’79, a cold shudder goes down my back.”
For Lougheed, he had spent the previous few years finding a compromise with the federal government and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau over the National Oil Policy that came in after the 1973 oil crisis. In 1974, the federal government changed the tax code so that petroleum companies were no longer allowed to deduct provincial royalties from the taxable income. The comprise that Lougheed and Trudeau came to was allowing for a gradual increase in domestic oil prices to world prices, while creating a buffer to protect manufacturers and consumers.
In 1977, Lougheed had created the Kananaskis Provincial Park, which would later be named for him. He had also seen the success of the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton and he put the government’s support behind the Olympic bid by Calgary to host the 1988 Winter Olympics.
Robert Clark now led the Social Credit Party after the resignation of Werner Schmidt. He was one of the few Social Credit MLAs in the Legislature, and had held his seat since 1960. While he did his best as Opposition Leader, he did not accomplish much against the massively popular and powerful Progressive Conservatives.
Both Grant Notley and Nick Taylor continued to lead their parties. Notley was still the only members of the NDP in the Legislature, while Taylor had served as the leader of the Liberals since 1974 but had not held a seat yet.
Notley was the essence of the Alberta NDP. Ray Martin, party secretary, said,
“The party would be no more than a philosophical group without him.”
Throughout each year, Notley travelled 160,000 kilometres through Alberta to build support for the party.
Taylor knew his party had no chance to win the election. In fact, he said,
“If we won, the first thing I’d do is ask for a recount.”
As a result, both the NDP and Liberals were hoping to be the Official Opposition against the Progressive Conservatives.
Robert Clark campaigned throughout the province, mostly by motorhome, which had been dubbed the Socred Cow. Reporters had another name for it, Lose-a-bago.
He did his best to visit as many places as possible. He said,
“At the end of the first week, I found my right hand a little sore from shaking hands. I enjoy mainstreeting immensely.”
He also didn’t rely on rallies, choosing instead to meet people face to face. He said,
“A very important part of the campaign is taking government and the campaign to the people.”
Despite his efforts just to try and win his own riding, the odds were stacked against Taylor. During one campaign stop at a nursing home, a 96-year-old woman looked at his picture and said,
“I don’t think that’s a very good likeness. Liberal? Oh, no. We’ve got enough Liberals in Ottawa, thank you.”
Taylor said in response that it was the provincial election, and there were not enough Liberals in Edmonton.
Lougheed didn’t campaign on many issues or promises, choosing to focus on the accomplishments the party had throughout the 1970s. Threats to the oil and gas industry and the wealth it brought Edmonton was addressed several times on the campaign trail. At one point, he said,
“I sense a determined effort being made to weaken our control of those resources. Some people don’t want to make it an issue but its on people’s minds.”
Lougheed also stated he was unhappy with the suggestion that Alberta only prospered because of oil and gas. He stated that it was not something that just happened, but took hard work and imagination. He also stated that he raised royalty rates from 16.66 per cent to 40 per cent.
This election also saw 335 candidates, with 43 women running.
As the election came to an end, Robert Clark said that the Progressive Conservative were starting to lose steam, he said,
“We’ve picked up a lot of momentum in the last 10 days or two weeks and the Tory campaign seems to be fizzling out.”
He added that he expected to win between eight and 30 seats. Clark also claimed that Lougheed urged Conservatives to invite friends to rallies because the party couldn’t attract crowds, although this seemed to be an unfounded claim.
“The Tories are clearly on the defensive.”
Notley hoped that his party could attract six seats, similar to what the Progressive Conservatives won in the 1967 election. He stated,
“What there is in the province among the voters is a restlessness, a feeling they want to rap the government on the knuckles, not that they want to throw out the government and put in a new one. To run around talking about forming a government is to misread the mood of the public.”
In the March 14, 1979 election, the Progressive Conservatives increased their seat total by five but failed to accomplish their goal of 79 in 79. Instead, they finished with a massive majority of 74.
The 74 seats won by the Progressive Conservatives was the highest amount ever won by a party in Alberta to that point. To this date, it remains the third most ever won in an Alberta election.
The Social Credit Party gained no seats, but lost none, finishing with four once again. Robert Clark was re-elected in his riding.
“I don’t see any indications that we have to pack our sacks and leave the political scene. In a healthy economy, the electorate wants to maintain the status quo and that’s what kept Peter Lougheed in power.”
The NDP also lost no seats but gained none, with Notley remaining as the lone member of the party in the Legislature. Notley said,
“I’m too old to cry, but it hurts too much to laugh. I don’t think anything went wrong. We just had too far to go. Albertans were not ready in 1979 to elect a sizable opposition.”
As for the Liberals, they won no seats, and Taylor lost again in his bid to become an MLA in the Legislature. The last time the Liberals had won any seats in the Legislature was 1967, when they won three.
“If Peter feels he got this mandate because he loosened up the purse strings, that’s good but if he think he can use to champion against Ottawa, it is not that good.”
Heading into the 1980s, Premier Peter Lougheed could have waited to call an election but after only three years he called a snap election.
The major issue at hand was the National Energy Program, put in place by the federal government that was immensely unpopular within the province. This program was established in 1980 with the goal of ensuring security of supply and ultimate independence from the world oil market and promote oil self-sufficiency in Canada. In Alberta, it was considered to be an incredibly unfair policy and it is estimated it may have cost Alberta between $50 and $100 billion during its five year run until 1985. While Alberta still had an economic surplus during those years, the surplus was reduced by the National Energy Program. Lougheed fought the program in court and in the public eye, but many of his critics said he did not do enough.
Lougheed eventually threatened to reduce the province’s production of oil to counter the federal program that increased taxes. He then announced that Alberta would reduce its oil production by 60,000 barrels over the course of nine months. This resulted in what was called the Oil Accord, which removed certain aspects of the program that Alberta didn’t like.
Prior to the election, Lougheed also used the $11 billion Alberta Heritage Fund to put interest rates on home mortgages up to $60,000 at 12.5 per cent, while subsidizing loans to farmers and small businesses at 14.5 per cent.
The NDP were still led by Grant Notley, while George Richardson led the Social Credit Party. The Reform Movement, a party founded in 1982, had one seat in the Legislature when the election was called and the party was caught completely off-guard.
The Alberta Liberal Party and Social Credit Party had little power in the province. The Liberals were only able to run a slate of about 25 candidates, while the Social Credit Party had seen its number of MLAs fall to just one by the time the election happened due to retirements. Raymond Speaker had led the party, and he announced the party would sit out the election. He attempted to disband the party but this failed. Going into the election, the party had no incumbents running for the first time since 1935.
The anger over the National Energy Program sparked western separation talk in Alberta, and it led to the formation of the Western Canada Concept Party, led by Gordon Kesler who had won a by-election in early 1982.
In order to catch the opposition parties off guard, including the Western Canada Concept Party, Lougheed called a snap election.
Through the Progressive Conservative campaign, Lougheed used scare tactics to warn Albertans that they could end up with a separatist government. He also promised to sell Pacific Western Airlines, which his government had bought in 1974.
There were more financial promises from the Progressive Conservatives. Lougheed promised a $500 million package for new businesses, aid to seniors and new roads. A $100 million a year expansion in oil production projects was also promised.
The NDP promised $100 million for renters and $160 million in a mortgage program, while the Liberals offered up $500 million to purchase the Dome Petroleum Ltd. bailout program from Ottawa.
The WCC offered $1 billion to provide $1,000 grants to every voter, and $500 million for a mortgage-interest relief plan that most pundits called complicated. Gordon Kesler also promised to reduce the size of the civil service from 32,000 to 22,000.
The WCC was not expected to have a chance in the election, with even Allan Blakeney, a former premier of Saskatchewan, saying,
“I’m glad that the voters of Alberta will have an effective choice between the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP.”
Many also criticized the $1,000 promise to each voter as the WCC stated it would go to every man, woman and child who cast a ballot.
The Edmonton Journal raised issue with this since only people over the age of 18 could vote.
Kesler also made news when he tore up a brochure for the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, saying that it was a campaign kitty from the word go.
“I hope they recognize the government is buying votes basically with subsidies with socialistic programs. They use Albertans’ dollars, telling them they are giving something for nothing.”
Even with some wondering about the popularity of the Progressive Conservatives, no one expected any party to win and it was more about what party was going to come in second. A poll in late October found that 49 per cent of voters supported the Conservatives.
Despite this, Lougheed told his supporters and candidates to treat the election as if they were nine votes behind in every poll and to put everything they could into winning over Albertans.
Some voters were also feeling that the Progressive Conservatives were running out of road. One Conservative supporter said that he quite supporting the Social Credit Party in 1971 because they ran out of steam, adding,
“These fellows are starting to go the same way.”
Grant Notley challenged Lougheed to a debate in the election, but this was turned down. Notley said,
“I again challenged Peter Lougheed to a leadership debate and if he’s interested in democracy at all he’ll come out from under the table and meet his political opponents.”
One issue that emerged during the election campaign was a pilot project that required welfare recipients to work or lose their benefits. The plan drew anger from labour unions, and since it launched in a riding controlled by the Progressive Conservatives, it was attached to the party.
This election saw a record 344 candidates vying for a seat in the Legislature.
In the Nov. 2, 1982 election, the Progressive Conservatives tactics worked, bringing the party two more seats to finish with 75. The party now had a massive majority in the Legislature, the second largest in the history of the province. The party also picked up a staggering 62.3 per cent of the popular vote.
In terms of seats, this was the most seats ever won by a party in Alberta’s history, and it remains the most seats ever won by a party to this day.
Lougheed stated that was reconsidering his recent announcement that he may not seek another term. He said,
“I’m enjoying this campaigning more than I thought.”
Several pundits speculated that Lougheed may also pursue federal politics, although he denied this would be the case.
The NDP finally made headway when they picked up one more seat, thanks to the election of Ray Martin, to finish with two, thereby forming the Official Opposition.
“Even though we surrendered a large part of my majority, I gained a friend in the Legislature. With the NDP running second, we are clearly the official opposition.”
The Western Concept Party lost its only seat when Kesler lost his election in Highwood. Despite this, the party had 12 per cent of the popular vote. The Albert Reform Movement also lost its only seat in the election.
“We’re disturbed that Albertans are willing to be bought with their own dollars.”
The Alberta Liberal Party won no seats, continuing its drought in the Legislature that now pushed 15 years in length.
As for the Social Credit Party, they lost 19.1 per cent of the popular vote, winning only .8 per cent in total. The party also lost its only seat in the Legislature. For the first time in its history, after leading the province from 1935 to 1971, the party was completely shut out of the Legislature.
The party would never return, and never have another seat in the Legislature, ending the chapter for a once great party just over a decade removed from when it last held power.
After leading the province since 1971, Peter Lougheed decided the time was right to pass the reigns to someone else. He officially retired from politics in 1985, and handed over the Progressive Conservative party to Don Getty on Nov. 1, 1985.
Getty had left politics in 1979 to work in the private sector but returned to contest for the leadership of the party. A former two-time Grey Cup champion with the Edmonton Football Team in 1955 and 1956, he took over the premiership during a very difficult time for Alberta.
While the province’s NHL teams, the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, were dominating the hockey world, the province was dealing with the recession of the 1980s. In his first year as premier, he dealt with a $2.1 billion deficit. In the April 1986 throne speech, the party stated it would spend $2 billion in subsidized rate loans to farmers, increase overall spending by 5.9 per cent, including a 14-per cent hike in day care funding.
He was also not seen as favourably by Albertans as Peter Lougheed had. As soon as Getty came to office, he alienated a reporter friendly to the party by calling him tubby, and stated he no longer wanted to be filmed by journalists from behind because being flanked made him uncomfortable. He also remodeled his office to keep journalists away.
Not a great way to go into an election.
Sadly, Grant Notley had been killed in a plane crash in 1984 and the NDP went under the leadership of Ray Martin, the other member of the party in the Legislature.
The Western Canada Concept Party was long gone now, and the Social Credit Party would nominate no candidates, officially ending its time in power.
The Liberals were now let by Nicholas Taylor and were hoping to finally return to the Legislature for the first time since 1969.
Through the campaign, Getty made several errors. He stated that the Chernobyl disaster that had happened that year would benefit Alberta’s oil economy, and he predicted that terrorism in other countries would give more tourism dollars to Alberta.
Throughout the campaign, Getty made promises that eventually amounted to a whopping $3 billion in spending. These included a $185 million pulp mill, a $265 million magnesium plant, both of which would be paid for, Getty said, by the Heritage Fund. His campaign ads also tended to show him in his younger days, specifically when he was playing for the Edmonton Eskimos.
The campaign theme was also simply the word Together, which was never explained.
The NDP, hoping to finally break through, also had many promises put forward including high speed rails and subsidized cable TV for rural residents.
The NDP also demanded action on falling oil prices stating that the Progressive Conservatives had done nothing to help Albertans. He said,
“While the Conservatives wait with crossed fingers for OPEC to pull us out of the soup, hundreds of small Canadian energy explorers are facing foreclosures.”
Martin promised that if the NDP were elected, they would launch a Canada-wide lobby to get a national floor price for oil.
The Liberals brought in heavy hitters to gain some votes, including John Turner and Jean Chretien.
Overall, the campaign was considered to be dull.
The cost of the election was put at $4 million, up from $3.2 million in 1982.
In the May 8, 1986 election, the Progressive Conservatives lost 14 seats, falling to 61 seats but holding onto their majority. The party lost most of its support in Edmonton, picking up only four seats. The 61 seats won was the lowest for the party since it won 49 in 1971. The party also lost six cabinet ministers and the Speaker of the Legislature, all from Edmonton.
One pundit said the election was,
“a nightmare evening for the seemingly indestructible Tories.”
Getty put a brave face on the evening, stating,
“I’m looking forward to the challenge of an interesting legislature. I ask you Albertans for your support for another majority and I think you for giving me that majority.”
Overall voter turnout was an abysmal 50 per cent, 16 per cent below 1982.
The NDP had its best showing to date when it picked up 14 seats to have 16 seats in the Legislature. It remained the Official Opposition and the party won most of the seats in Edmonton where it would become the dominant party. The party also increased its share of the popular vote by 10 per cent. The 16 seats won by the party was the most for an opposition party in Alberta since the Social Credit Party won 25 in 1971.
“I give notice to the Tories, you have a small mandate and you better get on with jobs in farms, and you better start being fair.”
The Liberals won four seats, returning to the Legislature for the first time in almost two decades. This also gave the opposition 22 members, which was the largest seen since 1971.
Nonetheless, the Opposition was still outnumbered by the Progressive Conservatives three-to-one.
At the time, it was thought that a change was coming to Alberta politics and that it would resemble more of the makeup of the federal politics of the country.
That was not going to be the case.
After suffering its first setback, the Progressive Conservatives moved into the 1989 election year with hope of regaining some ground.
The Progressive Conservatives were led by Premier Don Getty, who was still dealing with poor oil prices and a sagging economy. The party had raised taxes by $1 billion to deal with energy income shortfalls. Worse for the party was the failure of the Principal Group, an Edmonton-based trust company. Its investment subsidiaries were ordered shut down on June 30, 1987 by court order. The parent company then went bankrupt in August on accusations of fraud. Getty’s press secretary stated he was working hard to deal with the issue, but pictures emerged of him golfing, which greatly hurt his reputation. Later, it was discovered that Consumer and Corporate Affairs Minister Connie Osterman disregarded warnings in 1984 that the company was likely insolvent. She was soon fired after the release of the report. Getty then offered $85 million to investors and this hurt the party’s reputation in the business community.
When Getty called the 1989 election, only three years into his mandate, he was hoping to take advantage of the economic optimism in the province over the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement.
At the start of the campaign, when asked about wearing a seatbelt he said in an attempt at a joke,
“I maybe whacked my kids, beat my wife, but I’ve never abused a seatbelt in my life.”
The joke fell hard and he was force to apologize. Several people criticized the lack of focus on women’s issues in the campaign platform of the party.
The NDP were still led by Ray Martin, and his party was hoping to expand on the record 16 seats it had won in the previous election.
The Liberals had four seats in the Legislature, and were slowly climbing back to relevance after almost two decades essentially locked out of the legislature. Laurence Decore now led the party, and had good name recognition having served as the Mayor of Edmonton from 1983 to 1988. Decore was able to win on the first ballot and became leader of the party.
Through the election, Getty and the Party promised to pave all of the province’s secondary highways.
Overall, the election was described as one that started with a sleepwalk and ended with a sprint. Through the election, Getty made many gaffes and put forward several promises that were forecasted to cost the province hundreds of millions, including $200 million for a drug abuse foundation, $400 million for the elderly, $400 million for interest rate relief, totally $1 billion. When pressed on the issue by reporters, Getty simply said,
“By the way, you guys are really goofy.”
Martin said of Getty’s late election promises,
“Not in my wildest dreams did I expect Getty to screw up as much as he did.”
Protesters also picketed the office of Getty over the issue of cruise missiles, which was a national issue.
Many Albertans were angry at the fact there was an election throughout the election campaign. The Red Deer Advocate wrote in an editorial,
“Premier Don Getty called the election early to catch the opposition parties unprepared. But it has become increasingly apparent over the past three weeks that the premier himself was not ready for the campaign.”
Some pundits called Getty the issue of the campaign. One long-time Progressive Conservative voter said,
“I’m just disgusted with Mr. Getty because he’s giving away all this money. It seems our Progressive Conservatives are not conservative any more. They’ve gone Liberal on us.”
A businessman in Calgary said,
“Where is he going to get the money?”
In the March 20, 1989 election, the Progressive Conservatives lost two seats, finishing with 59. Worst among the lost seats was that leader Don Getty lost his own riding, a very rare occurrence in Alberta politics. In Edmonton, the party was reduced to only two seats but remained dominant in Calgary and rural areas. A by-election was soon held after the election in a safe riding so Don Getty could regain his seat.
“We’ll consider all the options. We have a government to run and we have a legislature to bring in fairly soon. We have a cabinet to select. All of those things will have to be done in the coming days and weeks.”
As well, the party lost seven per cent of the popular vote, falling to 44.3 per cent. Its 59 seats was also the lowest total for the party since 1971 when it won 49 seats.
The NDP lost no seats, but gained no seats either, remaining in the Official Opposition with 16 seats.
“I feel good. They said when we made a breakthrough it was a fluke. We showed them it was no fluke. Our roots are deep in this province.”
The Liberals gained four seats, finishing with eight in total under their new leader Laurence Decore. The party also gained 16 per cent more of the popular vote.
“I’d like to tell every Albertan that there is a new party on the horizon. We are the free enterprise alternative for the future.”
The vote splitting between the NDP and the Liberals is seen as a reason that the Progressive Conservatives were able to win their sixth consecutive majority government. The eight seats won by the Liberals was the most the party had won since it picked up 15 seats in 1955.