The year of 1993 was a big year of change in Canadian politics. It was the year of the federal election that reshaped Canadian politics forever, and began to rise of the Bloc Quebecois and the Reform Party.
In Alberta, it was a time of change as well, and the 1993 election would show that.
The biggest change of this election was that Don Getty had resigned as premier in 1992 and was replaced by Ralph Klein. At the time, polls showed that Getty would not win a re-election and the party membership chose Klein, who was a former environment minister and former mayor of Calgary to take over.
Laurence Decore continued to lead the Liberals, who were slowly moving back into relevancy.
Ray Martin was also still the leader of the NDP, and the Official Opposition in the Legislature.
Prior to the election, a report from Financial Review Commission stated that the debt and deficits in the province were out of control. It stated,
“There is no viable fiscal plan. The heritage fund is all but spent. The government ignores routine accounting practices.”
The province had also lost $2 billion in loan guarantees with another $12 billion at risk.
Amid this was the controversary over the huge pensions MLAs were receiving upon their retirement. These MLAs were walking away with a total of $40 million in their retirement. The MLAs had only contributed one dollar for ever six dollars contributed by tax payers.
Prior to the election, on April 30, Klein killed the pension plan completely for MLAS elected after 1989, including his own. He also cut back the retirement benefits for the preceding generation of MLAs. The government then took out ads across the province that said,
“Premier Klein on pensions: You have spoken and we have listened.”
With such a drastic action that no one expected, opposition leaders could only say that Klein had gone too far in eliminating pensions, but this fell flat with Albertans.
Klein then passed the Deficit Elimination Act, which put strict deficit limits in place for the next four years. It emphasized, no tax increases, no new taxes and no giveaways.
When the election writ was dropped, several electoral boundaries had been changed. These had been put forward by MLA Bob Bogle, with no input from the opposition. Later in 1994, the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled there was no justification for creating four districts well below average population, including one that was Bogle’s own riding.
In the election, Klein mostly campaigned making similar promises and arguments to that of Decore. He also promised to immediately balance the budget and begin rapid debt repayment. He said that his government was going to be out of the business of business.
He also distanced himself from Getty’s past administration.
“I’m Ralph. I’ve campaigned in five elections and I’ve won all five by being me.”
Overall, he was popular among Albertans in the south, one voter said,
“I like Ralph because he is the people’s man.”
He attacked the other parties for what he said was a lack of fiscal planning in their platforms. He said,
“They keep talking about how they’re going to address the financial problems of this province, but I have yet to see their plans.”
He also criticized the Liberals for being soft on crime. At one rally, he said,
“I think that there should be a much tougher stand on juvenile crime. I hear it everywhere I go. Safe streets are a concern, absolutely.”
Through the campaign, Decore often agreed with Klein on the main issues, but argued that the Progressive Conservatives had no moral authority. He also promised to improve funding for schools, rather than building new schools. He said,
“We don’t need more bricks and mortar.”
Despite the popularity of Klein in Southern Alberta, Decore believed that the party would do well there. During one rally, he said that he expected at least six of nine seats south of Calgary to do well.
Martin attacked the corporate ties of the Progressive Conservatives and what he labelled as corruption within the government. He said,
“It is time we have some user fees for corporations rather than user fees for ordinary Albertans.”
He also called Decore and Klein the slash and burn twins.
Federal NDP leader Audrey McLaughlan came to Alberta to campaign with Martin and give him a boost. Martin said,
“We are going to elect more New Democrats in this province than we ever have before. And more importantly, we are going to elect more people in the Calgary area than we ever have before.”
With his friendly personality and promises, the Progressive Conservatives began to do well in the polls. In the debates, among viewers, there was no clear winner.
Televised debates were held for this election, and Ralph Klein preferred looser debate rules, rather than pre-screened questions from an invited studio audience.
Just before the election, Klein’s numbers were up, giving him confidence in the coming election. He said,
“I said at the outset that I would bring my style to the party and to the government and that we would set a new tone.”
In the June 15, 1993 election, The Progressive Conservatives lost eight seats, falling to 51, their lowest total since before they had come to power in 1971. The party was completely shut out of Edmonton for the first time since 1963, but they made gains in Calgary, where they won all but three seats due to Klein’s popularity there.
“Welcome to the miracle of the prairies. We gave Albertans a choice between the future and the past and you know Albertans will always pick the future. I will not let you down.”
Nearly half of all the Tories elected were rookies, and only eight were elected before 1989. Several remnants from the Lougheed-Getty era were also ousted by voters including Justice Minister Dick Fowler, Economic Development Minister Don Sparrow and Agriculture Minister Ernie Isley.
The Liberals soared back with a gain of 24 seats to finish with 32. They also won almost 40 per cent of the vote, only four per cent lower than what the Progressive Conservatives had. Their 32 seats is, to date, the largest opposition caucus in the history of Alberta. For the party, this was the most seats it had won in its entire history, including during the four terms it served as the government from 1905 to 1917.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I think there’s a nice ring to the words Leader of the Official Opposition. Sometimes it takes a little longer to get the brass ring than other times, but we will get it.”
While the Liberals soared, the NDP collapsed, losing every single seat that they had before the election. Martin would blame tactical voting and that the anti-Progressive Conservative vote went over to the Liberals. This was the first time since 1967 that the NDP had no seats in the Legislature.
“It couldn’t get much worse could it? We understood that we were in a tough battle right from the beginning, but I thought we would be returning with some seats.”
Despite his huge gains for the party, party leadership pressured Decore to step down after the election feeling he had failed in the party’s best chance in 70 years to form government.
Over the previous four years since winning his first election as leader of the Progressive Conservatives, Ralph Klein had brought in major changes to Alberta and many were not popular.
In what Klein called The Alberta Advantage, there was a reduction in the provincial payroll, which abolished more than 4,000 public service positions. As well, 1,800 government jobs were eliminated when liquor retailers were privatized, as were motor vehicle and property registration agencies. In 1994, 20 per cent from the operating budgets was cut, and all teachers, nurses, university staff and civil servants received a five per cent pay cut and a two-year salary freeze.
I remember as a student in school in Alberta at this time, that our teachers had us write letters to the government asking them to put money back into teaching and education.
By 1995 though, the budget was balanced and the province’s deficit was eliminated. It came at the cost of dropping public spending by $1.9 billion.
In 1994, Klein also introduced the Regional Health Authorities Act, which took the 204 hospital boards in the province and combined them into 17 regional health authorities. The number of acute care beds were also decreased by 50 per cent at this time.
Grant Mitchell now led the Liberal Party, having taken over on Nov. 13, 1994 despite Laurence Decore taking the Liberal Party to its highest seat count in its history in the 1993 election. Mitchell had served in the Legislature since 1986, and finished second in 1988 to lead the Liberal Party.
Pam Barrett led the New Democratic Party, having become leader on Sept. 8, 1996 after the party collapsed in the last election losing every single seat. She had previously served in the Legislature from 1986 to 1993 before she resigned, citing job stress.
Randy Thorsteinson led the Social Credit Party. Yes, you heard that right. The party was long removed from its glory days when it led Alberta from 1935 to 1971. The party had not even won a seat in the Legislature since 1979. Amazingly, in 1997, an estimated 150,000 Albertans were stating they would vote Social Credit. As a result, 70 candidates were put forward to run in the election.
This election saw new electoral boundaries due to the 1992 Alberta Court of Appeal decision that was critical of how the map was drawn to favour Progressive Conservative candidates. As a result, the Alberta government amended the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act to have a commission made up of a Court Justice, two members from the governing party and two members from the official opposition. This commission created new electoral boundaries in 1996.
There were 347 candidates, which was a drop from the record 382 in the 1993 election, representing eight different parties in the election campaign.
This election saw the emergence of something that would influence elections to this day, the Internet. Several political parties were beginning to see the benefit of the Internet at this point. The Edmonton Journal wrote,
“Alberta’s election has helped create a new type of political animal, the Internet campaign consultant.”
Davie Brodie was a 22-year-old political science student who offered to design website for candidates. In the election, of the 347 candidates hoping for a seat, he had five clients.
Overall, the election was described as a quiet affair, and few expected the Progressive Conservatives to drop anymore seats since 1993. The Grande Prairie Daily Herald-Tribune wrote,
“Other than in hotly contested Edmonton and Calgary ridings, which is where Tuesday’s election will be decided, campaigning candidates kept to coffee klatches, sign postings and door-knockings, with a smattering of forums.”
Reform Party leader Preston Manning got into the election campaign when he got into a dispute with Klein, after Manning gave a speech in Calgary asking that he be crystal clear on district society status for Quebec. Klein dismissed the suggestion stating,
“Just absolutely ludicrous. This is just pie in the sky if I’ve ever seen pie in the sky. It is not on my agenda. I mean, I haven’t given it any thought.”
Progressive Conservative federal leader Jean Charest also got involved, stating that it was a desperate move by Manning to divide the provincial and federal sides of the party.
One Progressive Conservative candidate, Wayne Cao, was forced to deny that he had a Communist past. He said,
“I am not, and never have been, a supporter of the communist regime in Vietnam.”
Despite the poll numbers showing that the Liberals had 23 per cent support to Klein’s 56 per cent, Mitchell stated he was confident in winning.
“We’ve won the campaign up to this point. We feel we’ve set the agenda. I am happy with our campaign. Across this province, the response has been excellent.”
The New Democrats wanted to get back to being in the official opposition, and their message to voters was to elected some of them to be watchdogs over Klein and the Progressive Conservatives.
At the debate for the election, dozens of protesters showed up to criticize the environmental record of the Progressive Conservatives. In the debate, it was felt that Mitchell did poorly and that overall there were no defining moments and there was nothing that was going to sway voters in the election campaign.
In the March 11, 1997 election, Ralph Klein and the Progressive Conservatives did far better than in the last election. The party picked up 63 seats, an increase of 11 from the previous election, and 51.17 per cent of the vote. The 63 seats was the most for the party since the Progressive Conservatives were led by Peter Lougheed.
“Four years ago, some said we were reckless. Tonight, the people of Alberta said we were right.”
The Liberals lost almost all of their gains from the previous election, dropping 13 seats to 18, and remaining as the official opposition. The party lost roughly seven per cent of the popular vote in the process.
“Our work, our message, our ideas and the people who are going to be with me in the Legislature have made a very strong point in this province and to that government.”
The NDP were able to gain two seats, finishing with two. Both of the seats won were in Edmonton, including one won by Pam Barrett.
“Ralph Klein, there may be only two of us, we’re going to make you blink. When Grant Notley was by himself in the Legislature, the Conservatives at least according him a question per day. I’m hoping the Conservatives will be at least honorable enough to do that now.”
The Social Credit Party gained no seats, but did place second in many rural ridings. The party earned about seven percent of the popular vote.
The 21st century had dawned and over the previous few years, Ralph Klein and the Progressive Conservatives had brought more changes to the province.
In 2000, Klein introduced the Health Care Protection Act. The purpose of this act was to allow for the partial privatization of healthcare in the province. Almost immediately, it brought forth protests at the Legislature. This Act allowed for private for-profit clinics to perform minor surgeries and keep patients overnight. Eventually, Klein backed away from the reform, despite supporting it, due to the protests that he blamed on the two NDP MLAs in the Legislature.
The Liberals were now led by Nancy MacBeth, who came in as leader on April 18, 1998. She was the first female Opposition Leader in the history of Alberta. She was previously a member of the Progressive Conservatives, serving from 1986 to 1993 in the Legislature. In that time, she was the Minister of Education from 1986 to 1988, and Minister of Health from 1988 to 1992. She lost the party leadership campaign to Ralph Klein and was considered a Red Tory by the party membership. In 1998, she joined the Liberals and successful ran for the leadership of the party.
The NDP were led by Raj Pannu, who became leader in 2000. He had served in the Legislature since 1997, and took over when Pam Barrett retired from politics.
The Alberta First Party also ran in this election for the first time, as did the Social Credit Party, long removed from its glory days.
In the election campaign, Pannu ran a campaign with supporters wearing t-shirts that said Raj Against The Machine, while portraying him as a likeable and honest politician.
Computers were used in the election to predict the result, with most computers predicting that the Progressive Conservatives would win another victory. Harold Jansen, a political scientist said,
“For this election, the big outcomes don’t seem to be in doubt.”
The election was seen as one that was a race for second place, rather than a race to defeat the Progressive Conservatives. Some called it a Ralpherendum, as a vote for the leader of the Progressive Conservatives, rather than a vote battle. Most people probably couldn’t name their own MLA, but they knew who Ralph Klein was. Liberal MLA Gary Dickson said of this,
“In the three elections I was running in Calgary Buffalo, I was always running against Ralph Klein, not the local Tory candidate. People who weren’t supporting me would tell me, we are voting for Ralph or voting for Klein.”
Klein wasn’t always in favour of this, worrying it would hurt the party’s chances. He said,
“One of my volunteers met a man who said, I don’t need to vote, Ralph’s got it in the bag.”
The NDP campaigned on the slogan of Tough, Honest, Committed.
Campaign ads took a turn this election, with attack ads becoming more common. One from the Liberals showed men in suits stuffing envelopes of cash in their pockets. Klein called the ad a sign of desperation by the Liberal party. He added,
“Albertans don’t accept American-style negative ads. There have been no backroom deals whatsoever and no dirty deals.”
Ads by the Progressive Conservatives praised Klein and what the party had done over the previous few years, including getting a surplus budget of $4.1 billion. Liberal leader said the ads indicated the Tories were going out of business and simply asking voters to put in a good word for them.
MacBeth also made headlines when she appeared with a 30-year-old Buick, similar to what Klein drove, and stated,
“The government is tired. It is out of touch. It is out of date, like this car. This gas guzzling rustbucket is the same vintage as the government. It is worn out, it has no pickup and no brakes.”
MacBeth also dealt with issues in her own party, including one Liberal candidate who took a shot at her in a speech. Klein said of it,
“I mean, I would feel very badly if that happened to me. I would speculate that this candidate has watched his leader and her performance throughout this campaign and has simply come to the conclusion that enough is enough.”
Klein also dealt with controversy when he suggested the ethnic and social background of students should be considered when determining class sizes. MacBeth stated this was offensive to immigrants to the province. Klein responded that he simply suggested some classes of 30 students were manageable if the students were of the same social-economic group.
“What did I say that was derogatory? I said that not one size fits all. I said it makes sense that class sizes be smaller where there are different dynamics.”
The NDP released a major part of their platform, which was a $500 million plan to provide medically necessary prescription drugs to Albertans, covered by the province. Pannu said,
“We feel this is acting responsibly to make sure groups like seniors get drugs when they need them.”
Pannu was also forced to go on the defensive after the leaders debate when Klein accused him of wanting to shut private sector health care and abortion clinics. Pannu said a few days after the debate,
“We will not shut any abortion clinics until we can make sure that hospitals that have the same facilities are available.”
In the March 12, 2001 election, Klein and the Progressive Conservatives won 74 seats, an increase of 10 and the biggest majority for the party since the Lougheed days. The 74 seats was the most for the party since 1982. The party also commanded 62 per cent of the popular vote, an increase of 10 per cent over the previous election.
“Welcome to Ralph’s world and welcome to the first day of Alberta’s new future. It was a success beyond my wildest dreams!”
The Liberals lost eight seats, finishing with seven in a terrible defeat for the party. While the Liberals won seven seats, MacBeth lost her own seat and the party took on a million dollar debt from the campaign that would take 10 years to pay off.
MacBeth said to those Liberals who survived the election,
“You are the hope for the future.”
The NDP remained stable with two seats, losing none but gaining none either.
“We have succeeded because we are the only party that has held back the Tory strike. We will build upon our strong work to ensure that even more of us are elected the next time around.”
On a personal note, this was the first Alberta election I was able to vote in, as I turned 18 after the 1997 election.
Only three years after the last election, Alberta was once again heading to the polls.
The finances of the province continued to soar thanks to high oil prices. At the 2004 Calgary Stampede, Ralph Klein announced that the province had put aside the funds to repay its public debt by the following year. He said,
“Never again will this government or the people of this province have to set aside another tax dollar on debt…”Those days are over and they’re over for good, as far as my government is concerned, and if need be we will put in place legislation to make sure that we never have a debt again.”
In 2002, Don Mazankowski introduced the Mazankowski Report, which outlined 43 recommendations for the government to provide more private involvement and competition in the health care sector. Many of the recommendations were put into the 2003 budget for the province.
It was not all rosy times for the province though. In May 2003, Mad Cow Disease was found in a farm in Alberta, resulting in the near collapse of the industry for a time in the province as several countries closed their borders to Alberta beef. Klein’s response to the crisis was criticized when he said,
“I guess any self-respecting rancher would have shot, shoveled and shut up, but he didn’t do that.”
It took months for borders to reopen, and years in some cases, with Japan not allowing Alberta beef until 2019.
The Liberals were now led by Kevin Taft, who had served in the Legislature since 2001, and became leader in 2004. Nancy MacBeth had resigned days after the 2001 election, and was replaced by Ken Nicol, who resigned to run for Parliament.
Brian Mason took over as the leader of the New Democratic Party on July 13, 2004.Raj Pannu had resigned his leadership in 2004, and Mason took on the interim position until he was made officially the leader in September.
The Alberta Alliance Party was founded in 2002 and was led by Randy Thorsteinson, who led the Social Credit Party until 1999. Gary Masyk was the party’s only member, having crossed the floor from the Progressive Conservatives.
Shortly after the writ was dropped, Klein’s mother died and all the parties agreed to suspend their campaign for several days out of respect.
After things got going again, Klein didn’t make any policy announcements and attended very few campaign stops. This led critic to say that his campaign was Kleinfeld, a campaign about nothing.
Without Ralph Klein front and centre for the party, the Liberal Party began to gain steam and the party was optimistic of its chances.
The Alberta Alliance Party wanted to win and have a breakthrough so they hired the American firm Campaign Secrets to run its campaign. That firm was well known for its attack ads in the United States for the Republican Party. Many criticized the Alberta Alliance Party for running a negative campaign, but the party leaders defended it.
The party also ran its campaign on the slogan of I Blame Ralph, with the hope that voters who were unhappy with Klein would move over to their party. Numerous T-shirts and a website were brought out for the campaign, all with that slogan on it.
In the Nov. 22, 2004 election, the Progressive Conservatives won another majority but lost 11 seats in the process to finish with 62. The party also lost 15 per cent of the popular vote.
The Liberals won 11 seats, finishing with 16 seats, their best result in a decade. They also gained two per cent of the popular vote, and dominated in Edmonton and did well in Calgary.
The NDP won four seats, an increase of two, doing well in Edmonton once again.
The Alberta Alliance retained its only seat, but finished second to the Progressive Conservatives in many rural ridings. Randy Thorsteinson did not win his seat.
The Alberta Greens won no seats, but did increase their vote share from .3 per cent to 2.8 per cent, and even placed second in one riding.
Voter turnout was an abysmal 45.12 per cent.
For the first time since 1993, Alberta would be going to the polls without Ralph Klein leading the Progressive Conservatives.
Klein had announced on March 14, 2006 that he would resign as leader of the party effective Oct. 31, 2007. At a subsequent leadership review, he received only 55.4 per cent of support from delegates. As a result, he announced his resignation on Sept. 20, 2006, and said he would leave office as soon as a leader was chosen.
In all, Klein had spent 14 years as leader of the province, third behind Ernest Manning and Peter Lougheed.
Several candidates put their name forward but in the end, Ed Stelmach won the leadership of the party and became the new premier of Alberta on Dec. 2, 2006.
Stelmach had served in the Legislature since 1993 and was very popular among both parties.
After he became premier though, a group calling itself Alberta For Change began to run print and television ads stating that he had no plan and was unfit to lead the province.
In January 2008, Stelmach unveiled a plan that was highlighted as Made in Alberta for cutting carbon emissions to deal with climate change. The plan called for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 14 per cent from 2007 levels by 2050. The plan was seen as extremely inefficient, especially compared to British Columbia’s plan to cut emissions by 80 per cent in the same span of time.
Stelmach pushed the message that the oil sands in Alberta were environmentally friendly but that took a serious hit when in April 2008, hundreds of ducks landed in a tailings pond that belonged to Syncrude in northern Alberta and most died as a result. Over 1,600 ducks died in the incident.
The Liberal Party was still led by Kevin Taft, who had helped take the party to its best election result in 2004 since 1993.
Brian Mason also led the NDP.
A new party emerged on the scene, the Wildrose Alliance, led by Paul Hinman. He had previously been the leader of the Alberta Alliance Party and its only MLA.
In the election, the Liberal Party pledged to eliminate health care premiums, implement a public pharmacare program, create a Community Wellness Fund from tobacco taxes, and increase the number of health care workers in the province. They also promised to hire 300 more police officers for both Edmonton and Calgary.
The Progressive Conservatives promised to also eliminate health care premiums, construct 18 new schools, put $6 billion a year to build and improve highways, schools, parks and senior facilities. They agreed to reduce carbon emissions by 200 megatons by 2050, increase oil and gas revenue by $2 billion and take action on homelessness.
The NDP had a vast plan to provide child care spaces, introduce rent controls, put a royalty system in place to generate more oil and gas revenue, create a green energy fund to generate $2 billion in revenue, invest in wind and solar energy, and roll back tuition levels to 1999-2000 levels.
Throughout the election campaign, the Progressive Conservatives did well, usually polling between 42 and 53 per cent. The Liberals placed second in the polls at 19 to 31 per cent.
In the March 3, 2008 election, the Progressive Conservatives won a huge majority. The majority was large enough that CTV Calgary declared a PC majority 20 minutes after the polls closed.
The party won 72 seats, finishing with 12 more than in the last election. As it turned out, this was the last time the party would have over 70 seats, something it had accomplished four times since 1971. The party continued to have widespread support in rural areas, but also saw support in Calgary and Edmonton where voters were divided between the Calgary and Edmonton ridings. The party had its best results in those cities since 1982.
The Liberals held onto their Official Opposition status but lost seven seats to finish with nine. The party won only three seats in Edmonton, which went against the trend of the past few elections. The party did well in Calgary, winning five seats, the most won by any party in the city in 50 years.
The NDP lost two seats, finishing with two seats, both won in Edmonton.
The Wildrose Alliance lost its only seat, and finished with no seats in the Legislature.
Things were beginning the change though, and in the next two elections, the Progressive Conservatives, NDP and Wildrose would upend Alberta politics forever.
With a new decade came a new election and things looked pretty different for the province heading into that election.
The Progressive Conservatives were now led by Alison Redford, the first female premier in Alberta history, and the eighth female premier in Canadian history.
She had spent the 1980s working in the offices of Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney, and in 2008 was elected to the Alberta Legislature. She was named Minister of Justice by Premier Ed Stelmach.
After the last election, the party had lost a lot of support over the years, and many questioned if the party could win another election.
After Stelmach announced he was retiring as the premier of the province, Redford put her name forward to succeed him. Most did not feel she had much of a chance as she was new to provincial politics and only had the support of one MLA in her campaign.
In the first round of voting, Redford placed second behind Gary Mar, who many felt was the frontrunner. She had 19 per cent, while Mar had 41 per cent. On the second ballot’s first round, she finished with 37 per cent to Mars 42 per cent. On the second round of the second ballot, she finished with 51.1 per cent, becoming the leader of the party and the new premier of the province.
As soon as Redford became premier, she put forward six pieces of legislation. The most important were fixing election dates, an investigation into health care and tougher penalties for impaired driving. All six passed in the Legislature.
The Wildrose Party was a new party, formed out of a merger between the Alberta Alliance Party and the Wildrose Party of Alberta. Danielle Smith was named the leader of the party in the fall of 2009. She had served on the Calgary Board of Education, and then became a Calgary Herald columnist and talk radio host in Calgary. She eventually took over Global Sunday on Global Television. Previously a member of the Progressive Conservative Party, she left the party in 2009 to join the Wildrose.
The Wildrose Party had seen its numbers grow since the last election. Due to by-election wins and floor crossings, the party became the third-largest in the legislature, passing the NDP, on Jan. 4, 2010.
Raj Sherman now led the Liberals, taking over the party on Sept. 10, 2011. He had served in the Legislature since 2008.
Brian Mason still led the NDP, while Glenn Taylor now led the Alberta Party, which was a new party that had emerged in the province.
As the election started, support for the Wildrose Party surged past the Progressive Conservatives and many felt that the Wildrose was on its way to winning the election.
The Wildrose also received international coverage when a photo of Danielle Smith’s campaign bus spread on social media, showing the two back tires where her chest was. It even made it onto late night talk shows in the United States.
In the April 23, 2012 election, the Progressive Conservatives won another majority, but lost five seats to finish with 61. The party also lost nine per cent of the popular vote.
The Wildrose, who were expecting to break through, failed to do so. That being said, the party did pick up 13 seats to finish with 17 and become the Official Opposition in the Legislature.
I was working for the High River Times during this election so I was at the campaign headquarters of Danielle Smith on election night. We all had to take a number to interview her after the election but when news came in of her loss, all interviews were cancelled. I was able to get an interview when I found her in a back room drinking wine.
The Liberals fell by three seats, finishing with five, while the NDP gained two seats to finish with four.
The Alberta Party lost its only seat in the election and finished with none.
As for the Progressive Conservatives, this was their last gasp of glory. On Sept. 4, 2014, the party became the longest running provincial government in history, but, their time was coming to an end.
This election was one of those landmark elections in Alberta history. They happened in 1921, 1935 and 1971, and this one would rewrite the electoral map of the province.
After the last election, the Progressive Conservatives had lost a lot of support and the Wildrose Party was growing in power. Dave Hancock took over as premier and served for only a few months before he was replaced by Jim Prentice.
Prentice formed a cabinet of 20 members, smaller than what recent premiers had.
In March 2015, he announced his new budget that included many taxes and fees to help get the province out of a financial hole, without touching corporate taxes.
Prentice could have waited to call an election until 2016 but with a new budget, he wanted a mandate and he asked to dissolve the Legislature on April 7. Many criticized this because it violated the Elections Act that was only passed a few years earlier to have fixed election dates.
The Wildrose had dealt with some issues during the past three years, especially after two MLAs crossed the floor over uncertainty with Danielle Smith as leader.
Then on Dec. 17, 2014, in a move that was highly unusual in any Parliament in the Westminster System, Danielle Smith, the Leader of the Opposition, along with eight other Wildrose MLAs, crossed the floor and joined the Progressive Conservatives.
She said of her decision,
“If you’re going to be the official Opposition leader, you have to really want to take down the government and really take down the premier. I don’t want to take down this premier. I want this premier to succeed.”
Brian Jean then took over as the leader of the Wildrose, while David Swann was the new leader of the Liberals.
Rachel Notley had taken over as leader of the NDP on Oct. 18, 2014. Her father, Grant Notley, had served as the sole member of the party in the Legislature for several years in the 1970s and 1980s before his tragic death in a plane crash in the mid-1980s. Notley had been in the Legislature since 2008.
As soon as the election campaign began, the Progressive Conservatives were falling in the polls, while the Wildrose Party was doing very well.
The budget announced before the campaign was very unpopular, which hurt the party on the campaign trail.
In the leaders debate, Prentice stated “I know math is difficult” to Rachel Notley to criticize what he saw as a multibillion dollar hole in her budget. Many felt this remark was patronizing and sexist, which further hurt the party.
As April came along, the NDP began to move ahead in the polls. Notley said a week before election day, she saw a poll while sitting in a hotel room that stated the NDP was going to go from a four seat party, barely enough to be an official party, to a majority government.
In the May 5, 2015 election, Alberta’s political landscape went through a massive shift.
The Progressive Conservatives, who had ruled Alberta since 1971, completely collapsed, falling 61 seats to finish with only nine. This was the most seats lost by any part in the history of the province. It also reduced the party to its lowest seat total since 1967, when it had six. While Prentice did win his riding, he resigned as leader of the party and as MLA on election night.
The Wildrose did relatively well under Brian Jean, rising to 21 seats and retaining its status as the Official Opposition.
In what was called the Orange Chinook, the NDP under Rachel Notley surged ahead to win 54 seats in a result that seemed impossible only a month earlier. The party won all 21 seats in Edmonton, 15 of 26 seats in Calgary and 18 of 40 seats outside the major cities.
That being said, the 54 seats won was the lowest for a ruling party since the Progressive Conservatives won 51 in 1993.
The Liberals lost four seats, finishing with only one, that of David Swann.
The Alberta Party, led by Greg Clark, finished with one seat, that of their leader.
Sadly, only one year after this election, Jim Prentice was killed in a small plane crash near Kelowna, along with three other people. A state funeral was held for him on Oct. 28, 2016.
After the shock of the 2015 election, and the end of over four decades of rule by the Progressive Conservatives in the province, the opposition parties would go through several changes as Rachel Notley led the province as the second female premier in Alberta’s history.
As commonly happens when a new government is elected, they bring in sweeping changes. This was especially true in Alberta, which had been ruled for 80 years by centre-right governments dating back to 1935.
On June 22, 2015, Notley apologized to the Indigenous community for the history of neglect by the provincial government, but did not address residential schools. Her 2017 budget also included upgrading waterworks facilities to provide drinkable water for Alberta First Nations communities. The government also sold 150 hectares of land to the Fort McKay Metis for $1.6 million.
On climate change, the most significant thing was the implementation of a provincial carbon tax, with the goal of phasing out coal-fired electricity by 2030 and halving methane emissions within 10 years.
The NDP also made reforms and implemented new services to public health and well-being services. There was also a plan for $25 per day per child at daycare services, and by 2017 1,000 spaces and 230 professional jobs for trained staff were generated.
The minimum wage of Alberta was raised from $10.20 per hour to $15 per hour, and the Fair and Family-Friendly Act came into effect in 2018, marking the first major overhaul of Alberta’s labour laws in three decades.
For education, tuition fees were frozen in 2015, which lasted until 2018.
After the party was decimated in the election, Jason Kenney was elected as the leader of the Progressive Conservatives on the promise of uniting the right wing parties in Alberta. This would occur when the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservatives merged to become the United Conservative Party. A subsequent leadership election was held, which was also won by Kenney.
Kenney had a great deal of political experience, and was well known in Conservative circles.
The Alberta Liberal Party also picked up a new leader with David Khan, who did not serve in the Legislature but the hope was he could gain some traction in the upcoming election.
Lastly, the Alberta Party was now led by Stephen Mandel, the former mayor of Edmonton. He took over as leader on February 27, 2018.
In the April 16, 2019 election, the NDP lost 28 seats to finish with 24, becoming the Official Opposition. Notley was re-elected in her riding, and the party formed the largest Opposition in the Legislature since 1993.
The United Conservative Party won its first election, the first time that had happened since 1935 when the Social Credit Party became the ruling party in Alberta. The party won 63 seats and never finished lower than second in any riding.
The Liberal Party lost three-quarters of its popular vote from the last election. David Khan, the party leader, finished fourth in his riding, and the party was shut out of the Legislature for the first time since 1982.
The Alberta Party lost all three seats that it had prior to the election, but gained seven percent of the popular vote.
This election also saw the highest voter turnout since 1982 with 68 per cent. It was also only the fifth time that Alberta had a change in government since 1905, and the first time an incumbent government failed to win a second term.
This was also the first time since 1982 that only two parties made up the seats of the Legislature.