EDMONTON — One way or another, Alison Redford makes history on Monday night.
Win the Alberta election and she is the first elected female premier in the province, heading up a party that has run things for four decades and will soon shatter the record for longest-serving government in Canadian history.
Lose and she’s Harry Strom, the forgotten scapegoated premier of the Alberta Social Credit government when it fell to the Tories in 1971.
Redford, speaking at a weekend party rally, said she is pushing ahead and doesn’t feel the weight of history.
“I’m pretty excited about Monday,” she said.
“This is a campaign about Alberta’s future.
“We’ve talked about that in the last six months, about putting in place a plan that Albertans can be optimistic and confident in.
“That’s where I’ve focused my energies.”
Redford’s Progressive Conservatives have been in unfamiliar territory since the election campaign began a month ago, running behind another party on the right side of the political spectrum.
The Wildrose party, under leader Danielle Smith, have fashioned an electable alternative by capitalizing on discontent over deficit budgets, long health-care wait times, onerous land-use rules, and perceived political greed on salary and perks. Some polls have had them ahead by more than 15 points, though that lead appears to have slipped somewhat recently.
If the Wildrose wins, it will defeat a colossus whose history can only be told in large numbers and superlatives.
The PCs have held power in Alberta for 14,847 days — 40 years and almost eight months. That’s 1.3 billion seconds for those so chronologically inclined.
Should they win a 12th consecutive majority government, they will be on track to make history. When the next election rolls around, they will have been in power close to 45 years, ahead of the 1882-1925 Nova Scotia Liberals (43 years) and the 1943-1985 Ontario PCs (42 years).
They are already the king of the Alberta dynasties.
Before the Tories, the 36-year-old Social Credit Party ended the 14-year run of the United Farmers of Alberta, who in turn ended the 16-year run of the Alberta Liberals.
The PC victories have varied between large and sweeping majorities.
On average they’ve taken eight out of every 10 seats in their 11 wins. Only once did they fail to win two-thirds of all seats — in 1993.
They came close to political perfection under former premier Peter Lougheed in 1982, winning 75 of a possible 79 seats.
But political observers say the 40-year milestone has now become a bit of a millstone.
In recent weeks, PC candidates have heard criticism on doorsteps from some who feel the lines between government and the governing party have become dangerously blurred.
Election officials have been investigating illegal donations to the Progressive Conservatives from public institutions through the purchase of tickets to networking events such as leaders dinners and Tory golf tournaments. Some of those institutions have admitted the error and paid back the money, but said they weren’t aware that redirecting public funds to the party in power might be improper.
There has been consternation in the halls of government in recent weeks. Civil servants, working in a building that has seen government change hands once in the last 76 years, have been scrambling to get up to speed on protocols for a switch in power.
The Wildrose has promised to chop in half the government’s $14-million Public Affairs Bureau. Critics such as Wildrose candidate Rob Anderson, a former Tory, say the supposed arms-length communication bureau has become a de facto bullhorn for the PC party, with workers even sitting in on caucus sessions and offering political advice on news releases.
“It’s been monolithic control of the machinery of government by one political party for over 40 years,” said political scientist Chaldeans Mensah, with Grant MacEwan University.
“That creates its own political culture, it creates a network of connections, it creates a political ethos in terms of how things are done.”
Few in government can even remember 1971.
The U.S. was still knee-deep in the blood of Vietnam. Charles Manson and three accomplices were sentenced for the Sharon Tate murders. In Canada, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau married Margaret Sinclair. The Beatles were moving on. John Lennon moved permanently to New York and Paul McCartney was forming his new group Wings.
Danielle Smith, born in Calgary, was five months old.
Lougheed, like Smith today, had a small caucus built on homegrown candidates and defectors.
He criss-crossed the province on a campaign for change simply titled “Now.”
He was young, 36, and telegenic and the PCs used the new medium of TV to get their message out.
Strom, a southern Alberta rancher approaching 60, looked worn and wan by comparison. And he was weak on TV.
With poll numbers flattening, Social Credit looked for a boost by basking in the glow of their history.
They trotted out popular former premier Ernest Manning to rally the troops. Forty years later, the Tories would do the same thing, getting a personal endorsement for Redford from Lougheed.
The Social Credit tried labelling the Tories as dangerous. A vote for Lougheed, Strom told a late-stage rally, “would be the first step in the takeover of Alberta by the socialists.”
Forty years later, Redford’s team would try a similar tack, suggesting in recent days that a Wildrose government would mean institutionalized intolerance and a renewed attack on the hard won rights of minorities and women.
On election night in 1971, the end came swiftly — 49 seats for the Tories to 25 for Social Credit. Strom made a quick concession speech, was given a golden horse statue and packed off on a plane back to Medicine Hat.
He left the statue behind.
Asked later to explain the defeat, he said he couldn’t. But defeated Social Credit candidate Don Hamilton urged people to not over-think it.
“The people wanted change,” he said.