EDMONTON — Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives have become the unconquerable colossus of Canadian politics, handily holding off a right-wing rival Monday to win a 12th consecutive majority and guarantee a record 45 consecutive years in power.
Premier Alison Redford’s team was on track to secure 61 of 87 seats in the legislature compared with 20 for Danielle Smith’s Wildrose party.
The victory flew in the face of polls that had Redford’s party trailing the Wildrose for much of the campaign.
Redford stood for a moment on the stage at her Calgary headquarters before her victory speech and her first words to her supporters were simply: “Oh my. Oh my.”
“Today, Alberta, you spoke, and you spoke loudly,” she said.
“And I want you to know I heard you.”
She said the election was about a choice “to put up walls or build bridges.”
“It was a choice about Alberta’s future, and Albertans chose to build bridges.”
The Tory dynasty, which began in 1971, will soon surpass the Nova Scotia Liberals of 1882-1925 (43 years) and the 1943-1985 Ontario PCs (42 years).
Redford’s team appeared to benefit from soft Liberal supporters who switched to the Tories in a strategic swing. In the final week there were suggestions homophobic and racist comments made by two Wildrose party candidates would translate into an intolerant government restricting the rights of women and minorities.
Raj Sherman’s Liberal party, which had been the official Opposition heading into the campaign, saw its vote collapse into single digits, giving Tories back the votes lost to the Wildrose.
That happened after supporters took to the airwaves and social media late in the campaign to urge moderates to switch their votes to the PCs to block a Wildrose win.
A website was even created featuring testimonials from young Albertans. One said he would rather have rodents eat his face than vote PC, but was voting Tory anyway to block the Wildrose.
Smith won her first seat in the legislature, in Highwood south of Calgary.
She remained upbeat in her concession speech to supporters in High River.
“Tonight we found out that change might take a little longer than we thought,” said Smith.
“We wanted to do better and we expected to do better. Am I surprised? Am I disappointed? Yeah. Am I discouraged? Not a chance.
“Albertans have decided that Wildrose might need some time to establish ourselves, and I relish the opportunity.”
Brian Mason’s NDP doubled his party’s tiny seat count to four, all in Edmonton.
Mason said he was thrilled at the outcome for his party, but also congratulated Redford on her victory.
“I never thought that (overwhelming win) was going to happen, but you can’t count the PCs out,” he said.
The Tories’ previous 11 majorities have been measured in large or larger majorities. The last time they were threatened was by a resurgent Liberal party in 1993. But under new leader Ralph Klein, the Tories took 51 of 83 seats to 32 for the Liberals and the dynasty rolled on.
Redford was re-elected in her Calgary-Elbow seat.
Tory cabinet ministers Doug Horner, Thomas Lukaszuk, Diana McQueen, Jeff Johnson, Dave Hancock, Verlyn Olson, Frank Oberle, Cal Dallas, Fred Horne, Heather Klimchuk, Thomas Lukaszuk, Manmeet Bhullar, and Jonathan Denis were all re-elected.
Redford will need a new energy minister, however. Ted Morton went down to defeat, as did Tourism Minister Jack Hayden.
Political scientist Harold Jansen said the Tories peaked at the right time.
Jansen said the Wildrose, after making announcement after announcement in the early days of the campaign, found itself without anything to offer in the final stretch, and ended up on the defensive while the Tories gained ground.
He agreed that the Liberal collapse benefited the PCs. In the last days, Jansen said, many of the Tory campaign announcements made the party sound almost like the Liberals.
“If you closed your eyes and changed the voice, it started to sound like the Liberals,” said Jansen with the University of Lethbridge.
“I think we’ve seen a restructuring of the party system where the PCs have claimed the centre.”
But Redford, who took over as premier six months ago from Ed Stelmach, has some fences to mend.
She ran on her record of spending increases and no taxes, promising millions of dollars to build more schools and family health-care clinics. She also promised to put up an extra $3 billion over the next two decades to further develop oilsands products and protect the environment while not raising royalties.
The Tories were taken to task for granting themselves the richest salaries for provincial politicians in the country — about $163,000 on average. But it didn’t end there. Over the last decade, the party quietly and broadly changed the eligibility rules allowing more than 20 retiring politicians to walk away this year with six-figure golden handshakes.
To top it off, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation reported last month that members of the government’s largest legislature committee, mostly Tories, had been receiving $1,000 a month but had not met in over three years.
Redford stopped the bleeding early in the campaign, promising to end the six-figure handouts and ordering her members who sat on the no-meet committee to pay it all back.
With a week to go, polls suggested the Wildrose was headed for a majority. But then Smith’s party got hung up in the razor wire of social issues and she had to fight off critics who suggested her party had a hidden agenda.