Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith is on track to defeat Alberta’s incumbent Progressive Conservatives, who have governed the province since 1971. If she can pull it off, it would end one of Canada’s longest provincial dynasties and mark one of the greatest upsets in Canadian political history. But electoral king-slayers (or, in this case, queen-slayers) rarely get to sit on the throne for very long.
After 11 election victories and 41 years in government, the Alberta PCs under rookie leader Alison Redford hold the record in electoral longevity among Canada’s current provincial governments. In the country’s history, they rank third behind the Liberal dynasty in Nova Scotia that governed for 43 years between 1882 and 1925 and the PC dynasty that ran Ontario for 42 years between 1943 and 1985. Only those Ontario Tories won more consecutive elections than the Alberta Tories, with 12 (13 if you count the 1985 election, where the PCs won the most seats but were replaced in government by the Liberals).
A victory by Wildrose in the Apr. 23 election, then, would be of historic proportions. The enormity of a Wildrose upset is further amplified by just how far the party will have come since the last vote in 2008. In that election, the Wildrose Alliance (as it was then called) captured less than 7 per cent of the vote and placed fourth behind the NDP, Liberals, and Progressive Conservatives. Under Ed Stelmach, the Tories took almost 53 per cent of ballots cast.
If Wildrose does win later this month, it will have required a swing of at least 45.9 percentage points between them and the PCs. In no other defeat of a dynasty (defined as a party that has won at least five consecutive elections) has there been a swing of such magnitude. In past cases of a province’s voters deciding to end a long-standing government, they have tended to opt for the party that formed the official opposition, with an average swing of some 21 to 22 points. This is what happened when Albertans last ended a dynasty – that formed by Social Credit for 36 years – in 1971.
But a potential (and from the looks of the polls, probable) premier Danielle Smith may not usher in another era of one-party rule in the province. Though the four parties that have governed Alberta (the Liberals and United Farmers, in addition to SoCred and the PCs) each only got one kick at the can for at least three terms, Canadians throughout the country have been far less complacent.
In about one in five cases, parties that have replaced a dynasty have only managed to remain in power for a single term. In a majority of cases, these parties were given only one or two terms in government. Very rarely have they been able to create a dynasty of their own, the notable exceptions being the Tories in Newfoundland and Labrador during the 1970s and 1980s and, of course, the current incumbent government in Alberta.
Canadians have generally moved away from handing one party power for a particularly long period of time. No five-or-more-term provincial government has existed since the 1980s outside of Alberta. They were more common earlier in Canada’s history, with the majority of them having met their end before 1960.
But several provinces are currently governed by parties in their third term: British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland & Labrador, though only on the Rock does the party in government lead in the polls. Manitobans could elect the next dynasty in 2015, when the New Democrats will be aiming for their fifth consecutive victory, 16 years after coming to power.
If Wildrose does manage to defeat the Progressive Conservatives in the province’s vote, how long will the Tories have to wait before they mount a comeback? On average, parties that had formed a dynasty have had to wait about 14 years to return to power (roughly three or four terms). But this can vary widely. The New Democrats were only in government for about three years in British Columbia after ending Social Credit’s long reign in 1972, while the Conservatives of Manitoba had to wait 43 years before returning to power after being ousted in 1915. And in the case of the Liberals of that province, they never won another election after their 26-year reign was ended in 1958.
The Alberta election could feature the defeat of Canada’s last political dynasty by a greater margin than any other party has ever managed, and will result in the first election of a woman as premier of a major province. Anything could happen in the two weeks that still remain before the votes are counted, but one thing that is certain is that the result will be historic.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com.