For more than a century, Alberta has been governed by one-party dynasties that rise just as abruptly as they fall – and Tuesday's NDP victory is only the fourth time it's happened, ending 44 years of Progressive Conservative rule. Here's a look back at the last three times Albertans have booted governing parties out of office, and how shifting electoral rules and the urban-rural divide have decided the outcome.
Liberals: The first dynasty
There were only 25 seats up for grabs in Alberta’s first election in 1905, and Liberals – the party of the prime minister of the day, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who brought Alberta into Confederation – won 23 of them, with 57.5 per cent of the vote. The Liberals’ fortunes began to fade after a few years as premier Alexander Rutherford was embroiled in a scandal and forced to resign over an expensive railway project. Public discontent over the railway scandal and ballooning government debt weakened the Liberals’ hold on Alberta by the end of the First World War, but the opposition Conservatives never managed to exploit this and win government.
1905 General Election results
1921: UFA beats Liberals
The winners of Alberta’s 1921 vote weren’t even a political party until two years before the election. The United Farmers of Alberta started as an agricultural lobby group, but morphed into a political party in 1919. They capitalized on discontent among farmers, who faced hard times due to years of drought and a plunge in grain prices after the wartime economic boom. Accordingly, the UFA focused its campaign only on rural ridings, running only one candidate in Edmonton and none at all in Calgary.
1921 General Election Results
How Alberta voted: In this election, for the first time in Alberta’s then-short electoral history, city voters had a different voting system than the rest of the province. Whereas rural voters had single-seat ridings decided by a traditional first-past-the-post vote, Calgary, Edmonton and Medicine Hat had “block voting,” where each city chose a number of MLAs (up to five in Calgary and Edmonton, two in Medicine Hat) from the top vote-getters. While the Liberals won all the Edmonton seats, and Calgary went to a mix of opposition and independent candidates, the UFA swept rural Alberta – and took the government, with 38 of 61 seats.
1935: Social Credit beats UFA
By 1935, the Depression had set in, and the province was in debt. Farmers, hit by Dust Bowl drought and falling grain prices, began seeking more radical economic solutions from the Social Credit Party, founded by William Aberhart. Like the UFA, Social Credit was a newly founded party, and did not expect to win – Aberhart did not even run as a candidate, and the party had no official leader during the campaign.
1935 General Election Results
How Alberta voted: Calgary and Edmonton still had separate voting methods in this election, but the UFA had replaced block voting with what would now be called a single-transferable vote system: Voters ranked candidates by order of preference, and the candidates with the most high rankings won. As in 1921, Edmonton was the province’s main (albeit weakened) Liberal stronghold, but most of Calgary’s seats went to Socreds – including Ernest Manning, Aberhart’s future successor as party leader and premier. In all, the Socreds swept 56 of the province’s 63 seats.
1971: PCs beat Social Credit
When Peter Lougheed took the leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives in 1964, it was a seatless party. By 1971 he had expanded the PC caucus’s ranks through by-elections and defections, aiming to build it into a credible alternative to Social Credit. The Socreds, by contrast, began to seem like a spent force under Manning’s successor, Harry Strom, and where they had focused on rural voters, Lougheed focused on the economic potential of oil and gas – industries whose riches flowed to the big cities, especially the fast-growing Calgary.
1971 General Election Results
How Alberta voted: Social Credit had done away with the province’s mixed voting systems in 1959; now, every riding chose its MLA by first-past-the-post voting. Lougheed’s PCs took 49 of 75 seats, sweeping Edmonton’s ridings completely and taking most of Calgary’s seats. Lougheed’s win cemented the longest-lasting of Alberta’s one-party dynasties.