The Progressive Conservative grip on Alberta is over.
The New Democrats, led by Rachel Notley, upended the PC dynasty on Tuesday evening in a snap election after four decades of Tory rule. The NDP secured a majority of Alberta's 87 seats. The Wildrose Party will form the official opposition.
Premier Jim Prentice, a former federal Conservative cabinet minister, took over the party last fall and will now be known as the man in charge when the NDP crushed the Tories' 43-year dynasty. He resigned as party leader and gave up his seat in the legislature late Tuesday evening.
"The voters are always right in our democracy," Mr. Prentice told supporters in his concession speech Tuesday evening.
Only a few dozen PC supporters showed up at Mr. Prentice's election night party. They cheered only twice - first when the Calgary Flames scored a goal against the Anaheim Ducks before the polls closed, and again when Mr. Prentice joined them hours later.
A bag of orange balloons, branded with PC logos, sat unopened on a table reserved for media. The room did not have the infrastructure for a victorious balloon drop. An unopened pack of posters encouraging voters to get behind Mr. Prentice sat on the same table.
Mr. Prentice came to Alberta arguing he was the man to clean up the province's sinking fortunes and guide the government through the downturn in oil and gas prices.
"As the leader of the party I accept responsibility for tonight's outcome," Mr. Prentice told the small crowd. "I also accept responsibility for the decisions that led up to this evening."
The outgoing leader fled the room through a side door without taking questions from reporters.
Supporters were stunned. "I'm really surprised like everybody else is," said Gordon Currie, a long-time energy sector analyst. "This is historic."
Elections Alberta calculated that the PCs would take third place. The Liberals won a single seat, as did the Alberta Party.
"Wow," said Naheed Nenshi, Calgary's popular and left-leaning mayor.
The NDP dominated ridings in Edmonton, and picked up seats in Calgary. The provincial party secured its first seat in the legislature in 1971 under Grant Notley, Ms. Notley's father. It was year one of the PC dynasty led by Peter Lougheed. Now, Ms. Notley has virtually wiped out the Conservatives.
Kelley Charlebois, president of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta said: "I think Albertans have spoken ... obviously part of our role will be ensuring that the right questions are asked and that they're kept on the straight and narrow."
Asked whether the party could survive, he said, "We have over 80,000 members currently in the PC Party of Alberta. We'll see what our final numbers end up a little later tonight in terms of the legislature. But yes, absolutely."
He said Albertans were willing to "take a gamble on fairly radical change."
Mr. Prentice told Albertans he called the election because he wanted a mandate to implement his budget. Albertans did not warm to his financial plan and were not keen on the snap election. Voters across the political spectrum were skeptical of Mr. Prentice's decision to welcome Danielle Smith, then the leader of the Wildrose Party, and eight of her colleagues, into the PC caucus in December. Two other Wildrose MLAs had crossed the floor earlier.
Mr. Prentice ran on a deficit budget – the government's fifth in seven years – that introduced $ 1.5-billion in new user fees and taxes to cope with the sharp plunge in oil prices. The plan was assailed by Ms. Notley's NDP for sparing corporations new taxes or royalties, and for stretching services for health care and education thinner.
Mr. Prentice rejected increasing corporate taxes, while Ms. Notley pledged to raise corporate taxes to 12 per cent from 10 cent.
Midway through the campaign, Mr. Prentice announced plans to freeze public-sector wages until Alberta balanced its budget, expected in 2018. Some observers viewed this promise as a clue he was essentially conceding seats in Edmonton, home to many civil servants, and playing to more conservative voters. He also edited his budget on the fly, cancelling his plan to reduce size of tax credits tied to charitable donations. The reversal would chop $90-million in revenue out of Mr. Prentice's original budget, but he said the change would not affect his plan to balance the province's books by 2018..
"My contribution to public life is now at an end," Mr. Prentice said druin his concession speech Tuesday night. "I have resigned as the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta effective immediately, and furthermore I will step aside as the elected member of the legislative assembly for Calgary-Foothills."
Mr. Prentice, 58, was elected as a federal Conservative MP for Calgary Centre North in 2004. He served as minister of several departments, then left federal politics in 2010 for a job as senior executive vice-president and vice-chairman of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. In March last year, he was tapped by Enbridge Inc. to smooth relations with B.C. First Nations opposed to the company's $7.9-billion Northern Gateway pipeline Mr. Prentice announced his bid for the Alberta Progressive Conservatives last May – at the urging of several high-ranking PC officials and business leaders in Calgary. Mr. Prentice steamrolled rivals to claim the PC crown with a pledge to rebuild a party he said had "lost its way" after nearly 44 years in power and a string of scandals. He led a Conservative sweep of four October by-elections to win a seat in the legislature in the Calgary-Foothills riding, a stronghold for the party since 1971.
His rise was backed by powerful oil interests, including former Suncor Energy Inc. chief executive Rick George, Cenovus Energy Inc. chief executive Brian Ferguson and J.R. Shaw, who founded Shaw Communications Inc.
From the beginning, however, Mr. Prentice rarely spoke publicly of his long experience as a top financier at one of the country's largest banks. Nor did he highlight his deep ties to the federal Conservative establishment. Instead, he repeatedly pitched himself to Albertans as the hard-working son of a coal miner.
In the campaign, the PCs pitched themselves as the party of stability. But while the brand name has remained constant, the party itself has had nine rocky years. Two leaders – Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford – lost control of their caucuses.
The Globe and Mail has detailed results from the 2015 Alberta election.