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Late in the long, nasty campaign, Jean Chrétien said that he preferred pleasant Easterners to difficult Alberta politicians. It was a joke -- or maybe it wasn't -- but it staked out the West as a different kind of place.

Well, the West showed yesterday that it, too, considers itself a different kind of place, and that Liberals are not particularly welcome there.

The Canadian Alliance tightened its grip on Saskatchewan and Alberta, taking 34 of the 40 ridings in the two provinces. The Liberal sweep from the east was stopped cold on the Prairies with just two Liberals likely to make the trip back to Ottawa.

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The Alliance picked up 60 per cent of the votes in Alberta and 48 per cent in Saskatchewan.

It's a far cry from 1993, when nine Liberals were elected in Saskatchewan and Alberta, and it's a testament to anger over everything from farm-aid policies to gun-control legislation.

The fledgling Alliance took up where the old Reform Party left off. The party's near-total victory is certain to revive fears about the isolation of the West from the national government.

In Alberta, the Alliance looked set to nearly sweep the province's 26 ridings, spoiled only by determined efforts by Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark in Calgary Centre and Liberal Cabinet minister David Kilgour in Edmonton Southeast.

Justice Minister Anne McLellan, a favourite Alliance target because of her role in enacting the law that requires the registration of all firearms, was again in the tightest of races.

To no one's surprise, all the old familiar names from the Reform era -- Preston Manning, Deborah Grey, Myron Thompson -- won re-election under Alliance colours. (They left behind Jack Ramsay, the former Reform stalwart who was kicked out of the Alliance after being convicted of attempted rape. He lost to Alliance candidate Kevin Sorenson in Crowfoot.)

In Saskatchewan, the Alliance built on Reform's strong performance in the 1997 election and looked certain to take 10 of the province's 14 constituencies.

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The party cut into support for the Liberals and the New Democratic Party, although veteran Cabinet minister Ralph Goodale prevailed in Regina-Wascana and Rick Laliberte, who had been elected as a New Democrat in Churchill River in 1997, won for the Liberals this time. New Democrats Lorne Nystrom in Regina-Qu'Appelle and Dick Proctor in Palliser also survived.

The Alliance domination in Saskatchewan and Alberta seemed to be a foregone conclusion when the election was called on Oct. 22.

The signs were clear then that Alberta and Saskatchewan would not be fiercely contested by the major parties, although for very different reasons.

The Alliance felt so secure in Alberta (in the last election, Reform took 24 of 26 seats) that it concentrated on its goal of achieving a breakthrough in Ontario.

The Liberals, recognizing stony ground, similarly gave the province wide berth. Even Mr. Clark, fighting long odds to win a seat in Calgary Centre, was rarely sighted in his home turf and left most of the door-knocking to his wife, Maureen McTeer.

Mr. Chrétien made just two campaign stops in Saskatchewan and each time his appearance was interpreted as a sign that Mr. Goodale was in trouble in Regina's Wascana riding. Surprisingly, Alliance Leader Stockwell Day was even less visible: One of his two visits to Saskatchewan was limited to a few remarks at Regina airport. It is likely that he saw that bringing the national campaign there was like bringing coal to Newcastle.

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Only NDP Leader Alexa McDonough showed any affinity for Saskatchewan. Her six visits underscored how desperate she was to retain the party's base there.

The prevailing wisdom was that the Liberals were doomed in the two provinces, with the Alliance threatening to sweep all Alberta ridings and dominate Saskatchewan.

The prevailing wisdom proved correct. The campaign certainly seemed to seal the decline of Liberal fortunes on the Prairies.

In the 1993 election, the party elected four MPs in Alberta and five in Saskatchewan. Four years later, this was reduced to just two in Alberta and one in Saskatchewan.

This time, the Liberals appeared to write off the Prairies.

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