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Alberta's urban centres: A tale of two cities' parties

Alison Redford earned her mandate by securing an overwhelming number of seats in Alberta's two major cities, Calgary and Edmonton.

In Calgary she won all but five of the city's 25 seats, with three going to the Liberals and two to Wildrose. The Liberal Party played an enormous role in the way Calgarians voted, although it did not work out to the Grits' advantage.

The strong Tory showing says more about the PC victory than it does about the Liberal failure. Voters strayed from the Liberals believing Ms. Redford's has shifted to the centre, while the Wildrose represents the province's most conservative segment. Because Wildrose raced ahead in the polls during the campaign, left-leaning voters who would normally vote Liberal as a protest vote against the PCs instead voted for their traditional enemy in an effort to block Ms. Smith's aspirations.

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The three Liberal incumbents who ran in Calgary this election are headed back to the legislature. They are well-known faces in Calgary, rather than just names under a party banner. The Liberals won two other Calgary seats in the 2008 election, but those MLAs did not run for the Grits this time around. Their seats were up for grabs.

In Edmonton, the Tories also cleaned up, while the Wild Rose failed to land a single riding while the NDP held some ground. In Edmonton's case, it was about city politics and its citizens, than political parties. The Tories won all the seats in Edmonton but six – with four going to the NDP and two to the Liberals. Edmonton is more of a union town, home to more of the province's bureaucracy. These folks lean NDP, and they stuck to their beliefs in 2012.

Ms. Smith also has an uneasy relationship with Edmonton's mayor. She wants to keep the downtown airport open, arguing it is crucial for medevac flights. Mayor Stephen Mandel also pushed Ms. Smith to outright refute homophobic comments one of her Edmonton candidates made. Ms. Smith refused to go that far.

A case of North versus South:

Inflammatory remarks pushed undecided voters to PCs.

Alberta voters drew a line through the province just north of Red Deer – the top half went to the PCs, and the southern slice sided with Wildrose. There were few exceptions: In the south, Red Deer's two ridings went to Ms. Redford, as did Lethbridge's two constituencies and Banff-Cochrane. Ms. Smith was only able to steal one northern riding away from her rivals, in a rural corner of the province.

Natural disasters, which came with economic consequences, in both the northern and southern ridings weighed on the vote, Keith Brownsey, a political science professor at Calgary's Mount Royal University, said. Floods, droughts and fires hit southern Alberta in the past few years, and its residents do not think the Tories did enough to help out in the aftermath.

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"The provincial government just didn't step up," he said. "There was the perception that they were being ignored by Edmonton."

On the flip side, when fires swept through Slave Lake, the province, despite hiccups, responded, Mr. Brownsey noted.

Property rights, which Ms. Smith pledged to defend, also played a role. Right-of-ways for power transmission lines, for example, is a contentious topic in southern Alberta, with some landowners arguing the Tories do not respect their concerns and rights. Wind farms are popping up in many of the southern ridings, and landowners are worried the PCs will trample their property rights in favour of public infrastructure.

"A lot of what is driving it is, if not what is actually happening, but fear of what can happen," Feron Ellis, a political studies professor at Lethbridge College, said. Further, the most religious and social conservatives call southern Alberta home, making Wildrose a natural fit, experts say.

Mr. Ellis, however, also cautions observers about reading too much into the way the electoral map is coloured. He said a number of rural ridings were won and lost by small margins – in some cases, just a few hundred votes.

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