The result was predicted in poll after poll for weeks – Wildrose, a party that did not exist four years ago, would form a majority government in Alberta, ending the 41-year Progressive Conservative dynasty founded by Peter Lougheed. But, as the cliché goes, only one poll matters, and Premier Alison Redford defied all the predictions to win a convincing majority victory Monday.
Alberta voters gave Ms. Redford a strong mandate to pursue her vision, a forward-looking agenda to invest in health care and in education, to take seriously the need to respond to the challenges posed to the energy industry by climate change – and to assume a leadership role in the country.
Even so, Premier Redford and the Progressive Conservatives had the fright of their political lives in this campaign, the first truly competitive election in Alberta since 1993. They will have to do some soul-searching.
It is not as if Wildrose came from nowhere. Rumblings of discontent with the Progressive Conservatives over arrogance, a top-down mentality and prolificacy have reached as far back as the final years of Ralph Klein's premiership.
Albertans were rightly aghast by reports of a committee that didn't meet but still paid its members, and equally by findings such as those by Ken Boessenkool and Ben Eisen at the University of Calgary's School of Policy Studies, that showed that public-sector pay in Alberta rose by 119 per cent in the first decade of the 21st century, a rate almost double that of the rest of Canada.
Premier Redford must take seriously the concerns over public spending, and steer Alberta quickly back into surplus. She will be held to account by a stronger opposition, led from the right by Wildrose.
In the first weeks of the campaign, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith looked like a winner. Ms. Smith is not a professional politician, she is a journalist – and an editorial writer at that. But she came across as smart, sincere and unflappable, and she campaigned like a political veteran. The party's policies, also, though unimaginative, seemed largely sensible, even comfortable – many borrowed from the federal Conservatives, others recycled Reform ideas, such as recall legislation. So how did Wildrose lose?
The party was hurt by the revelation that Ms. Smith does not accept the global scientific consensus on climate change. The party was hurt by the eruptions of a couple of its candidates who made statements that picked on minorities. But most of all, it was hurt by the firewall mentality that infected the Wildrose rhetoric just as the campaign looked as if it was headed for victory.
Alberta voters signalled on Monday that they are ready to step up, to take the province's place as a leader in Canada, and not back into suspicion and parochialism.