Need to compete surprises Alberta Progressive Conservatives

March 31, 2012 | By | Reply More

Wildrose looking like a real contender

Bruce Stewart

Photo: Bruce A. Stewart

By Bruce A Stewart     

After a week of the campaign in the Alberta election, I suddenly realized where I’d seen this movie before.

Ontario, 1985. The year a 43-year dynasty fell.

I’ve been talking to people in Alberta. What they’re telling me is similar to what I saw then.

When a party’s been in power for a long time, its members get out of the habit of competitive campaigning.

After all, for most of their political lives, the real competition was to get the nomination.

The election itself? A few Queenly or Kingly waves, a few bows, for the result is never in doubt.

That’s how it was in Ontario. We had a Progressive Conservatives government continuously from 1943 to 1985.

It started with a minority, and in the 1970s there were two more. But, bascially, being a PC meant you could just “show up” and get elected.



Not everywhere: some parts of the province were always Liberal, some seats always NDP. But being a PC was pretty safe otherwise.

Comes 1985, and new leader Frank Miller had taken the party in a new direction.

He’d inherited some public dissatisfaction with his predecessor’s decisions in the past few years. Then he tried to shift the party to where he thought it needed to be.

Sound familiar yet?

In doing so, he opened up a space for a competitor, in a political space the PCs used to occupy.

The PC candidates were struggling. They hadn’t faced a real opposition for election in a long time in many ridings.

Many of them tried to campaign the way they always had. A number of them didn’t make it.

When the leaders’ debate came, the Liberal leader, David Peterson, looked and acted a lot more like Miller’s predecessors than he did.

You see, Ontario hadn’t changed as much as Miller thought.

Come election night, his PCs still came first — but it was a minority government.

So the number two party (Liberal) and number three (NDP) struck an accord. The PCs failed confidence on their Throne Speech. The Lieutenant-Governor asked the Opposition Leader to become the Premier.

This being Ontario, the PCs did come back, but it took a decade.

I see the same thing unfolding in Alberta today. Wildrose’s Danielle Smith sounds more like Ralph Klein or Peter Lougheed than a crazy contender. The shift in the Progressive Conservatives from Stelmach and Redford has created space for Wildrose.

Meanwhile, PC candidates are bemused. How do you campaign?

There’s still three weeks to go. Campaigns matter — this one more so than others in a while.

Wildrose doesn’t have an obvious partner if the result is a minority either, not like Peterson had in Ontario in 1985.

But the shift is on — and after the first week of bus stops and photo ops, the Progressive Conservatives are showing weakness.

Bruce Stewart is a consultant, educator and philosopher with a passion for public affairs currently located in Toronto. He is well known across the Internet for his blogs on management (Getting Value from IT) and social affairs (Just a Jump to the Left, then a Step to the Right) and for his daily stream of snarky comments on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You can reach him at


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Category: Alberta Election, Analysis

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