Alberta PCs win historic 12th straight majority
Published Tuesday, April 24, 2012 1:22AM EDT
Alberta's Progressive Conservatives have fought off a challenge by the upstart Wildrose Party and will continue their 41-year political dynasty with another majority government.
It was a stunning victory after weeks of opinion polls had suggested Alberta was moving towards sweeping change.
In the end, voters chose Progressive Conservative Leader Alison Redford and her promise to use the province's wealth to build new family health-care clinics and schools, and further develop oilsands products.
"Every Albertan knew that this election was about choice: a choice to put up walls, or to build bridges -- a choice about Alberta's future. Tonight, Alberta chose to build bridges," Redford told her supporters Monday night.
Two hours after the polls closed, the Progressive Conservatives had won or were leading in 61 ridings, the Wildrose Party was at 19, the NDP at 4 and Liberals at 3.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said she was "disappointed" but "not discouraged" by the results.
"Tonight we found out that change might take a little longer than we thought," she said. "We knew when we started this project that we had our work cut out for us. But the growth of Wildrose has been nothing short of remarkable."
Redford and Smith had faced off in a bitter, 28-day campaign that shifted wildly between policy discussions and personal attacks.
Smith hoped to capitalize on Alberta voters' penchant for major change, but failed to topple the Tories, who have been in power since wiping out the Social Credit party in 1971.
However, the Tories did lose one high-profile candidate: Ted Morton, who had been the party's energy minister. He lost to Wildrose candidate Bruce McAllister in the riding of Chestermere-Rocky View.
The Wildrose Party appeared to stumble in the final days of the campaign, after controversial comments by two candidates.
Calgary candidate Ron Leech said he had a "Caucasian advantage," a comment for which he later apologized, while Edmonton hopeful Allan Hunsperger published a blog stating homosexuals would perish in a lake of fire.
Smith stood by the candidates, despite the backlash. But Leech and Hunsperger lost their ridings Monday night.
The PCs now make history with a 12th straight majority government and will be in power for 45 years by the time the next election rolls around.
That would put them ahead of the 1882-1925 Nova Scotia Liberals who ruled for 43 years and the Ontario PCs, in power in the province for 42 years from 1943 to 1985.
The NDP saw their seat count double to four on Monday night, matching the Liberals, who appeared to bleed support to the Tories.
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman congratulated the PCs on their campaign.
"They offered a good vision, and we agreed with many parts of that vision," he said.
Sherman's own riding was at risk Monday night from PC candidate Bob Maskell, with Sherman leading by just a few hundred votes.
The election campaign kicked off with a flurry of promises from the Wildrose that included oil rebate cheques in good times, more involvement in private health clinics and spending limits to balance the budget.
The Tories, running on their record of 41 years in power, also had some promises -- 140 new family care health clinics, 50 new schools and renovations to 70 more.
Smith constantly found herself fighting off critics who suggested her party has a hidden agenda.
The criticism firmed up around the issue of conscience right -- allowing civil servants to opt out of doing jobs they morally object to, such as marrying gay couples or prescribing birth control.
When there was suggestion that her party may use a citizens-initiated referendum to end public funding for abortion, Smith disclosed that she was, in fact, pro-choice and pro-gay marriage.
Redford tried to capitalize by suggesting that Smith would be an embarrassment on the world stage, quibbling at ideas that many other countries have already accepted.