Alberta’s October surprise

The appearance of a coronation undid the front-runner in the race to lead Alberta’s Perpetual Governing Party


When Ed Stelmach shocked Alberta and won the Progressive Conservative leadership in 2006, he took the podium in the wee hours at Edmonton’s Aviation Museum and gave a speech so deliriously garbled, some PC attendees were thinking “Can we have a do-over?” Tonight, when Alison Redford stunned the province in much the same way and at a similarly obscene hour, she read her victory address from notes, moving on to scrum expertly with exhausted reporters and even to field, and answer, a question in French. Good French.

Not that French is an important qualification to be Premier of Alberta, mind you: but Albertans uneasy with the province’s slightly savage, anti-egghead image will sleep a little easier tonight, now that a leader who was most comfortable picking rocks in rubber boots has been replaced at the head of affairs by an honest-to-God intellectual. As so often happens, the appearance of a coronation undid the front-runner in the race to lead Alberta’s Perpetual Governing Party. Gary Mar, the prodigal son who was criticized for being a little too prodigal with the public treasury, was beaten by a razor-thin margin as “temporary Conservatives” rushed to the second phase of the party’s open primary to stop him.

The defeat was not regional, though Alberta politics are often interpreted through a north-south lens. Redford gained thousands of net votes in Calgary, in Edmonton, and in hinterland Alberta between the Sept. 17 first ballot (which eliminated three of the original six candidates for the leadership) and this evening’s runoff. After the ballots were counted for Mar, Redford, and Doug Horner, Redford trailed Mar by 33,233 to 28,993. Mar needed to be the second choice on just 5,856 of the 15,950 Horner ballots to finish the job. He fought bitterly for them, demanding recounts behind the scenes as results trickled in from the last of the province’s 85 polls (83 ridings plus advance polls in Calgary and Edmonton).

But ‘twas not to be for the returnee. Redford won the decisive showdown by an overall margin of just 1,613 votes—votes that Alberta taxpayers will be paying for in the form of a quick $100-million injection into the education budget. (Though it must be said that this is a cheap bribe compared to the $2.1 billion Stelmach delivered shortly before the last election.) Redford wooed public-sector unions overtly in the days between the first ballot and the final runoff, but she would have gained progressive “Anybody But Mar” votes anyway after Mar’s explosive comments contemplating private delivery of healthcare. There was also increasing excitement, as the days ticked by and Redford’s surprise second-place standing sunk in, over the prospect of Alberta’s first female premier.

And, of course, there was the attention Redford received four days ago for a reason nobody would ever choose: her mother Helen died Tuesday, short hours after the candidate had suspended campaign activity and raced to be at her side in High River. Redford was back on the trail in a trice, delivering a gutsy performance in a televised Wednesday night debate. Her unflappability persisted into the moments after her win: when a reporter asked her whether her mother was on her mind as she celebrated, she uttered an almost impatient-sounding “Oh, my mother,” before recalling, with no hint of tears, that it was Helen who had first set her on the path to political involvement. It will still be the case for a long time that women in politics need to be ten times as tough and invulnerable as the men. Redford passed that test, and unquestionably picked up votes because of it.

It’s worth remembering that Redford’s most important challenger in the next election—which she says will be held next spring, after a Throne Speech and another budget—will probably also be female. Wildrose boss Danielle Smith surely wanted a Red Tory to win this vote, and Redford was the Reddest of the possible PC leaders on offer. Redford’s win represents a belated triumph for the Joe Clark/Ron Ghitter tendency within the PC party, the segment of PC-dom that can talk about “social justice” without snickering. In his short farewell message to Albertans this morning, Stelmach underlined with relish that the PC party is a “PROGRESSIVE Conservative party.” It has always, at any rate, been a party that yokes together progressives and conservatives, usually pretty clumsily. With each open leadership contest in a fast-growing province, it’s the former, not the latter, that seems to gain in power.

Mar, who served the Klein government and has more of a family-values persona, had the cabinet, the caucus, and the organizational old guard of the party in his pocket two weeks ago. As in 2006, their votes, in the open-primary system, turned out to be worth exactly the same as those of any other schmuck. But this time, instead of being humbled by an agrarian challenger from the North, the machine lost by a whisker to an accomplished lawyer from Calgary—one who has been careful to keep the oil industry on her good side, as Stelmach wasn’t.

Redford, in budgeting and in social policy, will probably give Smith plenty of red meat to gnaw in an election fight. There may be more defections, and certainly some despair amongst those who invested in Mar. (Many of those rank-and-file PCs had also invested in Jim Dinning, the centrist/machine fave, last time.) Turnout on the final ballot was barely half the 2006 total. (Conservatives will tell you this merely reflects the strength of the field: who cares who won, they’re all terrif!) But as a woman Premier-Designate, Redford has also stolen a march on Smith and the Wildrose. That Joan of Arc storyline that has had editors across the country captivated for the last couple years isn’t going to play so convincingly now.


Alberta’s October surprise

  1. If true that she won due in part to “temporary Conservatives” and actively wooing public sector union workers, then we may have an unfortunate pattern here.  The same thing happened with Christy Clark, as shortly after she won some leftists not at all affiliated with BC Liberals bragged that they stopped the more right wing male candidate from winning by signing up thousands of Two Minute Liberals.  

    A hostile takeover of a right wing party by socialists, in other words, with some hoping to keep public sector dollars flowing, and others stoked to install a female premier.  A primary system in which one needs to be publicly registered as a PC/Liberal/etc. voter to vote in leadership contests, as they do in the USA, would put an end to this.

    • There’s a decent argument that OMOV isn’t a great system.

      But if Redford is too left-wing (she is too left for my tastes), well, there’s another party out there…

    • This doesn’t have to be remedied by law, assuming it’s a problem (for all his faults, the product of the last “open” PC primary crushed all before him in the ensuing Alberta election, and encouraged the Liberals to follow suit). A party can devise for itself whatever eligibility criteria it likes short of outraging the public.

    • Just curious what makes the “temporary Conservatives” signed up by one candidate worth less than those signed up by any other.

      I’m assuming all the candidates competed under the same rules yes?

      • Yep. Same issue that happens in every nomination race across the country…

      • “what makes the “temporary Conservatives” signed up by one candidate worth less than those signed up by any other.”

        They aren’t worth less vis a vis the leadership candidates they’re recruited to support.  They are most certainly worth less in a broader sense, given the high likelihood they haven’t the slightest intention of voting for the PCs in the next provincial election.

  2. Terrific post, Cosh. 

    I read article other day that was similar to Wsdfaf’s argument that non-Cons are motivated to elect the least conservative candidate as leader. Is there truth to this view or paranoid ramblings?

    I also wonder if Cons selected woman in order to fight Smith/Wildrose – there might be a lot of people out there who want to vote for first female premier of Alberta. Some American Repubs think party should nominate Cain or Bachmann to take on Obama but I think it is ridiculous to think that way. Pick best candidate and let chips fall where they may.

    I don’t follow Alberta politics but I am amazed how left wing Alberta is. Explains a lot why Fed Cons seem to be so pleased with themselves while running massive deficits, murdering babies and buying car companies.

    I keep wondering why Albertans don’t revolt against Fed Cons and now I have my answer.

    • You owe me a sixty dollar “link retrieval fee” Tony:

      ‘Some B.C. environmentalists are taking credit for stopping Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Kevin Falcon from becoming premier.During the recent B.C. Liberal leadership campaign, conservationists infiltrated the party to defeat Falcon, a former transportation minister who spearheaded major road-building projects. On the final ballot on February 26, Falcon ended up with 48 percent of the points compared to 52 percent for the winner, Christy Clark.“I would say that we had the effect of helping to keep Falcon from becoming the premier of B.C.,” Kevin Washbrook, a director of the Conservation Voters of B.C., told the Georgia Straight by phone.
      Another director of the group, Will Horter, told the Straight by phone that the campaign “dramatically shifted the vote” in certain constituencies.He guessed that between 3,000 and 5,000 environmentalists joined the B.C. Liberals during the leadership campaign, and he estimated that they controlled about six percent of the weighted vote.

       With a laugh, Cooksey recalled how one friend responded that he couldn’t believe he was joining the party, but later signed up 12 friends with the help of “copious amounts of alcohol”.

      The thing is, Falcon arguably had a better environmental record than either Clark or Abbott, the former being more pro-mining and the latter calling for referendum on carbon tax, which Falcon is a big backer of.  It was your basic greenwash job, it had nothing to do with the environment and everything to do with stopping the perceived most right wing candidate.

      • “You owe me a sixty dollar “link retrieval fee”

        Thanks for link. It is grey and cold morning in my part of southern ont, and I am worried about today’s derby, so I was in gloomy mood this morning but my equilibrium has been restored by delightful bacon breakfast. 

        I am experiencing cognitive dissonance today – I want to believe Alberta is classical liberal bastion of Canada but evidence before my eyes tells me differently.  Left wing types could be infiltrating Con parties out West or Cons just continue tradition of buying airlines, like Cosh points out. Reform types bamboozled me, apparently, because I did not know much Alberta political history until I just googled Lougheed/airline.

        I am classic liberal and live in country where socialists and religious are battling for control of my soul and wallet. I live in wrong era/country, that’s all I know. However, I guess I should be glad that I don’t live in America where their millionaire president has just told Americans they are going soft and need to do better. 

        Up the Arse!

    • You think a car company is impressive? Hell, Lougheed bought us an airline.

      • He also gave you AECL and Gwyn Morgan.

    • It’s absolutely true that plenty of “fake” PCs spent the $5 to make sure Morton/Mar etc didn’t get the leadership. I wish real data existed to show how many of us there are but my family and many others I know did our part. Now the interesting question is what to do next? Traditionally, I would not vote PC in a real election, but as long as Alberta/NDP/Liberal remain diffuse and ineffectual, I might consider the PCs just to make sure Wild Rose doesn’t gain any traction. Depends on what Redford does and who ends up in her cabinet I guess.

      I should note that infiltrating the “enemy” party doesn’t always work. That’s why Rob Anders is still my MP (shudder).

  3. Congratulations to Premier Redford

    • fuck off

      • Ahhh the ever-intellectual Albertans. LOL

  4. Alberta is more complicated than non-Albertans think.  Redford reportedly won strong support from constituents of Ted Morton’s riding.  I think Colby’s right about the Joan of Arc narrative–and it’s worth noting that Danielle Smith has yet to run for a seat herself.  She had an opportunity to run in a by-election a few years ago but opted not to take the chance.  As it turned out, the Wildrose candidate who did run won the seat.  

  5. Let’s hope she gets rid of some of the deadwood old boys clubbers who wanted Mar in. Let’s hope she governs for the good of Albertan, not of corporations. Let’s hope she is not sutpid enough to repeat the “ethical oil” lie which makes so many Conservative politicians look like ignorant extremists.

    • We may hope! Until we read the “Redford stands up for ethical oil” news release here:

      • When does it gain morality? Still in the ground? Scooped up and dumped into trucks? Baptized by hot water and bitumen separated? Upgraded – cracked with holy hydrogen into crude?

        This sounds like new testament stuff – out of Levant’s league.

        • If you don’t like the term ‘ethical oil’, maybe ‘more ethical oil’ would suit you better. Levant never says that oil is clean or good, only that if we are going to use it, is is better to use the stuff that comes from Canada. What is wrong with that statement?

          • Plus I note that lots of people have no problem talking about “ethical diamonds” (as opposed to “blood diamonds”).  Yet you could say the same of diamonds as was said above:  When do they gain morality? Still in the ground? Scooped up and dumped into trucks?  When cut and polished?

          • They become ethical when they are ‘spit-shined’ by a Canadian. We are so ethical, that our spit makes the diamonds ethical.


          • Never mind – I should have scrolled down further to see other comments.

          • This reveiwer points out that Levant is so busy showing that other countries’ oil is unethical that he never gets around to proving that tar sands oil is ethical. Of course not since he cannot prove a lie.


            How about pointing out that it is unethical to use dirty energy that will kill many people through pollution and climate change. The only ethical energy is clean energy.

          • Actually, Levant consistently says that oil is not clean, and that in the future we may have some sort of better, cleaner energy.

            What he says is that right now we are using oil, and because Canada is a much more ethical country, it makes sense to buy from us, than from others. What is hard to understand about that?

            He doesn’t argue, nor does he need to, that the oil sands oil is ethical; no oil is ethical. He only need to show that supporting Canada makes much more ethical sense than supporting most other oil producing countries. I read the info on your link – it doesn’t take a thing away from Levant’s argument.

          • @modster99:disqus I recognize that Levant is very intelligent, and is very adept at arguing his side of the ethical oil debate, or most other debates in which he partakes for that matter.

            But I find that his style is so hyperbolic that it completely overshadows the case he is trying to make – which confuses me, because he could be so much more effective in winning some folks over.

          • Where in Canada can I buy this ethical oil?

          • @JanBC:disqus I assume you mean ‘buy’. As everyone knows, you cannot buy oil directly from the source, and there is no labeling at the pump. You can, however, support Canadian oil with your words and actions.

            @PhilCP:disqus Levant does go out of his way to get attention, and always goes to the extreme, that is true. He appears to be the only one in the media who is trying to help Canada’s place in the world, however. If someone else steps up; fine. Until then, we are stuck with him.

  6. Frankly, Redford would be more intellectually honest if she ran for the Liberal leadership. At least now the choice is clear for the next election in Alberta- conservative or progressive.

    • That choice has always been clear.

      At least, for those Albertans who aren’t still cowering at the ghost of Trudeau.

  7. I’m just thrilled there are enough Progressive Conservatives still in existence anywhere to field a candidate before the “temporary Conservatives” joined in to vote her in.

  8. test

  9. I knew there would be nothing but narrow-minded sarcasm, and infantile stereotypes, and cliched generalizations from a rag like Macleans.  Looks like they didn’t disappoint. Nice going, looks like the hatred from the rest of the country is alive and well.  Apparently, freeing one’s mind from the straight-jacket of Liberal/progressive socialism is not accepted well.  But, we know by now that among the political left, to be part of the “tolerant” clique, one must adhere to the “correct” thoughts and ideas, or one is shunned as “unintelligent”, or “enlightened”.

    • “Rest of the country”?

    • Wtf? You know Cosh is in Edmonton, right? Or is that one or two commenters dis “ethical-oil” and suddenly you’re all afroth with indignation? Don’t be so touchy. 

      • Especially when a lifelong Albertan like me disses the “ethical oil” lie.

        • What do you mean lie? Canada’s oil is much more ethical than almost any other countries. . .

          • Oil is not ethical. Only fools think it is.

          • So is coal unethical too?  Nuclear power?  What about electricity generated from coal (which is one helluva lot of the electricity in Central Canada and the US)?  Is that unethical electricity?

          • True I guess. Nothing material can be considered ethical. Wood, rocks, and things cannot be ethical. You are right, only a fool would think a thing can be ethical.

            The country where a thing comes from can be ethical, however, and Canada wins that debate every time. Only a fool would think otherwise.

  10. With “the first female Premier” spot taken (though not, more importantly, the “first elected female Premier” slot which Kim Campbell might tell you is more meaningful), the two women will have to duke it out based on the wisdom and sensibility and validity of their political worldviews versus the rush of “first female Premier”. You certainly can’t give Redford the leg up in that circumstance.

  11. Redford’s win kills the Alberta Liberals, it’s clear, but when she shows to be less left than the anti-Wildrose crowd imagines, there may be an opening for the Alberta Party or even the NDP.

    • “… when she shows to be less left than the anti-Wildrose crowd imagines…”

      Define “crowd”.  As Cosh’s piece alludes, Redford owes her victory as much to non-conservatives being roused to support the reddest of the remaining candidates as anything else.  That this was accomplished by around 1,000 votes in a province of 4 million people is telling – characterizing the victory as evidence that “progressive” now wins in Alberta is, perhaps, a tad wishful.

      I propose the most meaningful statistic is the woeful participation rate, which topped out at less than half of what it was in 2006.  I don’t believe the explanation of one of the candidates (people were too busy harvesting and closing up cottages) is the most likely.  Rather, I think it is another sign people are finally, after 40+ years, tired of the PCs and were not enticed out of their disillusion by any of the candidates that stepped up.

      To be enthused about the Redford-led PC party’s prospects in the next provincial election is to believe the electoral challenge for that party lies to the left and not the right.  Good luck with that.  As for the advantages of having a woman as their leader, I suspect this will turn out to be a saw-off – the sorts of voters who are delighting in Redford’s selection primarily because she’s a woman wouldn’t be caught dead voting for Danielle Smith anyway and the two leading parties now each being led by a woman will cause a significant number of traditional PC voters to support the more conservative of the two.

      • I agree that the low turnout speaks volumes.

      • The crowd I run in includes more than a few younger folk who’d never have even considered voting PC during the Stelmach and Klein years, but have been gushing about Redford. It’s the same case with some public sector union folks that I know. Sherman and Redford and Smith together killed the Liberals, and when the choice is PC or Wildrose, the sensible centre left will vote tory. When she disappoints, there’ll be openings. And, if she doesn’t govern to the right of how she’s campaigned, and pleases the centre left too much, she’ll have to deal with defections/revolt. I suspect we agree.

      • The crowd I run in includes more than a few younger folk who’d never have even considered voting PC during the Stelmach and Klein years, but have been gushing about Redford. It’s the same case with some public sector union folks that I know. Sherman and Redford and Smith together killed the Liberals, and when the choice is PC or Wildrose, the sensible centre left will vote tory. When she disappoints, there’ll be openings. And, if she doesn’t govern to the right of how she’s campaigned, and pleases the centre left too much, she’ll have to deal with defections/revolt. I suspect we agree.

  12. It is true that a very small % of Albertans just put this lady there. The real results will come in the next general election. Stelmach won by being everyone’s second choice. That damaged the PC brand. I didn’t vote in the final, as I couldn’t support any of the remaining three. While I have always been a proud PC supporter, and I watched the WRA with curiosity at best, this has pushed me over.

    I think, historically, that Alberta has dumped the ‘ruling party’ quite quickly. I feel this may be happening again. The more time that Allison has to ‘get her message out’, the better the WRA will do. I am now on their side.

    • My relatives are all happy to have her. They are all more conservative than I am, but they are not extreme rightwingers. Redford has definitely got a better record than Danielle Smith who performed so poorly as a school board trustee and who has never been elected to the legislature..

      • I would assume that most are more conservative than you.

        Obviously I cannot predict the election, but I would assume that Redford (not Robert lol) will push conservatives to the WRA. If it will be enough remains to be seen. That Albertans are getting sick of the ruling party is seen all over.

  13. Redford reminds me of Kim Campbell and we know how did that end up : )

    • Your :-) aside, Mulroney had clearly earned the ire of many, many Canadians, and that dislike was a major factor in Campbell’s defeat.

      While the Alberta PCs are getting stale, I’m not convinced that the writing is as clearly on the wall for Redford in the same way that it was for Campbell.

      However it does seem clear that the selection of Redford will cause more than a few folks to change their voting patterns, some towards the PCs and others away.

      • Redford’s not a flibbertigibbet. That might be the last thing anyone would call her.

        • You aren’t trying to suggest that Campbell was silly, scatterbrained, and/or garrulous, are you?

  14. If you like our oil, try our asbestos…

    • That is only a good comparison if there is no viable alternative to asbestos. . .

  15. Hey Colby, are you going to comment on the Oiler’s new lineup?
    Regarding Redford, you said “the machine lost by a whisker to an ‘accomplished’ lawyer from Calgary”.  Exactly what has she ‘accomplished’.  Being a human rights lawyer is accomplishing something?

    • Helping build democracy in South Africa is accomplishing something, whether you like the results or not. And there’s not much new about the Oilers lineup: the defence is still horrible, Whitney’s still got bad feet, and we’re still paying Khabibulin.

  16. Looks like I’ll be voting Wild Rose…along with most other small c conservatives.