Amidst much debate about a need for change, the Alberta PC party rode into a bright new dawn with a resounding victory in the 2008 provincial election on March 3, 2008.
With a mandate of 70+ seats, they have effectively eliminated any opposition and have free reign over the operation of the province for at least another four to five years.
The opposition parties, optimistic with 20+ seats in 2004 and stealing Ralph Klein’s riding in a by-election, are now decimated. With little hope and no voice for the current term, elected members can only hope on working on their roles of as future statesmen in a range of different capacities. Kevin Taft has no option but to step down as leader of the Liberals.
This result has emphasized the following realities.
- The Tories clearly understand the electorate better than the opposition. While under the Tory rule, even though wealth from oil has increased, and access to healthcare and post-secondary education and environmental protection has declined (based on factual data), they continue to demonstrate that they have a resounding appeal among their core constituency.
- The Tories understand what it takes to stay in power. While there is much discussion about resolving voter apathy and the need for electoral reform, these are of little interest to Tories. The current system and configuration works for them and they are remarkably efficient at using it to their advantage – especially when they can generate enough interest to get a 41% turn out rate, obtain 53% of the vote and parlay that into 88% of the seats. Opposition parties have little chance, if any, to erode this well-oiled machine.
- Voter apathy… self-fulfilling prophecy or political advantage? Voter turnout at 41% raises a number of questions. Are Albertans happy with the current state of government that they don’t feel that they need to vote? Do they think that the result is pre-determined that they have little effect on the final result? Do they think that being labeled “apathetic” that they act accordingly? Or are citizens disengaged and lack any interest in politics whatsoever? Regardless of what voter apathy is exactly (and how it contributes to weakened debate with a minimal opposition), the Tories understand it, are happy to maintain the status quo and leverage the situation to their advantage.
- A paradoxical notion of change. While all parties emphasized they offer a solution for and were the agent for change, voters opted for the status quo. Did they buy into the Tories vision for change? Did voters unequivocally reject all other parties’ notion of change? Or was it that no change was the most desirable change of all? Or are voters scared to rock the boat with “too much change?”It is interesting to note on this measure of change how Albertans view the world. After over 12 years of Federal Liberal rule, Albertans were among the most vocal demanding change. They also view Ontario as a Liberal stronghold – even though Ontario has managed a number of changes in provincial government while it has been steadfastly Tory blue in Alberta. Regardless of what “change” is, the Alberta Tories understand that holding steady is what their committed electorate seeks.
- The Tory Team is Alberta’s team. For the basic majority of voters, anything other than a Tory government is “un-Albertan.” Being a Tory is an Albertan tradition – that which has resulted in the province’s wealth and land of opportunity. The Tories continue to tap into this tradition and strengthen their brand with committed voters who perceive that being Albertan means voting Tory.
While the problems in the province rise – physician shortages, conflict in water rights and usage, power rates, ever increasing cost of housing, rising costs and reduced access to post-secondary education, homelessness, crime, suburban sprawl and environmental degradation – Tory stewardship has been deemed as the only acceptable solution for the province’s voters. And with no opposition, the Tories have been granted the strongest possible mandate to provide citizens with their current level of management and concern. The Tories will likely keep their foot firmly planted on the economic accelerator with the anticipation that market forces will resolve any of these “perceived” problems.
With an impotent opposition, it will be left to the mayors of Calgary and Edmonton to lead the charge on trying to resolve the lack of investment and support for the Alberta’s cities. However, with their renewed power, the Tories can pick and choose what investments will strategically support their mandate, ensure that Albertans stay politically engaged to the extent they currently do and steer their party towards a solid fifth decade in power.