Monday, October 03, 2011

The Sleepy World of Alberta Politics Gets Another Jolt

Although 40 years of one-party rule and pre-ordained election results can make for dull politics, I will give Alberta's PC dynasty credit for tossing the occasional surprise towards us political junkies.

And surprise us they did on Saturday night. For the third consecutive PC leadership contest, the frontrunner fell in spectacular fashion. Alison Redford is Alberta's new Premier, and the third Canadian woman to take on that title over the past year.

Gary Mar defeated Redford 41% to 19% on the first ballot two weeks ago, and every candidate dropped from the ballot went to Mar. Yet somehow, Redford tripled her support and surged to victory.

So what happened?

For starters, this wasn't a case of Mar losing supporters - he received over 8,000 more votes than in round one, and his vote total only dropped in 5 ridings. Rather, it was a deadly stall for Mar, a candidate who should have had all the momentum, but who couldn't increase his share of the vote by more than one or two percentage points. There are many theories as to what went wrong - the most popular being this was a backlash to the "establishment" which had lined up en masse behind Mar.

If that is the case, it would certainly explain why Alison Redford was there to pick up the pieces. Although she was Justice Minister at the start of this leadership race and Mar had been out of the province for years, Redford was very much the race's "outsider". You could count her MLA endorsements on one hand...even if that hand were short a few fingers. She showed herself to be the most "mavericky" of the candidates, not hesitating to criticize the Stelmach government throughout the leadership contest.

While running as the outsider means Redford enters the Premier's office with few favours to repay, it also means she'll be greeted to rousing cheers at her first caucus meeting by MLAs who wish someone else were standing in her spot.

Ed Stelmach was done in by an unspoken caucus revolt - rather than unifying the PC family, Redford now inherits a party even more divided.



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