Alberta’s 50 Most Influential People 2012
Meet the people who are changing your world – and find out how they’re doing it
by Max Fawcett, Michael Ganley, Alix Kemp and Geoffrey Morgan
Agent of Change← Previous Influential | Back to Main List | Next Influential →
When Premier Alison Redford took to the stage at the Progressive Conservative party’s headquarters in Calgary on the evening of April 23, she looked triumphant and relieved in equal measure. She had just led the Tories to their 12th straight majority, winning 61 of the legislature’s 87 seats and extending the party’s 41-year lock on power.
But unlike virtually all of those previous 12 victories, this one was a result that nobody had predicted. Danielle Smith’s Wildrose party had consistently polled ahead of the Conservatives in the weeks before the election. The final results were no doubt a disappointment to Smith, but she did her best to put a positive spin on the outcome. “Change might take us a little longer than we thought,” she told her followers.
That may be true, but her party has already come a lot further than many expected. Her Wildrose Party took 17 seats and 34 per cent of the popular vote, up from zero seats and seven per cent of the vote in 2008. If it weren’t for controversial anti-gay and racially charged statements made by Wildrose candidates toward the close of the campaign, Wildrose may have fared even better.
The election results represent a seismic change in Albertan politics. Smith and the Wildrose hived off much of the right edge of the PC party, while Redford moved more aggressively to the centre of the political spectrum than any PC leader in recent memory. She managed to draw votes from the Liberal Party and the NDP, some because of strategic voting but many because they simply liked her policies. As such, she hearkens back to the years of Peter Lougheed, a fiscal conservative with a true progressive bent, more than to her more immediate PC predecessors.
Redford, too, spoke of change on election night. “This Progressive Conservative party has introduced change, has promised change and will make change in this province,” she said. “Getting that change right is what I promise you tonight.”
And so for the next few years, we will watch these two leaders battle it out in the legislature and in the cauldron of public opinion, with their ideological differences clearly reflected in their views on health care, education, the role of government and Alberta’s place in the federation. Redford’s progressive streak will stand in contrast to Smith’s small-c conservatism. Both will try to bridge the urban/rural divide that was evident in the election results. Redford will try to smooth over the rifts that were created in the PC party, and Smith will work to keep her rookie MLAs in line.
It will be an exciting, refreshing time for Alberta, where elections have long been more like a coronation than a competition. And that’s change we can all get behind.