While 2011 was the year of the incumbent, 2012 and 2013 may see sweeping change in three of Canada's largest provinces.
As expected, popular incumbents coasted to re-election in P.E.I., Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador last year. Manitobans re-elected the NDP government that first took power in 1999, and in Ontario the Liberals won an election they were on track to lose.
Stephen Harper's Conservatives, holding a minority government for five years, were finally given a majority mandate in May 2011.
The incumbents were on a roll, but it appears that over the next 14 months three incumbent governments could be defeated.
The first to fall could be in Alberta, where the Progressive Conservatives have ruled the roost for 41 years. Though the party has a new leader in Alison Redford, Albertans are turning to the right-wing Wildrose Party, and its leader Danielle Smith, in droves. Polls taken since the election was called last Monday give Wildrose a double-digit lead, an incredible change of fortune for the Tories who, as recently as February, had a double-digit lead of their own.
Albertans elect dynasties. The Progressive Conservatives have become so used to winning that it would appear they have forgotten how to campaign. Though there is potential that Wildrose has peaked too soon, the first week of the campaign has been so disastrous for the Tories that it seems likely that Wildrose will be able to keep the momentum going through the second week of the campaign at the very least. If Alison Redford cannot turn things around in time, the dynastic change will take place on April 23.
The next incumbent government to meet its end could be that of Jean Charest and his Quebec Liberals. The party has governed the province since 2003 and has been re-elected twice since then, despite Charest being one of the most unpopular premiers in the country. A few months ago, it appeared that François Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec would sweep the Liberals from power, but Legault's star has since dulled. Instead, the Parti Québécois has taken the lead in the polls and looks poised to become the government after the next election, likely to be held next spring at the latest.
But if the PQ's Pauline Marois is unable to deliver in the next campaign, that does not mean that Jean Charest can expect re-election. His Liberals have remained stagnant in the polls despite the major shift in support between the CAQ and the PQ. Support has almost entirely switched between those two parties, and if Quebecers decide they are not ready to put the PQ back in power, they may turn to François Legault once again.
The third government teetering on the edge is in British Columbia, where Christy Clark's Liberals have trailed the New Democrats in the polls for almost a year. The source of her troubles is primarily the upstart B.C. Conservative Party, which recently gained a floor-crossing Liberal MLA. As right-of-centre British Columbians tire of the Liberals, the consequence of their desire for change could be an NDP government.
Last year demonstrated the advantage enjoyed by incumbents. This advantage will undoubtedly make Alison Redford, Jean Charest and Christy Clark difficult to beat. But last year's federal election results in Quebec also demonstrated that the desire for change is a powerful force -- one these three premiers may not be able to resist.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls, and electoral projections.
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