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Alberta Election Results 2012: Why Were The Polls So Wrong And What Does The Vote Mean For Alberta?

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All the Alberta election polls were wrong. Danielle Smith's Wildrose party failed to oust Alison Redford and the Progressive Conservative dynasty. (CP)
All the Alberta election polls were wrong. Danielle Smith's Wildrose party failed to oust Alison Redford and the Progressive Conservative dynasty. (CP)

In retrospect, perhaps it is not surprising that the Progressive Conservatives managed to win their 12th consecutive election victory over a span of 41 years. Old habits die hard. But despite the province remaining Tory blue, an important political change took place last night.

According to the unofficial results of Elections Alberta, Alison Redford’s PCs won 61 of the province’s 87 seats, giving her party a comfortable majority. But with 44 per cent of the vote and an opposition made up of 17 Wildrose, five Liberal, and four NDP MLAs, this is the Tories’ worst result since 1993.

But unlike that year, when the PCs were challenged by parties on the left, the Tories defied the odds and won another election last night by moving to the centre and attracting the majority of voters who previously cast ballots for the Liberals.

Though Danielle Smith’s Wildrose led in the polls for the entirety of the election, there was some indication voters were having second thoughts as the campaign came to a close. Some Albertans who worried about Smith’s right-wing party winning power appear to have voted strategically for the more centrist Redford, while others who had intended to vote for Wildrose likely reverted back to the devil they knew in the Tories. Talk of Wildrose’s team being not ready to govern picked up in the final days.

Going forward, this means the implementation of Redford’s Big Alberta strategy will continue. The economy and population are booming and the province is increasingly becoming the centre of Canadian politics (the Prime Minister represents a Calgary riding). Having a strong Alberta playing a major role on the national stage may radically change the dynamics of Canadian federalism.

Danielle Smith’s platform was more in line with traditional Albertan politics vis-à-vis the federal government. Undoubtedly, the debt-free province has managed to make that work for them in the past. But whereas a Smith government would have talked more about provincial jurisdiction, we can expect to see Redford continue what she has been doing since becoming leader. For example, seeking common ground with Ontario’s Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty and speaking French at Quebec’s National Assembly, things that are difficult to imagine a premier Smith doing.

But owing her victory to the more progressive wing of the PC tent changes how the province may be governed. Some conservative pundits have already dubbed Redford’s first budget an "NDP budget," and with voters opting to support her take on Alberta’s future it is unlikely she will swing back to the right now that she’ll be in power until 2016.

For Danielle Smith and Wildrose, this result cannot but be disappointing. But in the context of Albertan politics, their limited success was nevertheless extraordinary. The party had less than seven per cent support in the last election and elected not a single MLA. Now, Wildrose will be the Official Opposition and Smith, who has a knack for the sound bite, will be able to face off with Redford in the Alberta legislature.

But the Progressive Conservatives received a shock during this campaign, when at one point a Wildrose victory seemed an absolute certainty. Momentum shifted at just the right time for the Tories, but next time the party might not be so lucky. Before last night’s vote, a PC premier had little to worry about when an election rolled around. After last night’s vote, Albertans will be closely watching Redford now that a real alternative is waiting in the wings.

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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