07/29/2011 07:41 EDT | Updated 09/28/2011 05:12 EDT

Wildrose Party Plummets In Alberta Poll, Progressive Conservatives Surge

CP File

With Premier Ed Stelmach out of the way and a leadership contest stealing the spotlight, the Alberta Tories are dominating the polls once again.

And that means the Wildrose Party has been pushed aside in a dramatic change of fortunes for a party that had been challenging the PC stranglehold on the province since the end of 2009.

In a new poll by Environics Research, the Progressive Conservatives stand at 54 per cent support in Alberta, enough to give them another huge majority government and extend the uninterrupted lifespan of their time in power, which began 40 years ago.

Wildrose placed second with 16 per cent support, down 10 points since Environics’s last poll conducted in January. The Tories, meanwhile, are up 16 points since then.

The Wildrose Party, until recently known as the Wildrose Alliance, was born in 2008 out of the merger of two smaller conservative parties in the province. The united party took seven per cent of the vote in the last election, but under Danielle Smith, who became leader in October 2009, the Wildrose Party has challenged the governing Tories in the polls, taking top spot shortly after Smith was named leader. For the past year, the Tories have held a small lead over the upstart party, but the increase of that lead from 12 to 38 points is a significant blow for Wildrose.

Meanwhile, the Liberals have sunk eight points since January to 14 per cent, and are now tied with the provincial New Democrats.

The Tories are doing well both inside the province’s two main cities and outside of them, with 50 per cent support in Edmonton, 56 per cent support in Calgary, and 54 per cent support outside of the two urban centres.

The Wildrose Party is only competitive in Calgary, where they stand at 23 per cent. In the provincial capital, however, Smith’s party is behind the Liberals (19 per cent) and the NDP (17 per cent).

A gap of this large between the Progressive Conservatives and the opposition could result in the Tories winning upwards of 80 seats, or the most in their long and successful history. The Liberals, NDP, and Wildrose would fight for the scraps, leaving the job of Official Opposition up for grabs for whichever party can win what’s left in the 87-seat legislature.

The Tory leadership race, which will come to a head on September 17, seems to have helped the party. The same poll by Environics found that Gary Mar, a Tory MLA who has held a myriad of portfolios in the cabinets of Ralph Klein and Ed Stelmach, leads among the leadership hopefuls with 12 per cent support in the general population. However, only Progressive Conservative party members will choose their next leader.

Ted Morton, a candidate for the party’s leadership in 2006 and former Minister of Finance, placed second with eight per cent support, while Alison Redford, current Minister of Justice, came in third with six per cent.

Fully 53 per cent, however, were undecided.

The same boost in support has not accompanied the Liberal Party’s leadership race, which will come to a close on September 10. According to this poll, the party has half the support it had in the 2008 election.

Its favourite leadership candidate is Raj Sherman, a former Tory MLA who made headlines by criticizing the government on the healthcare file. He led the pack with nine per cent support, followed closely by Laurie Blakeman (seven per cent) and Hugh MacDonald (five per cent).

Buoyed in the polls and coming off the high of a leadership race, the Progressive Conservatives might want to strike while the iron is hot. Will Alberta join the five provinces scheduled to have an election this fall, or will the Tories wait until the spring to win their 12th consecutive election?

The poll by Environics Research was conducted for the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald between July 15 and 24, and surveyed 900 Albertans. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.3%, 19 times out of 20.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.