Election — Voting In The Big Blue Province

Election results in Alberta seem pre-ordained. Are we hardwired to vote conservative?

The sad fact of federal elections in Alberta is that the results are pre-ordained. It’s not a matter of if the Conservatives will win, but by how much.

Conservatives in Alberta don’t just defeat their opponents, they destroy them. Only six candidates in the entire country in the 2008 election won by 30,000-plus votes — all of them in Alberta. The only close Conservative victory was Tim Uppal’s 1,668 vote margin of victory in Edmonton-Sherwood Park — but even there, the second-place candidate was an independent who was previously a Conservative. (Twenty-seven of 28 Alberta seats went Conservative in 2008; the fact it wasn’t 28 of 28 made national headlines.)

Alberta has voted for conservative-leaning parties for decades. In the elections from 1972 to 1984, the province elected only Conservatives before the New Democrats won a single seat in 1988. In the 1990s, Albertans turned to the homegrown (but still conservative) Reform Party. In the 21st century, in four elections, only four non-conservatives have won a seat in Alberta.

So the question is — why? 

Ted Byfield, the legendary right-wing Alberta journalist and author who calls himself a “prominent redneck”, knows as much about Alberta history as anyone. Byfield, the founder and publisher of the now defunct Alberta Report and the man behind a 12-volume history of the province, says our conservative leanings are “a heritage as much as anything else.

“The two industries in the world most prone to free enterprise inclination, if you want to call it that, are cattle and oil. That’s why Texas is right wing, and so are we.”

In the early years, Byfield says, Alberta depended on imported expertise from places like Oklahoma and Texas for its oil and cattle industries.

“This infusion of people brought with it an attitude that eventually translated into very conservative government.”

But what of all the newcomers to Alberta, particularly immigrants from other countries? According to Byfield, the greatest source of immigration to Alberta comes from countries that have naturally conservative tendencies.

“People from China have conservative views of the family. The same is true of people from the Middle East, who have a Muslim tradition which is, from a social point of view, very conservative. Even from Africa, a lot of the newcomers are evangelical Christian.”

Ever since Pierre Trudeau introduced the National Energy Program in 1980 (which was intended to create a made-in-Canada energy program, but was widely blamed for the collapse of the oil industry in Alberta), the Liberals have been anathema to Albertans. The specifics of the NEP are lost to most Albertans, but some people in the oil industry still harbour an intense dislike for the Liberals, which has fed our ever-present “suspicious attitude towards the federal government.”

Geo Takach, author of Will The Real Alberta Please Stand Up?, feels Albertans aren’t so much conservative as we are contrarian. Alberta, he says, has almost always been at odds with Ottawa, and in most of our historic disputes with Ottawa, the Liberal party was in power.

“As an avenue for opposing Ottawa, Albertans votes for other parties, whether is was Social Credit, the Progressives, the United Farmers, or the Conservatives.”

Takach cites economic reasons as well.

“The capital intensity of the agriculture and oil industries ... tilted the balance of power to market forces, rather than organized labour or collectivist values. There’s this free market mentality, where the free market is your salvation, rather than the government.”

We’re also the wealthiest province, and Conservatives are widely seen to favour the “property classes”. He also believes that Albertans are too busy making money to pay much attention to politics.

The certainty of election results here has resulted in Alberta having Canada’s lowest voting rates, he feels.

“There’s a feeling that we can’t affect a juggernaut,” he says. “But if young people who had a social conscience actually went to the polls, I’m  convinced the results would be very substantially different.”

Any chance of a change on the horizon? Byfield doesn’t see it.

“As long as we’re a resource producing province, the likelihood is that we will remain a conservative province.” 



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