Alberta election 1986: Alberta's mixed legislature
Albertans don't elect parties so much as anoint political dynasties. And the governments — led by some of the most colourful, popular and durable premiers in Canadian history — have tended to rule for decades. CBC Archives looks back at pivotal election campaigns in Canada's bastion of conservative populism; the glory and the gaffes, the landslides and the losers, the radio preachers and the man they just call Ralph.
"In my wildest dreams, I thought maybe we'd get 10," says Martin, noting that this was when he was being optimistic -- he actually just hoped to get six seats. Liberal leader Nick Taylor, whose party went from no seats to four seats, is also delighted: "I think what's really happened is Alberta's joined the human race, democracy has arrived and we're getting a mixed-up legislature, which is going to be good for the people of Alberta," says Taylor.
• In the May 1986 election, the Liberals went from zero seats to four and the NDP jumped from two seats to 16. In terms of popular vote, the Conservatives won 51 per cent in 1986, down from 62 per cent in the previous election. The NDP surged to 29 per cent.
• This was also the first election for the new Representative Party of Alberta, a party founded by former Social Credit politician Ray Speaker. The new party won two seats in 1986. By the next election in 1989, however, this party had disbanded. Speaker moved on to federal politics and eventually was Reform Party house leader.
• Because 11 of the 16 NDP seats were in the Edmonton area, the city was dubbed "Redmonton" following this election.
• This strong NDP showing made waves across the country. In a 1986 news report on The National, federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent said: "We are now, west of Ontario, equal contenders for political power in every Western province."
• The NDP's Ray Martin noted, in this clip, that Edmontonians seemed disenchanted with the Tories: "The government got very arrogant to Edmonton... and they just looked like they weren't listening."
• The existing Conservative government was also hurt by a poor economy and high unemployment in the province at the time, which could be blamed in part on declining oil prices.
• Some political scientists partly blamed the Tory drop on the low voter turnout of 47 per cent. Many Conservative voters may not have felt the need to vote, since they believed the Tories would win hands down. During the campaign, George Oake of the Edmonton Journal told CBC he didn't foresee Albertans kicking out the Conservatives. "They have the only voluntary one-party state in the world here and they like the Tories."
• The Alberta Conservative leader in 1986 was Don Getty. He had taken over leadership of the party in 1985, replacing Peter Lougheed as leader and premier.
• Like Lougheed, Getty had been a CFL football player before entering politics. Getty was quarterback for the Edmonton Eskimos from 1955 to 1965. While playing for the Eskimos, Getty also worked for Imperial Oil and Midwestern Industrial Gas. In 1964, he formed the Baldonnel Oil and Gas Company.
• Getty entered politics in 1967, when he became one of the original six Conservative MLAs elected along with Peter Lougheed. In 1979, he left the political sphere for a few years to return to the private sector, founding an investment firm called D. Getty Investments Ltd. He re-entered politics when he became leader of the Alberta Conservatives and premier in 1985.
• During the 1986 campaign, Getty had some bad luck when he invited reporters to follow him knocking on doors in an Edmonton neighbourhood.
• The NDP remained the official Opposition in Alberta for seven years, winning 16 seats in the next election in 1989. But the party lost its opposition status when it failed to elect a member in the 1993 election.
Program: As It Happens
Broadcast Date: May 9, 1986
Guest(s): Julian Koziak, Ray Martin, Nick Taylor
Host: Alan Maitland, Dennis Trudeau
Last updated: September 18, 2013
Page consulted on December 6, 2013
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