Alberta elections 1989: Embarrassment for Don Getty
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.
Meanwhile, the winner of the riding, Liberal Percy Wickman, can't seem to get his head around the fact that he actually defeated the premier. "It's sinking in slowly, but it's having a difficult time sinking in," says Wickman, who admits that his win is "astounding."
• It may have been a majority win, but the Conservatives' share of the popular vote dropped substantially in 1989 — from 51 per cent in 1986 to 44 per cent. This was the first time since 1971 that the party had less than half of the popular vote.
• There seemed to be no compelling reason for Premier Getty to call this election less than three years into his mandate. Most considered it bad timing.
• Because of the "Principal Group scandal," Getty's government was losing popularity in 1989. Getty was being blamed for allowing the Principal Group Ltd. financial services conglomerate to continue operating despite warnings about its financial health. The conglomerate collapsed in 1987, wiping out $290 million of Albertans' investments.
• A 1989 Maclean's article speculated that Getty called the election so early to make sure it happened before a soon-to-be-released report on the Principal Group collapse came out. "(The) report is widely expected to be critical of the government's regulatory procedures, making it in Getty's interest to go to the people well in advance of its release," wrote Maclean's.
• During the campaign, Getty was also drawing fire from all sides — including some of his own party members — for his overly expensive and unnecessary campaign promises. These included a pledge to pave 8,000 kilometres of secondary roads at a cost of more than $1 billion.
• Liberal Percy Wickman had been wheelchair-bound since 1964 when a boxcar accident rendered him paraplegic. He was an activist for disabled rights, and had been an Edmonton city councillor before entering provincial politics.
• After becoming the MLA for Whitemud in the 1989 election, Wickman held that seat until 2001.
• While campaigning in the Whitemud riding in 1989, Wickman gained media attention with the help of a rubber chicken. Getty had declined attendance at an all-candidates debate, so Wickman "put a rubber chicken in the seat that Getty was to occupy. That seemed to really catch on with the media, and Getty went down the drain," said former Alberta Liberal leader Nick Taylor in a 2004 CBC.ca article.
• When Wickman died in July 2004, Getty told the Canadian Press that Wickman had been a fine MLA, and that he didn't hold a grudge over the embarrassing defeat. "I was winning Alberta when I should have been paying attention to [the riding]," explained Getty.
• Getty remained premier of Alberta until 1992, when he resigned and left the political arena. Ralph Klein replaced him as provincial Conservative leader.
• Although there was some speculation that Getty might step down as premier after losing his seat, this was not the case. Two months after the election, a by-election was held in the Conservative stronghold riding of Stettler, and Getty had a seat once again. Conservative MLA Brian Downey had resigned as the Stettler MLA in April 1989 to make room for Getty.
Program: CBC Television News
Broadcast Date: March 20, 1989
Guest(s): Don Getty, Percy Wickman
Reporter: Whit Fraser
Last updated: March 14, 2012
Page consulted on February 14, 2014
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