Politics of Alberta

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Alberta's first Legislature, Edmonton, 1906

Politics of Alberta are centred on a provincial government resembling that of the other Canadian provinces, namely a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. The capital of the province is Edmonton, where the provincial Legislative Building is located.

The unicameral legislature, the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, has 87 members. Government is conducted after the Westminster model. The provincial government's revenue, although it is often described as predominantly coming from the province's resource base, actually is derived from a variety of sources. Nonrenewable resource revenue provided the government with 24 percent of its revenue in 2010-11, with about the same coming from individual income tax, 14 per cent from grants from the federal government, and about eight percent coming from both corporations and the government's own business activities. Alberta is the only province in Canada without a provincial sales tax (see also Sales taxes in Canada).

Alberta has a system of municipal government similar to that of the other provinces.

History of Alberta politics[edit]

Alberta was swept up in the wave of "prairie populism" that took place after World War I; from 1921 to 1935 the United Farmers of Alberta headed the longest-lived of the farmers' governments that won power in Canada during this time. However, for over 80 years, the province was governed by right-wing parties, which began in 1935, with Social Credit, which were succeeded in 1971 by the Progressive Conservatives. Ralph Klein was premier of Alberta from 1992 to 2006 and despite making many controversial statements and having had problems with alcohol, he remained the leader of the Progressive Conservative party and thus the province although only 55% of delegates from his party signified their approval of his leadership on the spring of 2006, pushing him into early retirement.[1][2]

Edmonton is the exception to the province's current right-wing voting pattern. City residents, to a larger extent than elsewhere, vote for left-of-centre parties, such as the Liberal Party of Alberta and Alberta New Democrats, but that is often obscured because of the first-past-the-post system. The 2004 provincial election was an example; the Liberals and New Democrats won 15 of the city's 18 seats.[3] While the Tories won 13 of Edmonton's 18 seats in 2008, Klein's successor, Ed Stelmach, represented a riding just outside Edmonton and was perceived to be less connected to the interests of the energy corporations whose headquarters are in Calgary.

Stelmach gave way in 2011 to Alison Redford, the province's first female premier. She led the Tories to a 12th consecutive election victory in 2012. Redford was forced to resign in 2014, and was ultimately succeeded by former federal minister Jim Prentice. The conservative dominance of Alberta politics was finally broken in 2015, when the Alberta New Democratic Party formed government for the first time in its history.

Alberta's right-wing tilt (after 1940) is no less pronounced on the federal level. The province was the heartland of the former Reform Party of Canada and its successor, the Canadian Alliance. These parties were the second-largest political parties in the federal Parliament from 1997 to 2003 and the farthest to the political right. The Canadian Alliance merged with the Progressive Conservative Party to form today's Conservative Party of Canada. The Conservatives' current leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, moved to Alberta in the 1980s and represents a Calgary riding. Rural Alberta ridings typically give the Conservatives (and Reform and the Alliance before them) some of their highest margins in the country; in many cases, the other parties are lucky to win over 20 percent of the vote.

Alberta's political stability has led to a series of political dynasties. Voters have turned a government out of office only four times in 110 years. The last two governments were among the longest-lived in the Commonwealth.

Alberta elections are currently won on a first-past-the-post system so MLAs elected did not necessarily receive a majority of the votes in the constituency, and the party with a majority of the seats in the Legislature did not necessarily receive the majority of votes cast in the election. For example, in the 2004 election, the Progressive Conservative party won 61 of 83 seats (73% of the seats) but obtained only 47% of the popular vote. During the UFA and early SC government periods, elections were conducted using transferable preferential ballots (see single transferable vote), and candidates in cities ran "at-large,", using preferential balloting, ensuring more representative membership in the Legislature.[4] Many of the opposition parties today include electoral reform in their policies.[5][6]

In its history, Alberta has seen only five parties form governments.

1905–1921 Alberta Liberal Party
1921–1935 United Farmers of Alberta
1935–1971 Social Credit Party of Alberta
1971–2015 Alberta Progressive Conservatives
2015-present Alberta NDP

No governing party, once defeated, has ever returned to power.

Most of the 27 Alberta general elections held as of 2011 have resulted in overwhelming majorities in the Legislature for the governing party, a trend unseen in any other province in Canada. No minority government has ever existed in Alberta, whether by general elections, by-elections, or floor crossings.

From Liberal to Social Credit (1905-1971)[edit]

Elections to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta (1905-1967) - seats won by party
Government Liberal UFA Social Credit
Party 1905 1909 1913 1917 1921 1926 1930 1935 1940 1944 1948 1952 1955 1959 1963 1967
    Liberal 22 36 39 34 15 4 11 5 1 2 3 15 1 2 3
    United Farmers of Alberta 39 43 39
    Social Credit 56 36 51 51 53 37 61 60 55
    Conservative 3 2 17 19 4 6 2 1 3
    Progressive Conservative 1 1 6
    Socialist 1
    Labor Representation 1
    Dominion Labor 4 5 4 1
    Co-operative Commonwealth Federation 2 2 1 2
    Veterans' and Active Force 1
    Coalition 1 1 1
    Independent Labour 1
    Independent Liberal 1
    Independent Social Credit 3 1 1 1 1
    Independent 1 2 3 3 19 3 1 1 1
    Liberal Conservative 1
    Soldiers' vote (Province at large) 2
    Canadian Armed Forces 3
Total 25 41 56 58 61 60 63 63 57 60 57 60 61 65 63 65

Progressive Conservative to NDP (1971 to 2015)[edit]

Elections to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta (1971-2015) - seats won by party
Government Progressive Conservative NDP
Party 1971 1975 1979 1982 1986 1989 1993 1997 2001 2004 2008 2012 2015
    Progressive Conservative 49 69 74 75 61 59 51 63 74 62 72 61 10
    Social Credit 25 4 4
    Wildrose 17 21
    New Democratic Party 1 1 1 2 16 16 2 2 4 2 4 53
    Liberal 4 8 32 18 7 16 9 5 1
    Representative Party 2
    Alberta Alliance 1
    Independent Social Credit 1
    Alberta Party 1
    Independent 2
Total 75 75 79 79 83 83 83 83 83 83 83 87 87

Recent politics[edit]

Both the provincial Progressive Conservatives and the Reform/Alliance parties reflect Alberta's more socially conservative nature when compared to other provinces. Politicians elected by Albertans tend to oppose social policies such as same-sex marriage and gun control. According to a 2001 poll by Leger Marketing, 61.8% of Albertans polled are in favour of the death penalty compared to 52.9% of Canadians,[7] although death penalty has been abolished throughout Canada since 1976. Former Premier Ralph Klein attempted to establish relations with politicians in the United States, including sending a letter of support to US President George W. Bush signifying his approval for the Iraq War.[8]

Some Albertans continue to resent the imposition in the 1980s of the National Energy Program (NEP) by the Liberal federal government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. It was considered to be an intrusion by the federal government in an area of provincial responsibility. This led some Albertans to advocate separation of the province from Canada but this advocacy (despite occasional surges in interest) has never resulted in electoral success. Neither, however, has the Liberal Party of Canada enjoyed much success in Alberta (outside of Edmonton) since that time. The NEP was ended when the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, led by Brian Mulroney, formed the federal government following the 1984 federal election.

In the 2006 election, the federal Conservative Party of Canada won all the seats in Alberta, providing them with a complete sweep of the province. However, the NDP won the seat of Edmonton—Strathcona in the election of 2008, denying the Conservatives a sweep of the province in this election. No Alberta seats changed parties in the 2011 election, in which the Conservatives went from a minority government to a parliamentary majority. In all three elections, many of the Conservative candidates were elected with large majorities of the vote. Alberta has for decades been considered a conservative fortress, no matter which right-of-centre party they may have chosen to support. Albertans followed strong support for the Progressive Conservatives in the 1980s with the same degree of support for the Reform Party, and the Canadian Alliance in the 1990s, finally delivering a clean sweep for the new Conservative Party of Canada only a few years after its creation in 2003–2004.

However, small disaffection with the Conservative Party of Canada over policies enacted during its minority government such as Equalization payments in Canada and the Conservatives' reversal on income trusts led to the founding of the nascent federal Party of Alberta, in 2006. Provincially, while the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta had been in power for 40 years, they continued to win large majorities in the Legislative Assembly, winning 72 out of 83 seats in the March 2008 provincial election, although with declining popularity and lowering voter turn-out, reflecting increasing disfavour among ordinary Albertans regarding the government's market-first policies, its low quality of health and education services, and its flat-income tax policy. As well, for the first time since the 1980s, the PCs faced a challenge from the right wing, the upstart Wildrose Alliance Party. A November 2009 poll said the new party had 28% support, just 6 points behind the governing PCs.[9] In polls, the Wildrose Party had a double digit lead over the PCs in December 2009, with 39% versus 25% each for the PCs and Alberta Liberals.[10]

In April 2015, Jim Prentice called an election for May 5th, citing the need for a mandate in order to make longer-term economic changes.[11] Though initial polls had the PCs in the lead, as the election approached they fell behind the opposition Wildrose party, and the NDP. On May 5th the NDP gained 53 seats, winning a majority government under Rachel Notley.[12]


Albertans are the lowest-taxed people in Canada, mostly because of the province's considerable oil and gas income as well as the more conservative financial philosophies of successive governments. It is also the only province in Canada where there is no provincial sales tax.[13] Unlike the other provinces, which use a progressive income tax regime, Alberta used a flat rate income tax (currently at 10%), while equal for all, it also puts a higher burden of taxes on the lower-classes versus the upper-classes than found elsewhere. As a campaign promise, the New Democratic Party implemented a progressive system in 2015 after their electoral success. Alberta is one of few provinces that consistently has not received equalization payments from the federal government since 1962[14] (the others being British Columbia and (until 2008) Ontario, the original benchmark provinces). Alberta is now the largest net contributor to the program, which is intended to ensure that all provinces are able to provide similar levels of public services. The province's wealth is largely due to the abundance of natural resources, and the provincial government's generous policies toward oil and wood pulp companies, etc. that have harvested the natural resources for export markets at a very high rate. As a result Alberta is the only province in Canada that has (recently) eliminated its provincial debt.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Klein receives goodbye hugs, pancakes" by the Canadian Press via Canada.com, July 24, 2006, retrieved July 24, 2006
  2. ^ "Klein receives goodbye hugs, pancakes" by the Canadian Press via Canada.com, July 24, 2006, retrieved July 24, 2006
  3. ^ Alberta Elections (2004)
  4. ^ Monto, Tom. Old Strathcona – Edmonton's Southside Roots, Edmonton: Crang Publishing, 2011 (available at Alhambra Books, Edmonton), p. 426
  5. ^ "Alberta Liberal leader demands electoral reform". CTV. 2004-11-06. Retrieved 2010-09-29. 
  6. ^ Alberta Greens - 2004 Elections
  7. ^ Larger Marketing - 2001 poll
  8. ^ "Klein speaks out in favor of Iraq war". CBC News. 2003-03-22. Retrieved 2010-09-29. 
  9. ^ "The Wildrose Alliance is gaining ground; Conservative support shrinking.". Environics. 2009-11-05. Retrieved 2009-11-22. 
  10. ^ "Wildrose Alliance Leads in Alberta as Progressive Conservatives Falter" (PDF). Angus Reid Public Opinion. 2009-12-11. Retrieved 2009-12-11. 
  11. ^ "Jim Prentice seeks mandate on May 5th in cautious Alberta election bid". Globe and Mail. 2015-04-07. Retrieved 2015-05-06. 
  12. ^ "Alberta Election 2015 results". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 2015-05-05. Retrieved 2015-05-06. 
  13. ^ Taxation - provincial sales tax
  14. ^ "A Short History of Equalization, part 1: 1930-2006". thoughtundermined.com. 2012-05-12. Retrieved 2013-01-25. 
  15. ^ An indication of the vulnerability of having an economy based on the export of raw resources is the fact that only a few years after major cutbacks on social spending had been imposed to eliminate the debt that the Conservative government had racked up, oil prices went up so much that the government surplus in a single year was enough to pay off the previous debt single-handed. (As well, it should be pointed out the debt had been incurred in part by keeping income and corporate taxes low, and then was paid off with cuts to social services needed by the poor.) Government of Alberta - Elimination of provincial debt