Battle of Alberta
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The Battle of Alberta is a term applied to the intense rivalry between the Canadian cities of Edmonton, the capital (since 1905) of the province of Alberta, and Calgary, the province's most populous (since 1976) city. Most often it is used to describe sporting events between the two cities, although this is not exclusive as the rivalry predates organized sports in Alberta.
- 1 Origins
- 2 Hockey
- 3 Football
- 4 University of Alberta vs. University of Calgary
- 5 Rush vs. Roughnecks
- 6 Trappers vs. Cannons
- 7 Hosting international and domestic events and conferences
- 8 Political leanings
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Harvey Locke identifies a longstanding cultural divide in Alberta between the centre and north on one hand and the south on the other as a recurring theme in the province's history going back to pre-contact Aboriginal cultures. The peoples of the boreal forest, and to a lesser extent, the aspen parkland, led a subarctic lifestyle which involved trapping fur-bearing animals and traveling by canoe, which made the region a natural fit for the fur trade. By contrast the plains cultures on the prairie to the south relied on the buffalo. The predominant political force on the prairie during the fur trade, the Blackfoot Confederacy, would not allow the Hudson's Bay Company to establish itself within Blackfoot territory, preferring to ride to Edmonton House (established 1795) to trade. Around this time some Cree and allied peoples (the Iron Confederacy) pushed south onto the plains, and became rivals of the Blackfoot. By the 1810s, explorer Peter Fidler identified the Battle River as a disputed frontier between the two groups. Locke asserts that the lack of an HBC presence in the south set the stage for very different patterns of settlement in the different regions. Calgary was founded as a North-West Mounted Police fort and was not much of a settlement at all until the mid-1880s when the Canadian Pacific Railway suddenly shifted its planned route across Western Canada from a northern one (via Edmonton) to a more southerly path (via Calgary). Therefore, the economic and cultural origins of Calgary and its region, were created up by the NWMP and the CPR, not the HBC. Because of the CPR line, Calgary's agricultural hinterland was settled much sooner, mostly by people of British, and particularly Scottish, origins but it also has an American influence because of the ranching culture brought into the region by American cowboys. By contrast, Edmonton's hinterland is marked by a French Canadian and Métis presence, and is predominantly occupied by people of non-British European origins. In particular, the region just to the east of Edmonton, Kalyna Country, is Canada's oldest and largest area of Ukrainian settlement.
Following the debate over the CPR, the next important contest between the two cities was to determine which would become Alberta's capital city when the province was created in 1905. By this time, two new transcontinental railways had been built, both via Edmonton, under the guidance of a federal Liberal government that had replaced the Conservative government which had overseen construction of the CPR. Equally important, the Liberals overhauled Canada's immigration system – whereas the Conservatives had endeavoured to restrict Western settlement to British immigrants, the Liberals had encouraged immigration from other parts of Europe, such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The result was that Edmonton and Northern Alberta became much more ethnically diverse than Calgary and Southern Alberta, and this at a time when prejudice against non-British ethnic groups (in particular, Slavic peoples) was commonplace among those of British extraction, adding another layer to the ill will between north and south.
Thus, by the turn of the century the differing political leanings of Calgary and Edmonton that persist to this day (that is, with Calgary being quite conservative by Canadian standards and Edmonton tending to be more liberal) were already well established. Not surprisingly then, when the federal Liberal government admitted Alberta to Confederation in 1905, they named Edmonton the capital. However, the Calgary elite were even more infuriated when Edmonton's neighbour, the then-separate city of Strathcona won the right to host the University of Alberta (see below).
The final important rivalry between the cities during Alberta's early years was over economic leadership, especially in the Oilpatch. Calgary's nearby Turner Valley deposits were discovered in 1914, decades before Edmonton's Leduc #1 field in 1947. This in part accounts for the much larger concentration of head offices of large corporations in Calgary. Edmonton's business community contains more private corporations working in oil and gas, consulting and smaller operations. Edmonton is also the research and manufacturing centre of the Canadian petroleum industry, and roughly 80% of Canada's oil production is sent to market through Refinery Row, located just east of the city in Strathcona County.
Today, although the rivalry is generally shown only during sporting events there remains an 'unspoken' friendly rivalry between residents that remains on a subtle level.
During the first week of March, 1895 a team of Calgarians mostly from the Calgary Fire Brigade's hockey club, traveled to Edmonton to play against a Mounted Police team from Fort Saskatchewan and the Edmonton Thistles shutting out both. It was the first recorded game between any Calgary and Edmonton teams.
The first professional hockey rivalry between the two cities dates to the founding of the Western Canada Hockey League in 1921. Both cities received teams, Calgary the Tigers, and Edmonton the Eskimos. The Eskimos won the WCHL title in 1923, but lost the Stanley Cup to the rival National Hockey League's Ottawa Senators. Calgary also appeared in a Stanley Cup championship series in 1924, but lost to the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL. After the demise of the WCHL in 1927, Alberta hockey fans turned to junior hockey. Both cities had teams in the Western Hockey League and Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Pro hockey did not return until the World Hockey Association arrived in 1972. Both cities received teams, but Calgary's Broncos folded without playing a game. The new Edmonton Oilers, then were left without an intra-provincial rival until a new WHA team, the Calgary Cowboys arrived in 1975, but they folded in 1977. The short and sporadic nature of the Calgary WHA franchises made building meaningful rivalries more difficult. The WHA itself was unstable and merged with the NHL in 1979.
Oilers vs. Flames
|Originated||1980–81 NHL season|
|Regular Season Record||Calgary leads 107–94–18
(includes overtime and shoot-outs)
|Playoff Record||Edmonton leads 4 series to 1|
In recent years, one of the most intense and passionate expressions of this rivalry is the frequent match-ups between the professional NHL hockey clubs based in each city – the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames.
The Oilers joined the NHL as one of the teams making the switch from the World Hockey Association in 1979. They were soon followed by the Atlanta Flames moving to Calgary in 1980, making the question of who would reign as the top team in Alberta a hot topic. The Flames were the dominant squad in their inaugural season, finishing with 39 wins and 92 points and making it to the Stanley Cup semifinals. The following year the Oilers became the dominant franchise when the Oilers shot to the top of the Smythe Division and Wayne Gretzky started his career-long process of shattering over 100 NHL records and milestones.
The rivalry was especially bitter in the second half of the 1980s. For much of this time, the Oilers and Flames were the two best teams in the Campbell Conference, and by some accounts in the entire league. One of the two teams represented the Campbell Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals for eight consecutive years from 1983 to 1990 (Oilers 6 times, Flames twice). During this time, the Alberta teams won six of the eight Stanley Cup Championships, including the Oilers winning five Cups, a feat that has not been repeated since. The Edmonton Oilers of 1983–90 are recognized as the NHL's last dynasty, with lineups through this period that featured Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF) legends like Gretzky, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri and Mark Messier, guided by HHOF coach Glen Sather. The only time the Flames won the Stanley Cup during that period was in 1989, led by HHOF superstars Lanny McDonald, Doug Gilmour, Al MacInnis, Joe Mullen and Joe Nieuwendyk. This was mainly due to the way the playoffs were structured for much of this time. The top four teams in each division made the playoffs, and the winners of the divisional rounds met in the conference finals. As the Flames and Oilers were both in the Smythe Division, this made it very likely they face each other in the first or second round rather than in the conference finals. That same system made it a near-certainty that the other two playoff qualifiers from the Smythe faced the impossible (during that period) task of having to get past either the Oilers or Flames – or both – to make the conference finals. During this run, the Stanley Cup was awarded in Alberta from 1984 to 1988 (Oilers winning the deciding Cup game against the eastern Prince of Wales Conference representative in Edmonton in 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988, while the east's Montreal Canadiens won the deciding game in Calgary in 1986).
The Oilers defeated the Flames in the playoffs in 1983, 1984, 1988, and 1991, on their way to two of their five Stanley Cups. The Flames defeated the Oilers in the 1986 NHL playoffs; game 7 was decided when rookie Oiler defenceman Steve Smith accidentally scored on his own goal, which ignited the rivalry to a new level. The Flames were favored in the 1988 playoffs, having won the Presidents' Trophy, but the Oilers swept the series and eventually went on to win the Cup.
The first round of the 1991 playoffs is the last time (as of 2017) that the teams met in the playoffs. The Oilers, the 1990 Stanley Cup Champions, had finished 20 points behind the Flames, the 1989 Stanley Cup Champions. Despite this, the Oilers were able to push the series to a full seven games, with Esa Tikkanen leading the underdog Oilers to an overtime victory on his third goal of the game.
Due to the sheer talent and skill exhibited by both teams in the mid to late-1980s, Alberta was considered a "Death Valley" for teams coming to play on a road trip. The regular season schedule had the two teams play against each other 8 times a year during this period, representing 10% of their games—the honing of skills developed by the Oilers and Flames by playing the "other" best team in the NHL this many times a year made a swing through Alberta quite daunting for the rest of the teams in the NHL. The two Alberta teams showed their collective domination over the other 19 teams in the NHL by finishing a joint first and second in the Smythe Division 6 times between the 1982–83 and 1989–90 regular seasons (neither team lower than third in the 9 seasons from 81–82 through 90–91), finishing a joint first and second in the larger Clarence Campbell Conference 4 times between the 1985–86 and 1989–90 regular seasons (neither team lower than fifth from 81–82 through 90–91) and finishing with both teams in the top 10 of the entire NHL 7 times between the 1983–84 and 1989–90 regular seasons (with both teams in the top 5 of the entire NHL in 4 of those seasons). At least one of the two Alberta teams finished first or second overall for the entire NHL in every one of those 9 seasons.
With the changes to the regular season schedule from the 1991–92 NHL season onwards, the two teams no longer played each other 8 times a year (falling to only 4 times a year by 2016–17), allowing the rivalry to cool off. Changes in the playoff format also reduced the opportunities for the two teams to meet in the intensity of a condensed seven games in less than two weeks—in fact, they have not met in a playoff series since 1991. As the NHL expanded in the United States, Canada declined from 7 of 21 league teams in 1990–91 to 6 of 30 by the 2000–01 NHL season. The two Alberta franchises faced financial hardships, since they were among the smallest markets in the league, restricting their ability to pay for higher quality talent and further reducing the competitiveness of the Battle of Alberta games and their ability to reach the playoffs. The situation would not be addressed until June 2005, when the NHL became the last major North American professional sports league to introduce a salary cap, coupled with improved revenue sharing.
It took well over a decade for either team to return to anything near the form they had exhibited in the 1980s. The Flames advanced to the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals, falling in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Flames became the first team in the modern era of the NHL to defeat all three division winners en route to the Stanley Cup final. The next Stanley Cup final, (played in 2006 due to the NHL lockout of 2005) saw the Edmonton Oilers fall in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Oilers became the first 8th seed in NHL history to advance past the semifinals, let alone make it to the Stanley Cup final. The Oilers faced a playoff drought for 10 seasons after their run in 2006–2007, not qualifying for the playoffs until the 2016–2017 season. The Flames would make the playoffs every year until 2009, but would then have their own playoff drought of six consecutive seasons.
The Battle of Alberta has been a lopsided affair in some seasons – the Oilers marking a 7-1 season record over the Flames in 1983–84 and a 6-2 record in both 1984–85 and 1985–86 seasons, while the Flames achieved the only sweep with a 6-0 season record over the Oilers in 2009–10. The 2009–10 NHL season also marked the first-ever trade between the two rivals, with Edmonton's Steve Staios being traded for Calgary's Aaron Johnson on March 3, 2010.
Oil Kings vs. Hitmen
|Hitmen–Oil Kings rivalry|
The Hitmen and the Oil Kings face off in Calgary.
|Teams||Edmonton Oil Kings
|Regular Season Record||Calgary leads 33–23
(losses include overtime and shoot-outs)
|Playoff Record||Both teams tied 1 series to 1|
Although not nearly as intense, the Western Hockey League intends to develop one for the Edmonton Oil Kings and Calgary Hitmen. The junior clubs are owned by the Oilers and Flames respectively. Both cities have had several franchises throughout the WHL's history. The original Oil Kings franchise faced the Calgary Centennials from the league's founding in 1966 until the Oil Kings relocation to Portland in 1976. The Calgary Hitmen were formed in 1995, followed a year later by the Edmonton Ice. The Ice never gained a foothold in Edmonton, and left for the Kootenays after two years. The Hitmen survived their initial struggles to grow into one of junior hockey's biggest drawing teams. The modern Oil Kings joined the WHL as an expansion franchise in 2007.
There are currently five Alberta-based WHL teams. In addition to Calgary and Edmonton, there are also the Medicine Hat Tigers, Lethbridge Hurricanes, and Red Deer Rebels and they all play together in one division, making for many intense intra-provincial battles.
The rivalry between the cities' professional Canadian football teams is equally intense, and even predates the hockey rivalries, as the first football games in Alberta history took place in the 1890s. A team from Edmonton made history as they played in the first football game in Alberta, playing to a scoreless tie against Clover Bar. The first game played between teams from Edmonton and Calgary took place in 1891 when Edmonton beat Calgary 6–5 in a total point challenge series.
The rivalry had been diminished for a number of years until the Calgary City Rugby Football Club and the Edmonton Rugby Football Club were formed in 1906 and 1907 respectively where the two teams competed in the Alberta Rugby Football Union. In 1908, the teams were re-organized as the Calgary Tigers and Edmonton Esquimaux where the Esquimaux won the ARFU title that year. From then on, the two cities had multiple teams represent them in the Alberta Union, but instability led to a lack of consistent rivalry battle between the two. Teams named the Calgary Canucks, Calgary 50th Battalion, Calgary-Altomah Tigers, Edmonton Elks, Edmonton Eskimos, and Edmonton Boosters all took turns playing in the ARFU. It wasn't until the creation of the Western Interprovincial Football Union that a truly sustained rivalry could take place between two teams representing the two cities.
|Regular Season Record||Edmonton leads 125–97–3|
|Playoff Record||Edmonton leads 14–12|
Eskimos vs. Stampeders
In 1921, a team from Edmonton called the Edmonton Eskimos won the Alberta Rugby Football Union (ARFU) league title. They made it past the winners of the Manitoba Rugby Football Union (MRFU) and Saskatchewan Rugby Football Union (SRFU), becoming the first Alberta team (and the first Western Canadian team) to ever compete for the Grey Cup, losing in the 9th Grey Cup game, then advancing again the next year (as the Edmonton Elks) to a loss in the 10th Grey Cup. The team's name goes back to the dawn of the Battle of Alberta when, at the end of the 19th century, a "rugby football" game between Edmonton and Calgary saw the Calgary media make reference to Edmonton's more northern latitude by calling the city's residents "Esquimeaux" (an archaic spelling of "Eskimos"). This Eskimos team folded in 1924, but the Edmonton Eskimos football name would reappear in the ARFU with a different team in 1929, moving to the Western Interprovincial Football Union (WIFU) in 1938 before folding again in 1940.
A similar Calgary Rugby Football Club formed in 1907, competing in the AFRU under various names until – while operating as the Calgary Bronks – joining the Regina Roughriders (from the SRFU) and Winnipeg Blue Bombers (from the MRFU) to form the higher-level WIFU in 1936. The Bronks folded after the 1941 season, the year after the Eskimos had folded. A subsequent Calgary team, the Calgary Stampeders, was formed and joined the WIFU in 1948. This Stampeders team advanced to that year's 36th Grey Cup, becoming the first Calgary team to compete for the Grey Cup and the first Alberta team to win that championship.
The next season, in 1949, the current incarnation of the Edmonton Eskimos was founded and immediately joined the WIFU – this time, for good. This Eskimos team's first ever game was on Labour Day against the defending Grey Cup Stampeders, who defeated the Eskimos 20–6 in the restart of the currently ongoing version of the football Battle of Alberta. Since 1949, the Eskimos and Stampeders have played on Labour Day every year with the exception of eleven seasons, having an unbroken run since the 1982 season. This has been one of the Canadian Football League's marquee match-ups, with the Monday Labour Day Classic in Calgary followed by the Friday night (Saturday, since 2014) rematch in Edmonton, resulting in a very short turnaround for both teams. As of the 2016 CFL season, the all-time record favours Edmonton, as the Eskimos have a record of 125–95–3 against their provincial rivals.
In terms of the post-season, the two teams have played each other 26 times, with Edmonton holding a slight edge with 14 victories. The two teams also frequently meet in the West Final. Between 1990 and 2003, the two teams clashed nine times to decide who would represent the West in the Grey Cup, and at least one Alberta team was in the game each year. Edmonton has won three out of the last eight playoff match-ups, the most recent one in the 2015 West Final. Edmonton has also won the most recent championship by an Albertan team, in 2015 with the 103rd Grey Cup game. While the Stampeders may have won the Grey Cup first, the Eskimos have won the most recent and the most, with 14 titles compared to the Stampeders' seven as of 2015.
Currently, the Calgary and Edmonton franchises play each other two to three times during the regular season and have played each other at least three times in every regular season but 2004 between 1996 and 2016. The Stampeders have qualified for the playoffs in every season since 2005, while the Eskimos have missed the playoffs four times in that same time frame. Both teams have enjoyed much success in their histories as both franchises have never missed the playoffs at the same time. The Eskimos have made the playoffs in all but six years since 1966, including 34 years in a row from 1972 to 2005 – a streak unmatched in North American major league sports. The Stampeders have only missed the playoffs six times since 1978.
University of Alberta vs. University of Calgary
Another prominent rivalry exists between the major universities in each city, notably the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, and the University of Calgary, dating back to the creation of the province of Alberta in 1905.
Heated wrangling took place between the cities of Calgary and Edmonton over the location of the new provincial capital and of the new provincial university. The neighbouring province of Saskatchewan had been formed on the same day as Alberta, settling a similar dispute between its own two major cities by making Regina the provincial capital and Saskatoon the site of the University of Saskatchewan. Alberta's first Premier, Alexander Rutherford, offered a similar solution by stating that the Alberta capital would be north of the North Saskatchewan River and that the provincial university would be in a city south of the river. The city of Edmonton, on the north bank of the river, became the capital while the city of Strathcona, on the south bank of the river (and the location of Rutherford's home), was granted the university. When the two cities were amalgamated in 1912, Edmonton became both the political and academic capital.
Calgary was not granted a university until 1966.
Sports competitions between the two universities have taken place over who has possession of a painted rock. Meanwhile, the University of Alberta has consistently ranked much higher than the University of Calgary in major national and international rankings of Universities.
Rush vs. Roughnecks
|Regular Season Record||Calgary led 26–10|
|Playoff Record||Edmonton led 3 series to 1|
Box Lacrosse has seen significant growth in Alberta in recent years, with the Calgary Roughnecks joining the National Lacrosse League in 2001, followed by the Edmonton Rush in 2005. The two teams were poised to form another Alberta rivalry as the two cities have in many other sports. The Rush took out ads in Calgary newspapers before their first ever meeting saying the Rush would "open a can" on the Roughnecks. This backfired as the Roughnecks defeated the Rush. The Roughnecks tried this tactic against Edmonton before the April 5, 2008 game by placing an ad in the Edmonton Sun saying that Edmonton was a "City of Losers" instead of a "City of Champions". Just as it had for the Rush, the plan backfired as the Rush won 11–9. Calgary won the Champion's Cup in 2004 and 2009. Edmonton won the Champion's Cup in May 2015, before moving to Saskatoon that July.
Trappers vs. Cannons
Alberta's most prominent baseball rivalry existed between the Calgary Cannons and Edmonton Trappers of the Pacific Coast League. The Cannons existed from 1985 to 2002 while the Trappers existed from 1980 to 2004. The rivalry never reached the same level as it did in other sports, however, and ultimately both teams relocated to the United States (the Trappers to Round Rock, Texas, and the Cannons to Albuquerque, New Mexico). The Trappers captured four PCL championships during their existence, while the Cannons won none.
In 2011, the two cities competed in the North American League as the Calgary Vipers and Edmonton Capitals. The two teams met in the Northern Division playoffs in 2011; the Capitals won the series in six games. The Vipers folded after the season, and the Capitals suspended operations in February 2012, leaving the province with no professional baseball.
Hosting international and domestic events and conferences
The rivalry also extends outside of team sports to international events. Both cities have hosted numerous national and international championships and other tournaments. Both cities have hosted large world-class and domestic renowned events.
The constant one-upmanship of the two cities in this field has receded in recent years, and they cooperated in a successful joint bid to host the 2012 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships. Previously, the province hosted the event in 1995. In that year, the city of Red Deer, a city between Edmonton and Calgary, was the primary venue. Edmonton and Calgary each hosted a few games as well.
World-Class and domestic events hosted in Calgary
Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, the 1996 International Rotarian Convention, and the 1997 World Police and Fire Games as well as the World Skills competition in 2009. Calgary is also an annual stop for many winter sport organizations, including ISU (speed skating), FIBT (bobsled and skeleton), FIL (luge), and some FIS (skiing) events. Calgary is also home to the world-famous Calgary Stampede equestrian exhibition.
Calgary was designated as "Canada's Cultural Capital" in 2012 for the inaugural year of the program. The federal government granted $1.6 million to develop and renovate the city's cultural institutions and promote the arts.
Social entrepreneurs and scholars convened in Calgary during October 2013 for the 6th Social Enterprise World Forum to discuss solutions for global problems.
In the summer of 2015, Calgary hosted the 2015 World Handball Championships. The ten-day tournament hosted athletes from 30 nations.
World-Class and domestic events hosted in Edmonton
Edmonton hosted the 1978 Commonwealth Games, the 1983 World University Games (Universiade), the 2001 World Championships in Athletics, and the 2005 World Master Games. The city also had a circuit on the IndyCar Series, the Edmonton Indy, from 2005 to 2012. Edmonton was designated as one of the host cities of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Edmonton annually hosts North America's largest fringe festival, the Edmonton International Fringe Festival every August; the same month also sees the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Edmonton also hosts the Canadian Finals Rodeo during the second week of November since 1974. The Edmonton International Street Performers Festival takes place every June. The city also plays host to K-Days every July.
Dual bid for hosting Expo 2017
In 2007, Edmonton started assessing the viability of hosting Expo 2017. The Edmonton City Council approved the building of a bid on April 15, 2009. Later in April, Calgary announced its coming bid to host Expo 2017, though it had not expressed any interest beforehand. In July of the same year, a disagreement occurred when Edmonton received provincial funding for its bid, while Calgary did not. Calgary withdrew its bid to host the event.
Dual hosting of events
Edmonton and Calgary among other Albertan towns, were both venues of the cross province "Tour of Alberta" bicycle marathon in 2013 the marathon's inaugural year. It is anticipated the event will return for 2014 and beyond.
|“||You can always tell a federal politician doesn’t get Alberta when he gives the same talk in Calgary and Edmonton.||”|
|— Preston Manning|
The origins of and effects of the political leanings of the two cities are intertwined with and as old as the rivalry itself. When the CPR shifted its route southward, Canada was governed by the Conservatives who had generously supported the railway – this helped entrench a loyalty to the Tories in Calgary that persisted even during the early days of Confederation when most of Western Canada was solidly Liberal. However, when the Liberals gained power they championed not one but two more transcontinental railways, both of which passed through Edmonton. The result was boom times and massive immigration in and around Edmonton, which quickly displaced Calgary as Alberta's largest city and became solidly Liberal. It is widely believed that as a direct result of these leanings, the Liberal government in Ottawa designated Edmonton the provincial capital in 1905.
The different political leanings at first influenced and then, in turn, became influenced by the ethnic makeup of Edmonton and Northern Alberta, compared to Calgary and Southern Alberta. Whereas the Conservatives had taken steps to limit immigration from the United States and block immigration from virtually anywhere else besides the British Isles, the Liberals encouraged immigration from much of Europe. Although the largest single ethnic group in Edmonton and the north remained British, and although immigration by non-Caucasians remained actively discouraged and heavily restricted, many Canadians of British origin decried what they perceived as the "mongrelization" of the Dominion. Not surprisingly, this opposition became centred around the much more exclusively British city of Calgary, which increasingly looked down on the "mongrelized" north. In that context, especially considering the level of superiority those of British extraction viewed their own culture, the decision to place the university in Strathcona was particularly insulting to the British elite based in Calgary.
Relations between Calgary and the provincial government in Edmonton hit an all-time low following the 1913 general election, in which the provincial Liberals under Arthur Sifton won a large majority – the size of which they owed in no small part to a blatant gerrymandering of the electoral districts which in particular left Calgary badly under-represented in the legislature. Such was the level of hostility by this time that a serious movement commenced to petition the federal government, by then back in Conservative hands, to admit Calgary and southern Alberta to Confederation as a separate province. At the time, the British North America Act would theoretically have allowed the creation of one province from the territory of another even without the consent of the government of the province concerned. With a sympathetic government in Ottawa the movement to create a separate province might have had some chance of success, had it not been for the outbreak of World War I which naturally diverted the attention of both the government and the public. During the war, the Sifton government chose to align itself closely with the federal government under Robert Borden, eventually supporting conscription over the explicit objections of federal Liberal leader Wilfrid Laurier. These decisions helped to ease tensions between Calgary's Conservative elite and the provincial Liberal government in Edmonton. In a low-key election, Sifton led his government to another majority, then left provincial politics to become Minister of Customs in the new "Unionist" government in Ottawa. The new government was essentially a coalition of pro-conscription Liberals and Conservatives under Borden's leadership.
The political rivalry between Calgary and Edmonton cooled even further after the 1921 general election, in which Conservative support collapsed throughout the province including Calgary, and in which the Liberals were swept from power by the rural-based United Farmers of Alberta. For the next fifty years, provincial politics was split more or less on an urban-rural basis, with rural voters consistently and overwhelmingly supporting UFA and then Social Credit governments while the Conservatives and Liberals made intermittent efforts at electoral co-operation in an attempt to maintain a foothold at least in the two major cities.
Nevertheless, the political leanings of the two cities have persisted over the years to the present. While Calgary has elected mayors in the past who have been known to be Liberals, Calgary was long reckoned as the most conservative major city in Canada. Only three Liberals have ever been elected to the House of Commons from Calgary-based ridings, and none for more than one term. Although the Labour Party of Canada and Social Credit made inroads in the 1920s and 1930s, it was the Progressive Conservatives who dominated federal elections in Calgary, with few exceptions, until the Reform Party swept the federal Tories out of Alberta in 1993. Reform and its successor, the Canadian Alliance continued to dominate in Calgary (and Alberta) until merging with the PCs to form the Conservative Party of Canada, which continues to hold all eight Calgary-based ridings. The former Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is the MP for Calgary Southwest.
Meanwhile, the stronger government, university, greater ethnic heterogeneity and labour class presence in Edmonton has helped to keep the city on the political left by Albertan standards. In federal politics, Edmonton remained friendly to the Liberals in early decades, although in recent decades Edmonton's federal ridings have tended to follow the trend set by the rest of Alberta, usually electing Social Credit, PC, Reform, Alliance and finally Conservative MPs--though usually by much reduced pluralities than those found in Calgary. However, the federal New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP) won Edmonton East in 1988 for one term. The Liberals then achieved their first real success in Edmonton in decades in 1993 when four Liberals were elected compared to three Reformers. Two of these Liberals, Anne McLellan (who was Deputy Prime Minister in the early 2000s) and David Kilgour managed to win re-election in Edmonton three times each before being defeated and retiring, respectively in the face of the Tory sweep of Alberta in 2006. In 2008 New Democrat Linda Duncan won Edmonton—Strathcona, the only opposition seat in the province. In the 2011 election, Duncan held her seat, and the Tories held all of theirs, both in Edmonton and in the rest of Alberta.
In provincial politics, the political differences are more noticeable. The Social Credit Party of Alberta dominated most of Alberta's ridings, including Edmonton and Calgary, for most of the time it governed from 1935 until 1971. When the Progressive Conservatives under Calgarian Peter Lougheed won election in 1971, they would go on to dominate nearly all Albertan ridings themselves until 1986, when the Alberta New Democrats and Alberta Liberal Party made a breakthrough in Edmonton. Since then, the provincial Tories have continued to win a majority of seats in every election both province-wide and in Calgary but gained a majority of Edmonton's seats only once (in 2001) while the party had a Calgarian as leader. Lougheed retired in 1985 and was succeeded by Edmontonian and former Eskimos quarterback Don Getty. In 1989, Getty was defeated in his Edmonton district and forced to run outside the city in a by-election. Getty's successor, Ralph Klein, was a former mayor of Calgary who defeated a former mayor of Edmonton, Liberal Laurence Decore in the 1993 election. The previous Liberal Leaders of the Opposition tended to represent an Edmonton district. During the 2006 PC leadership convention, Calgary-based candidates Ted Morton and Jim Dinning both fared poorly in Edmonton, which contributed to the victory of Ed Stelmach. Stelmach's victory continued a pattern under which since Lougheed assumed the premiership in 1971 in which successive Tory leaders (and premiers) alternated between Calgary and Edmonton-area ridings; Stelmach represented Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, on Edmonton's eastern fringe. Stelmach was able to make gains in Edmonton at the expense of both the Liberals and NDP during the 2008 election, while the Liberals made gains in Calgary. From 2008 to 2012 the Official Opposition had an even number of members from both cities, with the leader Raj Sherman representing Edmonton-Meadowlark. On the other hand Stelmach, like Getty before him, had a relatively short tenure as premier – he resigned in 2011, and was replaced by Calgarian Alison Redford. Redford led the PCs to an unexpected 12th term in government in 2012, but was forced out of politics two years later. She was ultimately succeeded by Calgarian and former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice, breaking four decades of alternation between Calgary- and Edmonton-based leaders.
During the 2012 general election, the trends in both cities were broadly similar, but with noticeable distinctions. Both cities voted over 40% for the centrist or centre-right PCs led by Redford. The second placed right-wing Wildrose Party, led by Danielle Smith, was much stronger in Calgary (36.41%) than in Edmonton (18.8%). Smith is a Calgary native, and her riding of Highwood was on Calgary's southern fringe. The centrist or centre-left Liberals were slightly stronger in Edmonton (16.13%) than in Calgary (12.16%), and the centre-left New Democrats were much stronger in Edmonton (21.56%) than in Calgary (4.9%), as were the upstart Alberta Party (2.46% in Edmonton, compared to less than one percent in Calgary). It is notable to mention that the media speculated that the overall province-wide Liberal vote collapsed as a result of Liberal voters voting PC in tactical voting, presumably to stop a Wildrose victory.
Moreover, the 2012 election further demonstrated an extension of the north-south political divide into rural Alberta. Wildrose won every rural seat south of the 53rd parallel but one, as well as both seats in Medicine Hat. However, the Progressive Conservatives took all but one rural seat north of the 53rd parallel, as well as both seats in Red Deer and both seats in Lethbridge.
The Tory dominance was finally broken in the 2015 general election, when the Alberta New Democratic Party won power under Edmontonian Rachel Notley. Notably, the NDP won power on the strength of dominating both Edmonton and Calgary, upsetting the traditional political divide. The NDP took every seat in Edmonton, and 14 seats in Calgary.
- Johnson, George (October 14, 2005). "Bile back in Battle of Alberta". ESPN.com.
- The Beaver Hills Country: A History of Land and Life, Graham A. MacDonald, 2009, Athabasca University Press, p 17.
- Edmonton Public Library's History of Edmonton[permanent dead link]
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