If I ever doubted that reporters crave a good story more than almost anything else, my own reaction to the Alberta election last night would have reminded me of its veracity. Before the polls in the province were even closed, I had begun thinking about how I’d pitch a short piece about it to the bosses: Tea Party-like upstart gains power in one of Canada’s wealthiest provinces just a few years after its founding.
But that’s not what happened yesterday in Alberta, often called the Texas of the North. I wasn’t the only surprised observer, though: Every single public poll, right up until hours before the vote, predicted that the Wildrose Party would form a new, majority government. Instead, the ruling Progressive Conservatives ended up with around 44 percent of the popular vote, and 61 of 87 seats. Wildrose received 34 percent, and 17 seats.
That means 78 percent of Albertans voted for right-wing parties. It’s as if the Tea Party movement here in the U.S. had been more of a real revolt, with tired taxpayers and fiscal conservatives fed up with overspending by Republicans and Democrats alike forming their own party.
That’s not how the Conservatives painted Wildrose, though—and they succeeded in reframing the choice voters faced. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith self-identifies as libertarian-leaning. But the party, of course, had a number of candidates who were social conservative. And so the Conservatives, much like liberals here in the U.S., engaged in fearmongering, calling Wildrose a party of extremists. One ad appealed directly to Liberal and New Democrat voters—the NDP being the next-best thing to socialists—urging them to vote PC, lest a party even further to the right come into power.
And so the Progressive Conservatives of Alberta will soon become Canada’s longest continuously serving government—despite evidence of widespread corruption.
As Maclean’s assistant editor and Alberta correspondent Colby Cosh declared the day before the election,
Meanwhile, anybody at all who wants to vote PC must be prepared to tolerate the perpetuation of a government that has taken, and aggressively hidden the evidence of, well-documented illegal kickbacks for party purposes from schools, municipalities, and healthcare. Indeed, they must not only tolerate it: they must accept a share of moral responsibility for it, must stand up and applaud it.
Those were fighting words—and ignored by nearly half of Alberta voters.
It wasn’t the only strong statement Cosh made before voters in the mix of urban centers and rural districts hit the polls. Earlier, he wrote:
Albertans will get the kind of behaviour from their next government that they choose to honour: if they reward the overwhelming sense of entitlement that the PCs have developed after 41 years in power, they will be sending a signal that anything short of murder will go unpunished.
This echoes, of course, the famous pronouncement that people get the government they deserve. And so, strangely enough, the province thought of as Canada’s most conservative keeps as its premier, as Cosh describes Alison Redford, “a lady lawyer who had done loads of international development work and favours Hillary Clinton pantsuits and pearls.” (Rural Alberta might have a ridiculous reputation for harboring being backwards, but the vast majority of votes cast there were for one of two women, Redford or Smith.)
It’s an election to puzzle over long after the concession speeches have been made and a new cabinet named. Canadians are not averse to punishing corruption, even when it goes against tradition, after all: After AdScam, as the scandal surrounding government kickbacks to firms that supported the federal Liberal party was dubbed, the Liberals were voted out of office after ruling Canada for almost three-quarters of the twentieth-century. They’re now the third-place party in the House of Commons.
Smart Democrats might want to do that rare thing—study Canada—for lessons on how to tar (seemingly successfully) a mainstream political party as extremist. And Republicans might want to ponder how they can avoid that fate, and crush a culture of corruption.