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Alberta's Political Parties

Inauguration day in EdmontonSince Alberta entered Confederation in 1905, its political history has tended toward repetition. From the first Liberal government to today's Progressive Conservatives, each governing party remained in office for many consecutive years. They faced a weak and often divided opposition in the Assembly. When finally an effective opposition emerged, each government was swept from power.

The Liberal Party took office in 1905, before Alexander Rutherford, a Liberal Albertans had a chance to vote. They benefited from their association with the governing federal Liberals, who appointed the province's first Lieutenant Governor and made promises that depended on the cooperation of the provincial government. The Opposition Conservatives' advocated similar policies, but their support was limited mostly to southern Alberta, where fewer ridings were drawn. With no effective opposition, the Alberta Liberals held on to power until 1921.

The United Farmers of Alberta and the Social Credit Party, began as grass-roots movements. William Aberhart, Social Credit innovator The first group stood for farmers' interests, and the second advocated monetary reform. After deciding to enter politics, both organizations handily defeated the former governments in 1921 and 1935. However, upon entering the Legislature, both parties had difficulty carrying out their platforms. Eventually, they drifted to the right of the political spectrum, becoming advocates of fiscal restraint and private enterprise.

The Progressive Conservatives, who took office in 1971, differed from the former Social Credit government in image, but hardly on policies. They reflected Albertans' prevailing values of provincial autonomy and individual rights. Opposition parties have filled a small vacuum to represent competing Peter Lougheed, Conservative Premier interests and hold the government accountable. Like preceding opposition parties, they have struggled to present a strong, united voice in the Legislature.

Why have these patterns of lopsided one-party rule and sweeping victories endured? Some have suggested that for most of Alberta's history, the real opposition has been the federal government. The struggle over control of Alberta's natural resources has dominated disputes between the provincial and federal governments over the years. Others have pointed to each Cartoon depicting control over natural resources governing party's ability to bend toward Albertans' changing interests. When concerns about communism and western alienation arose in the 1940's and 1980's, the provincial governments of the day took advantage of these opportunities to change their platforms. So long as Albertans continue to perceive their government as the defender of the province's interests against outside influences, they will likely continue to support the same party. Still, there remains the possibility when a new party will emerge to challenge the established order.

 

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Voices of Politics
Roger Gibbins discusses geographic voting trends in Alberta provincial elections since the 1960's. He notes a shift from urban to rural support for the Progressive Conservative Party.
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Early Events - Political Parties - Issues - Timeline

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