The Progressive Conservative campaign slogan, "Now!" embodied the province's readiness for political change in 1971. The party's campaign was carefully orchestrated, taking advantage of media exposure at every opportunity. They promised 120 changes, if elected, that appealed to every cross-section of Alberta's population. It appeared as though the Socreds were about to suffer their greatest loss. Yet even the most optimistic predictions for the PC's fell short of the political upset that resulted on election day. When the votes were counted, the PC's had won forty-nine seats and Socreds twenty-five.
The new government set about legislating its election promises. Its first major task was to assume more responsibility for matters such as land-use planning and post-secondary education left in the hands of numerous boards and commissions. In 1972, the government passed the Alberta Bill of Rights and the Individual Rights Protection Act, and they legislated progressive liquor laws and daylight savings time, bringing Alberta in line with the rest of the country.
In 1973, Alberta's economy received a dramatic boost when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)
restricted oil exports to Canada, the United States and other
supporters of Israel during its war against Syria and Egypt. Suddenly, the price for crude oil
quadrupled. Demand for Alberta's oil skyrocketed.
In the ensuing years, hundreds of thousands of workers immigrated to Alberta seeking to share in the province's wealth. Lougheed's government was forced to deal with the needs of Alberta's rapidly expanding population. Using money from increasing oil and gas royalties, they expanded services to smaller urban centres, including airports, roads and hospitals. In the major cities, they contributed money to establish parks and other facilities. In 1976, they set up the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund to invest surplus money for the province's future.
While Alberta was booming after the OPEC embargo, the rest of the country had to pay for increasing fuel costs. The federal Liberal government under Pierre Trudeau attempted to reduce fuel costs by freezing oil prices and taxing oil exports. Lougheed responded by further raising royalty charges. These actions encouraged many American oil corporations to leave the province. The Alberta government subsequently became more involved in developing the province's energy resources. Late in 1973, it set up the Alberta Energy Company, which became the province's second largest oil developer. The government also helped Syncrude develop the Athabasca oil sands surrounding Fort McMurray.
Another upsurge in the price of oil in the late 1970's led the federal Liberals to introduce the National Energy Program (NEP) in 1980. Albertans responded vehemently to this second attempt to control oil prices while imposing new taxes on energy producers. Lougheed threatened to limit oil and gas exports and delay the Syncrude project if Trudeau did not negotiate a compromise settlement. A watered-down NEP persisted for four years, even after declining oil prices in the early 1980's made the program unnecessary. The Mulroney government restored oil and gas prices to market levels when it introduced the Western Accord in 1985. Albertans' bitterness towards the NEP persists even to this day.
Following the recession of the early 1980's, the Progressive Conservative government scaled back Alberta's health services and raised income taxes. However, Lougheed continued to enjoy much popularity for his strong defence of the province's natural resources. He resigned as Premier in 1985, having achieved greater respect for the province's interests at the federal level. Don Getty succeeded Lougheed, but he was not as popular. In 1986, his party lost
Getty took power shortly before Alberta's resource revenues declined again. His government was forced to cut department budgets, while still running a deficit. Getty attempted to diversify the province's economy in part by offering forestry companies favourable terms to expand or build large pulp and paper mills in northern Alberta. The construction of the Three Rivers Dam on the Oldman River also created employment, if only temporarily. Environmentalists strongly opposed these and other development projects the Progressive Conservatives initiated.
At the federal level, Getty was a strong advocate of Senate Reform. He believed an Equal, Elected and Effective Senate could better represent Alberta's interests in Ottawa. The Meech Lake Accord provided for the negotiation of a "Triple-E"
Senate. The Accord's
"notwithstanding" clause also allowed provinces to opt out
of federal legislation they opposed. The Accord was finally defeated in 1990.
Getty's popularity slipped further following an inquiry into the province's mishandling of the failed financial services corporation, Principal Group. He was also embroiled in controversy over private investments and patronage appointments he made. He finally resigned in 1992.
Calgary's former mayor Ralph Klein won a close race for the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership. The new Premier presented a platform that would eliminate Alberta's deficit without raising taxes. Following his party's re-election in 1993, his government passed the Deficit Elimination Act to carry out this platform. It reduced the budgets of every provincial department and privatized several Crown corporations. Government workers received a five percent pay cut, and many lost their jobs. Still, most Albertans stood behind Klein, who presented himself as a jovial Premier, open to their concerns. They believed, as Klein contended, that Alberta's spending had to be contained.
The Progressive Conservative government under Klein eliminated the province's deficit before its self-imposed deadline of 1997. In subsequent years, it has restored funding to each department, particularly to the province's healthcare system. Still, the province's annual surpluses have exceeded the government's own predictions. Revenues from high energy prices have made this possible.
In 2001, the Progressive Conservatives celebrated their thirtieth anniversary as the Alberta government. Despite controversy surrounding budget cuts and privatization, the opposition parties have yet to mount an effective opposition in the Legislature. The Alberta Progressive Conservatives' popularity continues.