In 1988, the Liberals, hitherto a center-to-center-right third party, elected Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore to the leadership of their party. Decore, more or less in line with usual Liberal thought anyways, decided to shift the entire party farther to the right than the Getty PCs were on matters of fiscal responsibility and government intervention in private business. The deficit under the PCs was enourmous, and only kept growing during Getty's term, reaching a high of negative $4-billion during the '86-'87 fiscal year. Decore, who had himself eliminated Edmonton's budget deficits, had found a winning argument and started to gain momentum. In the 1989 election, the Getty PCs dropped to below 45% of the vote, with the Liberals cruising to 28.7%, the NDP third with 26.3%. However, because of the peculiarities of the first-past-the-post system, the PCs won 59 seats to the NDP's 16 and the Liberal's 8. But the seeds were sown, and in a perfect showing of this, Getty himself lost his own seat in Edmonton-Whitemud. By 1990, the Liberals were breaching the top of the polls.
Unfortunately for the Liberals, the PCs replaced Getty with former Calgary Mayor and Getty cabinet minister Ralph Klein, someone who shared Decore's views on the deficits and even went a bit farther. What ended up happening is that Decore and the Liberals were now unable to win the argument on fiscal responsibility, as Klein was taking advantage of it himself. As such, the Liberals - still not a popular brand in Alberta - lost the advantage that was going to put them over the top.
|Map updated correctly thanks to Earl Washburn|
The situations are eerily similar between '93 and today. The PCs got rid of an unpopular leader who was running deficits, and they're facing a party run by an upstart who is challenging them from the right. The difference, of course, is that Redford is no Klein, and won't be running to the right of anyone this election.
But as well, Danielle Smith is hardly analogous to Laurence Decore, or to Klein, or anyone really. Smith has zero government influence, thus no record to run on. She is also weak in a way Decore wasn't - on social issues. While this campaign is about debt and deficit, it's not as huge an issue as it was in 1993. Thus, Smith, who herself may not be the most socially conservative person ever, definitely leads a party that is more or less a transplant of the Oklahoma Republican Party. We've already seen the attacks lobbied by Redford, Sherman, and Mason about the Wildrosers, and Smith hasn't done herself any favours. In this way, she may be more vulnerable than Decore was.
But we'll see. In 1993, the insurgent party lost because it was outplayed with its own strategy. In 1971, the government failed to represent change, while the challengers represented a new path. In 1935 and 1921, the challengers focused on corrupt, tired governments that failed to deliver time and time again. What will be the 2012 election's narrative?