The party elite was behind Mar. The other candidates, reluctantly, had decided the wind was blowing his direction and thrown their support to him - though not all their campaign managers could stomach it.
And then Alison Redford was announced winner on the second ballot.
Alberta Liberals want to kill themselves. Redford will mow whatever of their progressive grass the NDP aren't already. With both the Tory and Liberal party leaders coming out of the same Tory cabinet, if anything the Alberta Progressive Conservatives are now to the left of the Alberta Liberal Party.
The Wildrose folks are ecstatic and yeah, they might make a few pickups in the ex-urban borderland as a result of this leadership contest, but they over-estimate how conservative Alberta is. Give voters a fiscally rightish socially moderate option they will flock to it - and may even be getting a little jaundiced about the fiscal side of conservatism too.
What put the stake in Mar, riding a big wave of presumed inevitability? He was very obviously part of the same long standing old boy's network that has been running Alberta for years while the same urge leading to a surging Wildrose was to 'throw the bums out'. Redford's mother died with days to go in the campaign which she held up under with visible grace and class.
And Mar in mid-campaign, for reasons best known to himself, re-opened the simmering healthcare privatization debate coming out firmly in favour of further private sector intrusion and the rich being able to buy their way to the front of the healthcare line.
Its like political Tourette's for these people. Even when the public has consistently, year after year made it crystal clear that we want healthcare to stay publicly run and universal, even though by large margins we do not trust PCs with the healthcare file and will be suspicious of any meddling in it by them, even though Klein's dogged pursuit of the libertarian right holy goal of selling out Alberta's health to the insurance industry had more to do with his ouster than Tories admitted then or will admit now, Mar still decided to signal that he wanted to re-open the whole mess again.
Even far right candidate Ted Morton, unconvincingly trying to re-invent himself as a cuddly social moderate, condemned Mar's remarks and swore to keep his own grubby paws of healthcare given the chance to do so.
Redford did too, but quite a bit more convincingly.
The resurgence of the progressive strain in the Progressive Conservatives is actually a return to glory days under Lougheed, when the PCs were the progressive alternative to the far right and calcified Social Credit government. The Socreds had been ruling about as long as the PCs have now.
Alberta's PC's feel the rumblings that build up under any long standing government. In most provinces that discontent lets parties rule for just a few terms though the trend has been lengthening. In Alberta due to careful gerrymandering the rural ridings have an engineered electoral dominance over the majority of the population and governments usually last four or five decades.
We basically have one party rule like China or North Korea. Elections of the leader of the PC Party are far more important than provincial elections here. Politburo democracy.
Historically, the time is almost up for the Progressive Conservatives, if they had gone to the right they might have neutralized or at least minimized the damage of the Wild Rose Party, but the year long hell of the emergency room crisis culminating in a former Tory cabinet member becoming leader of the Liberal Party spooked them badly about the much larger if less noisy fiscal conservative/social moderate vote.
Redford was probably their best, most realistic chance at party renewal. Her comforting soft progressivism will prove much more illusory than it sounds and Alberta will continue sleepwalking though the years in its strange blue dream.
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