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Alberta’s Progressive Conservative party led by Premier Alison Redford won a surprise re-election in Canada’s oil-rich western province, renewing its majority mandate and extending a 41-year reign.
The Progressive Conservatives, who have ruled Alberta since 1971, were elected in 61 of 87 districts, compared with 17 for the Wildrose Alliance, five for the Liberal Party and four for the New Democratic Party, according to preliminary results posted on the provincial election agency’s website.
The Conservative victory came after opinion polls during the election indicated Wildrose was poised to win, bringing increased focus on the four-year-old party’s platform and candidates.
“It was a near-death experience” for the Conservatives, said David Taras, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary. The victory “wasn’t out of love for Alison -- it was out of fear for the Wildrose.”
Redford, a 47-year-old lawyer and former United Nations elections commissioner in Afghanistan, said the province has changed and needs to prepare for the future while supporting the expansion of the oil sands industry.
“Albertans want positive change and change that move Albertans forward,” said Redford in a speech to supporters in Calgary. She said change will bring “unity and prosperity for the best province in the best country in the world.”
Wildrose’s leader, 41-year-old Danielle Smith, had attacked the Conservative’s fiscal record during the campaign. She promised to end the deficit this year, revamp the public health- care system and pay each Albertan C$300 with money from oil sands royalties. Smith pledged on April 20 a return to “common- sense conservative values: fiscal prudence, individual freedom, individual responsibility, decentralized decision making.”
Redford countered the attacks by emphasizing comments made by Wildrose candidates about race and sexual preferences, as well as Smith’s own comments that the science of climate change is still being debated.
The result marks the first time a female had been elected as premier in Alberta, with a female also serving as leader of the opposition.
The Conservatives took 44 percent of the vote with more than 99 percent of polls reporting, according to the election agency. Wildrose had 34 percent of the vote, with the New Democrats and Liberals each at 10 percent.
Before the election, the Conservatives held 66 of 83 seats in the legislature, while Wildrose, which takes its name from the provincial flower, had four.
Redford, who took over from former Premier Ed Stelmach in October, plans to balance the budget next year, while spending more on schools and hospitals and promoting a national energy strategy.
The result was the 12th consecutive majority government elected in Alberta.
“Tonight we found out that change might take a little longer than we thought,” Smith told supporters. “Am I surprised? Yeah. Am I disappointed? Yeah. Am I discouraged? Not a chance.”
Alberta’s gross domestic output per capita leads the nation. It’s the only one of Canada’s 10 provinces to have top credit ratings from Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s Investors Service and DBRS Ltd., and its bonds have the lowest yields relative to Canadian federal benchmarks, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch data.
The western province has C$14.3 billion in outstanding bonds, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The provincial treasury is scheduled to pay back about C$2.1 billion this year. The economy is forecast to grow 3.8 percent in 2012.
“Investors always like stable politics and that’s the situation they’ve essentially had in this province since 1935,” said Keith Brownsey, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary, before the polls closed.
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