* Conservatives secure convincing majority; in power since
* Province is biggest foreign energy supplier to United
* Rival shares philosophies with U.S. Tea Party movement
(Adds quotes from leaders, details)
By Jeffrey Jones and Scott Haggett
HIGH RIVER, Alberta, April 23 Alberta's
Progressive Conservative Party fended off its biggest challenge
in more than four decades of rule on Monday, winning a
convincing majority as voters balked at handing Canada's top
energy-producing province to an upstart right-wing movement that
promised traditional values and fiscal restraint.
The ruling party of Premier Alison Redford was winning or
leading in 59 of 87 voting districts in the western province of
3.8 million people, garnering 44 percent of votes cast.
Its biggest challenger, the Wildrose Party led by Danielle
Smith, was leading or elected in 21 districts and had 35 percent
of the vote.
It was a battle of two right-of-center visions in the
province that is the largest foreign energy supplier to the
United States, and a growing economic force within Canada.
Wildrose had promised to pay out a slice of the province's
oil and gas revenue to residents and limit participation in some
federal programs, while Redford's PCs - now one of the country's
lon gest-ever pol itical dynasties - promised to increase
Alberta's role within the country.
"Every Albertan knew that this election was about choice,"
Redford said in her victory speech. "A choice to put up walls or
build bridges ... Tonight Alberta chose to build bridges."
The Wildrose, who are further to the political right than
the Progressive Conservatives and share many political
philosophies with the U.S. Tea Party movement, had led in the
polls. But the party suffered after two candidates made
intemperate comments about sexual orientation and race.
"I acknowledge that we wanted to do better, and we expected
to do better. Am I surprised? Yeah. Am I disappointed? Yeah. Am
I discouraged? Not a chance," said Smith, who had the support of
many of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's campaign workers.
"Albertans have decided that Wildrose might need some time,
might need some time to prove ourselves, might need some time to
establish ourselves. I relish the opportunity."
The Conservatives have ruled in Alberta since 1971, led by
five leaders, the latest being Redford, a 47-year-old lawyer and
former justice minister. A series of scandals, deficit budgets
and policies that angered the powerful oil patch lobby led to a
break in the right-wing vote. However, Wildrose did not prove in
the end to be a threat to the PCs' reign.
"It says the PC brand is maybe the strongest brand in
Canadian political history," Rod Love, who was chief of staff
for former Conservative Premier Ralph Klein.
"It can take a ton of hits and body shots, and after 41
years, Albertans still respond to the brand."
Alberta is not Canada's most populous province, but it is
the richest. It derives about a third of its revenue from its
vast reserves of oil and gas.
Its oil sands deposits rival conventional oil reserves in
Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, and Redford's government is trying
to convince Washington to approve the $7 billion Keystone XL
pipeline, which would carry Alberta's oil sands-derived crude to
TOLERANCE BECAME ISSUE
Starting out as a protest movement, Wildrose pushed for
smaller government, recall votes and traditional values. Its
leader, Smith, 41, is a former property-rights advocate and
She raised eyebrows by not taking major issue with comments
by some of her candidates, including one who said gay people
would be subjected to a lake of fire on judgment day and another
who said that he would be able to speak more effectively to all
ethnic groups because he is Caucasian.
Smith angered environmentalists by saying that the science
of climate change was not settled and that government money is
wasted on such initiatives as carbon capture and storage.
Duane Bratt, political scientist at Mount Royal University
in Calgary, said it was stunning that so many opinion polls were
wrong, leading to early speculation that voters changed their
minds in the voting booth.
"I think that's a legitimate question - did people just kind
of pause and say, 'What do we really know about Wildrose?'" he
(Reporting by Jeffrey Jones and Scott Haggett; Editing by Eric
Walsh and David Brunnstrom)