The Alberta Advantage Party's History

Here you will find a detailed history of the Alberta Advantage Party's history in Alberta, including their origins, significant moments, and significant figures. It is important to note that while this is a fairly comprehensive history, it is not the entirety of the story, nor is it necessarily perfect. If flaws are found, they will corrected as soon as possible. These histories are the best presentation of the facts as APAH could find, but will be updated and improved as time goes on and more resources become available.

 

          The Alberta Advantage Party is one of the youngest recognized political parties presently in Alberta, having been registered in November of 2018. The AAP was formed by members of the Wildrose Party who chose not to join the UCP when the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties merged in 2017, and the party’s first leader was herself one of the founding members of the Wildrose Party. The Wildrose Party as Albertans knew them was formed in 2008, after the Alberta Alliance Party absorbed the unregistered Wildrose Party of Alberta. That unregistered party was born just a year before the merger, while the Alberta Alliance Party was a right wing party with socially and fiscally conservative views that owes its origins to Randy Thorsteinson, who himself had previously led the Social Credit Party in the 90’s. He also created the Alberta First Party back in 1999, only to then neglect them.

          The Social Credit Party, also known as the Socreds, were a dominant force in Alberta politics throughout the middle of the twentieth century. After winning a majority government in 1935 after just a few months of existence, they would continue to govern until 1971, when the Progressive Conservatives would finally topple them. After their loss in 1971, the party never really recovered. In the early 90’s, Thornsteinson became the leader of the party and saw the Socreds making significant gains in the popular vote in 1993 and 1997 (although without winning any seats). However, just as it looked like the Socreds might be able to capitalize on their growing momentum, the party self-sabotaged by attempting to limit the involvement of the Mormon church in the party in 1999 - this, despite the fact that the Socred leader at the time was a devout Mormon.

          Thornsteinson left the party in protest, starting the Alberta First Party in the same year and then promptly abandoning it to spend nineteen years floundering at the very bottom of the popular vote until it re-emerged in 2018 as the Freedom Conservative Party. However, the Alberta First Party isn’t the timeline we have to follow here - we have to follow the Alberta Alliance Party. To make it a bit clearer going forward, when the Alberta Alliance Party and the Alberta Advantage Party are being referenced at the same time, they’ll just be referred to as “Alliance Party” and “Advantage Party”, because otherwise this is like reading a tongue twister over and over.

          In 2002, Thornsteinson founded the Alberta Alliance Party - the Alliance part referencing the fact that this party was made up of people from across a ton of parties who felt like the various parties across Alberta/Canada weren’t representing “real” conservatives. Provincially, the Alliance brought in members from several of the tiny conservative parties - the Alberta First Party, the Social Credit Party, and the Alberta First Party. As well, supporters of the federal Canadian Alliance (and the Reform Party that it had evolved from) saw the Alberta Alliance to be an unofficial provincial version of the party, which helped them build an even stronger base - especially after the Canadian Alliance merged with the Canadian PCs to create the Conservative Party of Canada. There was never an official connection between the two parties, but the Alberta Alliance did copy the aesthetic of the Canadian Alliance, with their colours and logo being very similar.

          The Alliance Party was designed to be a fiscally conservative party, as well as socially conservative. They felt slighted in the run-up to the 2004 when they were excluded from the debates - the rule was that you needed to have elected someone to the Legislature in the past election, and since the previous election had happened the year before the Alliance Party was founded, they hadn’t had a chance to do so. The Alliance Party argued that this rule wasn’t being fairly implemented, as there had been previous exceptions. Notably, in 1997, Pam Barrett was allowed to enter the debate as the NDP leader despite neither having any sitting NDP MLAs or fielding a full slate of candidates. Even more interestingly, Thorsteinson had himself been allowed to do the exact same thing in 1997 when he was the leader of the Socreds, but was now being denied the opportunity to do so seven years later with a different party.

          The Alliance, meanwhile, fought hard to get a foothold, and when the dust settled, it appeared that it had not entirely been in vain. The two year-old party took fourth place (behind the PCs, the Liberals, and the NDP, in that order), gathering 7% of the vote. While Paul Hinman did win the party one seat, they also lost the seat of incumbent Gary Masyk, a PC MLA who had crossed the floor to become the Alliance’s first MLA earlier in the year. In 2005, Thorsteinson left the party and was replaced by Paul Hinman, who would go on to lead the party until 2009.

          With Hinman at the helm, the Alliance entered into negotiations with the Socreds and the Alberta Party to merge in an attempt to unite the three small right-leaning parties in order to pose an actual challenge to the established PCs. Ultimately, the Socreds pulled out of negotiations in 2006 to focus on their own party, and the Alliance pulled out of the talks shortly after in 2007 on account of legal issues that the Alberta Party was facing at the time. Talks with the Socreds had begun after the leadership race, but the Alliance and Alberta Parties had been negotiating since 2004.

          Also in 2006, Hinman attempted to swing the PC leadership race by encouraging his party members to buy PC memberships to vote for Ted Morton, as Hinman believed that Morton would likely be the most accommodating to the Alliance’s goals. The party didn’t like the idea, however, and so it was shut down. In the next year, the Alliance tried to take two seats in by-elections, but failed in both.

          While this was happening in 2007, the Wildrose Party of Alberta was being founded in Red Deer, with a focus on keeping Alberta’s money in Alberta, and bringing Alberta’s government back to a more authentic right-wing position as they believed that they had become too liberal. The Wildrose applied to become a registered party right after forming, but were never actually registered. In early 2008, the Alberta Alliance Party voted to merge with the Wildrose Party to create the Wildrose Alliance Party of Alberta and allowing any Wildrose members to trade their membership in to join the new party, adopting the Wildrose’s original bylaws. This new party would also immediately have a seat in the Legislature, as Hinman had maintained his seat as well as his leadership position after the merger.

          The Wildrose Alliance Party contested the 2008 election hoping for an anti-PC wave to rise up and provide some real competition to a party that had maintained government for thirty-seven years by this point. In reality, the Wildrose Alliance Party would go on to lose their sole seat in the Legislature and gain none despite running in sixty-one ridings, while the PCs would increase their seat count by twelve, giving them a massive seventy-two of the eighty-three available seats. With the Wildrose Alliance placing fourth in the popular vote, they came out of 2008 looking for change.

          In early 2009, Hinman announced that he was stepping down as leader, but would remain on as the interim leader until an replacement had been found. However, in this role, Hinman would go on to win a by-election in Calgary to give the Wildrose Alliance a seat in the Legislature. Anti-PC sentiment was building in the province, as the public grew frustrated with Premier Ed Stelmach’s serious economic failures - notably, a record-breaking debt of nearly five billion dollars and massive layoffs surrounding the oil industry left many Albertans frustrated with the government and looking for an alternative - an alternative that the Wildrose Alliance Party was ready to offer.

          Between the party’s convention in June and the leadership convention in October, the party had more than sextupled in size, with over eleven thousand members in the party by the time Danielle Smith would win the leadership race. By the end of 2009, the party was polling above the PC government, and four days into the new decade, Smith announced that two PC MLAs - Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth - had crossed the floor to join the Wildrose Alliance Party, bringing their tally up to three. The pair accused the PCs of being undemocratic, and with their crossing, the Wildrose Alliance would usurp the NDP to take the third-place role in the Legislature. Six months later, the Wildrose would accept its fourth MLA in Guy Boutilier, a former PC MLA who had been forced out of the party back in 2009 for publicly criticizing the government. With this, the Wildrose Alliance Party crossed the line necessary to be recognized as an official party.

          With the 2012 election fast approaching, it seemed likely that the Wildrose Alliance were poised to take over the government and follow in the footsteps of past parties like the United Farmers of Alberta and the Social Credit Party, both of whom (won massively) very shortly after having been formed, and both of whom made up majority governments for several decades afterwards. Polling was favourable for the Wildrose Alliance, but unfortunately the party failed to live up to the expectations, walking away with seventeen seats (largely in rural ridings) and only 34% of the popular vote. Despite being a disappointment for many, this was still a significant gain from 2008, when the party won no seats and only 6% of the popular vote. While they didn’t get enough seats to form the government, they did take enough to form the Official Opposition, relegating the Liberals to third place.

          In 2014, PC leader Alison Redford stepped down after a series of scandals that left the public again feeling like a change was needed, potentially opening another door for the Wildrose Alliance in the next election. Redford was replaced by Jim Prentice, and in a series of by-elections called to bring his cabinet into office, the Wildrose failed to take over any of their seats. This proved to be a sign of bad things to come, as the Wildrose Alliance began coming out of the honeymoon phase. The next blow came as former Green Party interim leader and then-Wildrose Alliance MLA Joe Anglin left the party to sit as an independent, citing the party’s leadership being in a state of chaos due to the leadership review that Smith had called for after the failure in the by-elections.

          It was here that Smith’s control on the party began to slip, and she withdrew her request for a leadership review after the caucus unanimously voted in favour of her doing so. At the party’s Annual General Meeting in November, Smith promised to step down as leader if they lost the next election. There were also rumours that Smith was opposed to the socially conservative tilt that the party was starting to experience, having previously stated that her party’s focus was on the economy and staying away from social issues. At the same meeting, the party’s members voted to overturn a party policy related to social issues that Smith had supported the year before while she was out of the room, with the party voting against a resolution that would support equal rights for all minority groups.

          Despite the beginning of 2014 looking hopeful for the Wildrose Alliance Party, by the end of November, two more members would cross the floor to join the PCs, and in December, the party suffered a massive setback when nine of the remaining fourteen Wildrose Alliance MLAs - including Danielle Smith herself - were also crossing the floor to join the PCs.

          After Smith left, the Wildrose Alliance maintained its status as Official Opposition due to prior precedent despite now being tied with the Liberals for second place, with five MLAs each. Smith asked the Wildrose in her resignation to consider a merger with the PC, a suggestion that was immediately shot down. Early in 2015 the party officially changed its name to the Wildrose Party, and by the end of March of 2015, Brian Jean was elected to fill the vacancy in the leadership. A few days later, Premier Prentice called a snap election to happen for the beginning of May, with the hopes that the PCs would be able to win the election and secure his position while the other parties were in disarray.

          This was ultimately seen to be a poor decision for the PCs, as the NDP took advantage of the chaos and frustration on the right to push ahead and take power from the PCs, ending a forty-four year majority government and paving the way for only the fourth change of government in Alberta’s history. To add insult to injury, the PCs not only lost the leadership but failed to even maintain Official Opposition status, a fate that was last experienced by the UFA in 1935 when they went from a majority government to losing every single seat and the government to the Socreds. The PCs would maintain nine seats (they won ten races, but when the PCs lost Jim Prentice resigned his seat immediately, a vacancy that would later be filled by the Wildrose) while the NDP took government with fifty-four, and the Wildrose took 21 seats. Interestingly, the Wildrose actually lost the popular vote to the PCs (24.2% to 27.8%, respectively) but managed to secure more than twice as many seats in the Legislature.

          This spurred talks of unification between the PCs and the Wildrose, who now managed to find themselves on the outside looking in as a far-left social democratic government took control of the province. It had been eighty-five years since Albertans had elected a left-wing government, and it was a known trend that Albertans tend to maintain a government for a long time - the shortest-ever reign of a government was the UFA’s sixteen years in office, which the PCs and Wildrose both felt would be too long for the NDP to remain in power.

          In early 2017, Jason Kenney would win the PC leadership race to finally replace Prentice on a platform of uniting the right. While this proposal had originally been strongly opposed by the Wildrose when suggested by Danielle Smith in her resignation letter, the tides had begun to turn within the party. Future Freedom Conservative leader Derek Fildebrandt broke rank with Jean to support a united party in late 2016, with Jean joining him a month later. In May, Jean and Kenney had struck an agreement for merging the parties, and in July the members of both parties approved the agreement. With that, the United Conservative Party was born, and the Wildrose would cease to exist.

          While a vast majority of Wildrose Party members had voted to merge (95% to 5%), a number of those members were unwilling to merge with the UCP, and so split from the party. None of these members included any of the sitting Wildrose Members in the Legislature who would go on to join the new UCP, meaning that the full contingent of Wildrose MLAs would go on to join the UCP alongside all but one of the former PC members (PC MLA Richard Starke chose instead to finish his term as a PC MLA and not to run for re-election).

          In November of 2018, the new Alberta Advantage Party was formed with Marilyn Burns at the lead. While Burns has stated that the party is neither right nor left, its policies can be seen to mimic many of the old Wildrose Party’s policies - specifically including policies like the recall of elected officials and a focus on grassroots policymaking - but also continuing to lean into the social conservatism that had led Danielle Smith to cross the floor, such as policies to remove mandatory gay-straight alliance clubs in schools as well as demanding that Alberta get the right to select their own immigrants, similar to how Quebec does.