The Reform Party of Alberta's History
Here you will find a detailed history of the Reform 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.
Before we begin looking at the Reform Party of Alberta, it’s important to note that the Reform Party we’re talking about today has no official connection to the Reform Parties you might know about. Many Albertans will likely know about who the Reform Party of Canada was - founded in 1987, the party was massively popular in Alberta with conservatives who weren’t happy with the federal Progressive Conservatives. The province would keep supporting the Reform through to 2000, when they would become the Canadian Alliance (after an attempt to merge with the PCs), and would continue that support as the Canadian Alliance merged with the PCs to become the modern Conservative Party. Today’s Reform Party of Alberta is also not the same as the Reform Party of Alberta that existed at the same time as the federal party of the same name - in 1989, the federal party created a provincial branch that had two purposes: 1) to prevent anyone from running a provincial Reform Party in general elections, and 2) to contest provincial elections for nominees to the Senate. It’s also different than the Alberta Reform Movement, a party that only existed for approximately a year before losing their only seat in 1982 and essentially disappearing.
If that’s confusing in any way, rest assured that they’re not who we’re talking about today. The modern Reform Party of Alberta, led by Randy Thorsteinson, was founded in 2016. The idea was to create a socially conservative alternative to the Wildrose Party, who he believed was trying to appease everyone and was stuck in the middle of the road. Thorsteinson’s political career in Alberta stretches back just over three decades - he first entered the arena as a Reform Party of Canada member serving as president of the Red Deer riding association in 1988, and has been active across a wide variety of parties in the interim. The history of the Reform Party of Alberta as it exists today is connected directly to Thorsteinson, and so a lot of the history of this party will follow him.
To begin with, this is not Thorsteinson’s first attempt to create a real Reform Party of Alberta - back in 1988, he tried to persuade federal Reform Party leaders to create a provincial party because he felt that there was a desire in the province for an alternative to the Progressive Conservative Party, who had led the province for seventeen years by that time. This push was rebuked, as the federal party wanted to keep its attention focused on one field and not get distracted by trying to run in the provinces as well. A few years later, in 1991, Thorsteinson would join the Alberta Social Credit Party, and become their leader the year after that.
Thorsteinson revitalized the Socreds, who’d largely been dormant since their loss to the PCs in 1971 - in his first election as leader (1993) Thorsteinson would nominate more than six times the candidates that his predecessor had (from 6), and would increase their percentage of the popular vote five-fold (from 0.5%). In 1997, the party would continue trying to build up momentum, this time nominating seventy candidates and pulling in nearly 7% of the popular vote. Despite not winning any seats, the Socreds looked to be on the verge of a breakthrough - polls at the time showed a massive rise in support after the 1997 election, and if they could maintain their momentum, there was the possibility of seeing seats in the next election.
Unfortunately, the party would go on to shoot itself in the foot in 1999, when an internal party proposal to limit the involvement of the Mormon Church in the party led to Thorsteinson (himself a member of the Church) leaving the party in protest. The party fell hard after this, and by the time the 2001 election came along, they could only scramble together 12 candidates and got just over 0.5% of the popular vote. In the meantime, Thorsteinson would go on to form several political parties in Alberta.
First came the Alberta First Party, founded in 1999 - while Thorsteinson would help found the party, he was never active with Alberta First. This party would go through a series of identity crises before forming the modern Freedom Conservative Party in 2018. Next, Thorsteinson would found the Alberta Alliance Party in 2002 and becoming leader in 2003. Thorsteinson resigned as leader after the 2004 election, where the party lost its incumbent seat in Edmonton-Norwood and gained another in Cardston-Taber-Warner, after claiming that he wouldn’t be able to dedicate enough time to the party to justify serving as leader. However, he remained with the party for the time being, eventually becoming president of the party for less than a year between March of 2007 and January of 2008, when the Alberta Alliance Party would merge with the Wildrose Party of Alberta. Thorsteinson chose not to join the new Wildrose Alliance Party, instead going on to serve as the chairman of the Strong and Free Alberta PAC, a conservative political action committee whose activity seems to be largely limited to late 2009 to mid 2010.
This brings us to 2016, when Thorsteinson registered the Reform Party of Alberta and became its first leader. This marks the third party that he’s led (Social Credit, Alberta Alliance, and now Reform), and the third party he played a role in creating (Alberta First, Alberta Alliance, and Reform). The party saw its first election when Dave Rodney of the UCPs resigned to allow newly-elected party leader Jason Kenney to get a seat in the Legislature. Thorsteinson’s daughter Lauren Thorsteinson ran under the Reform Party banner and gathered 137 votes out of nearly eleven thousand, placing her in fourth out of seven (above two independents and then-Green Party leader Romy Tittel), with Kenney winning. Interestingly, this by-election saw three parties looking to elect a leader to the Legislature - the Greens, the Liberals, and the UCP.
This party is, once again, meant to provide a socially conservative alternative to the mainstream conservative parties - in this case, it was originally founded to compete with the Wildrose Party, who Thorsteinson believed were trying to sit on the fence and were going to get kicked from both sides for it. With the merger of the PCs and Wildrose to form the UCPs, the Reform Party claimed they would field a full slate of candidates to fight for the socially conservative vote in 2019; however, the party only nominated one candidate (Laura Thorsteinson), who failed to win her seat.