Incumbent PC Edmonton Castle Downs candidate Thomas Lukaszuk, centre, and supporters react as its announced he is leading in his riding as they wait for results from the provincial election at his campaign headquarters in Edmonton, Alberta on Monday, April 23, 2012.
Credits: AMBER BRACKEN/QMI AGENCY
CALGARY -- What many predicted would be a political watershed turned into an ebbing Wildrose tide as the Alberta Tory dynasty racked up its 12th straight majority victory.
But the survival of the 41-year Tory dynasty left the party with a reduced majority.
About two hours after the polls closed, the PCs were leading or had captured 61 seats to the Wildrose's 19.
In 2008's vote, the PCs ended up with 72 seats.
The election's surprise, however, was the failure of the Wildrose to clinch the deal after appearing to play a front-running role.
What started as optimism at Wildrose post-election parties Monday night quickly drained away into bewildered disappointment.
Still, a smiling Smith sounded a note of optimism amid disappointment at her post-election gathering in High River.
"Tonight, we found out change might take a little longer," Smith told her followers.
"I acknowledge I expected to do better -- am I surprised? Yes. Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I discouraged? No."
At her victory celebration in downtown Calgary, Redford insisted the moment will inspire real change in Alberta.
"This campaign has driven that home to me," she said.
But she reiterated an accusation she'd made about an allegedly isolationist stance of the Wildrose.
The election "was as choice to put up walls or build bridges," said Redford, who won her Calgary-Elbow seat.
"Tonight, Alberta chose to build bridges."
From the campaign's early days, Redford's team was playing catch-up -- until revulsion over a year-old anti-homosexual blog by Wildrose Edmonton-Southwest hopeful, pastor Allan Hunsperger.
That was followed by comments from the party's Calgary-Greenway candidate, pastor Ron Leech, insisting being white was a political advantage in a multi-ethnic riding.
"There were just too many thorns that came out in the last week-and-a-half of the Wildrose campaign," political pundit Joan Crockatt said.
And Smith also fended off accusations she's intent on privatizing health care due to her platform to spend more public money on private medical facilities.
In the end, the Wildrose couldn't even reach the opposition heights reached by Laurence Decore's Liberals in 1993 when the Grits captured 32 seats against then-new Tory leader Ralph Klein.
Smith faced down a stiff challenge from PC John Barlow to take her Highwood riding and a seat in the legislature nearly three years after taking the Wildrose reins.
The race began with most polls showing the Tories enjoying a slight lead over the Wildrose -- a margin that steadily eroded since Redford taking over the PC leadership in October gave the party a bump in support.
She was stung by her handling of a physician intimidation scandal and her failure to call a judicial inquiry on the issue.
Then, just before three weeks before the writ was dropped -- and on Redford's birthday -- details of MLAs receiving $1,000 a month for a committee that never met exploded like a grenade.
Redford's refusal to order her MLAs to return all the money turned into opposition ammo.
The Wildrose was already exploiting resentment over PC legislation that would see a crackdown on drinking drivers with an alcohol reading of between .05% and .08%.
An April 12 leaders' debate was indecisive.
But As Wildrose's advantage seemed entrenched, some Liberal supporters flocked to the Tories in an anything-but-Wildrose strategy -- sending Grit support into a tailspin.
Given that dynamic, newly-minted Liberal Leader Raj Sherman's efforts -- mainly aimed at health-care issues -- found little resonance.
A chastened Grit boss insisted his party's platform was superior, "though I wish we would have won more seats."
"The Liberals, we're coming back."
The NDP proved modestly resilient, doubling their seats from two to four -- possibly gaining from faltering Liberal fortunes.
Ron Ghitter, who won the Calgary-Buffalo seat in 1971 for the Lougheed PCs when they ended 36 years of Socred rule, said he was never sold on a possible historical echo of Wildrose slaying a dynasty.
"Mr. Lougheed was highly experienced, had talented people surrounding him -- I don't think you have that with the Wildrose," said Ghitter, who'd soured on more recent PC governments but is impressed with a Redford he insists is far more qualified than Smith.
"Just look at her track record, her background -- it's far and away more impressive.
"I'd have been very disappointed and unhappy to be going back to redneck Alberta."