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Alternating Edmonton and Calgary premiers? Don't bet on it!

Calgarian William "Bible Bill" Aberhart

It is oft said nowadays that Alberta's premiers alternate between Calgary and Edmonton.

The brighter lights who make this claim and have actually bothered to look up their facts before pumping a few bazillion electrons through their word processors hedge their bets a little by parsing their sentences carefully.

Thus, for example, the Globe and Mail recently reported that "for decades, premiers in this province have alternated, if only by chance, between its two major cities and their respective halves of the province." (Emphasis added.)

The reference to the decades is important because the supposed pattern is really only apparent with Alberta's past four premiers, and hence is not much of a pattern at all. As for the "only by chance" bit, well, that's a tip of the hat to the fact the whole thing is baloney.

Oh, and never mind that Edmonton is smack dab in the middle of the province -- it only seems like the north from the perspective of Calgary.

Still, the alternating period stretches back to 1971, which is after all four decades, and furthermore encompasses the span of the Progressive Conservative Party's reign in this province. So one could, one supposes, argue that this is a Conservative tradition.

Thus, saith the Globe and Mail, this has led to speculation that since Ed Stelmach, Alberta's unlucky premier No. 13, hailed from the north, "the Progressive Conservative ranks will this time rally around a Calgarian."

This idea is naturally being encouraged just now by the supporters of former finance minister Ted Morton, the only Calgary-area candidate in the race at the moment, as an argument that the Tory crown must go to their candidate.

Furthermore, in these memory-addled times, the argument is also being used by supporters of Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith, who like Morton is both a Calgary-area resident and a dyed-in-the-wool market fundamentalist, to argue the leadership of the province really ought to go to their champion.

Supporters of both far-right candidates like this argument because, so far, Morton's only challenger is Deputy Premier Doug Horner, who hails from both an Edmonton-area riding and the progressive wing of the PC Party.

However, the pattern looks quite different if we gaze further into the past than premiers Stelmach (Edmonton area), Ralph Klein (Calgary), Don Getty (Edmonton for a spell, later Stettler) and Peter Lougheed (Calgary), the Conservative Gang of Four that has run this place since '71.

Take the list back to Premier William Aberhart, who became Alberta's Social Credit premier in 1935, which seems to be the point a lot of Albertans identify as the beginning of the modern era, and the pattern changes. That's because Aberhart and his successor Ernest Manning were both from Calgary, although Manning served both Calgary and Edmonton ridings at different times. Manning's successor, Harry Strom, was from the Medicine Hat region, which is so far south it's practically in Dixie!

According to this logic, tradition would dictate that the next premier must come from Edmonton because five of the last seven premiers represented ridings in Calgary or points south.

Mind you, the pattern changes again if you count the six before them and go all the way back to No. 1, Alexander Rutherford, who took office in 1905, the year Alberta became a province. They all represented places closer to Edmonton than Calgary -- no surprise, really, since Calgary really was nothing more than a dusty cow town for most of that time.

Even so, Premier John Brownlee (he of the sordid sex scandal involving the seduction of the -- not so? -- innocent Vivian MacMillan) served the good people of Ponoka, which is barely north of halfway between the two teeming Prairie metropolises and far enough south that he would have a 403 area code if he lived there today. And Premier Arthur Sifton, while he represented the Alberta riding of Vermilion, east of Edmonton, also represented Banff in the territorial government and Medicine Hat in Parliament.

So let us say here that whatever criteria should be used to select the premier of Alberta, north-south geography is not a particularly good yardstick.

Regardless, let us also predict that this notion will immediately lose currency in the media the instant the race is entered by former environment minister Gary Mar, as it will be soon, or by Justice Minister Alison Redford.

You see, both the congenial Mar and the brainy Redford are considerably more moderate than either Smith or Morton. And both, after all, are also from Calgary.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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