Renewal in the Eighties
Peter Lougheed’s retirement as party leader brought a leadership race with three candidates: Don Getty of Edmonton; Julian Koziak, also of Edmonton; and Ron Ghitter of Calgary.
Don Getty was the successful candidate, in a Convention with 1,916 voting delegates. Besides his record as a senior cabinet minister, Don Getty had a number of successful business ventures. In the early fifties he had quarter-backed the Edmonton Eskimos to the Grey Cup.
Getty made it clear that he would continue many of the party’s traditions but he would bring his own strenths. He had strong values- and strong family ties.
“I will listen” was the message he gave again and again to Conservatives. He talked about ensuring that the Party would remain an open party. “We’ll be accessible. We’ll be honest. It will be a party of integrity and a government of integrity”.
While Alberta was benefiting from an improved relationship with the federal government, it was a tough economic picture that Don Getty inherited. There were some positive signs in the petroleum sector but unemployment remained high and international conditions were poor for agriculture.
In May of 1986, a general election was held in Alberta. It was the most difficult campaign for the PCs since 1971, with the economic problems facing the province. The New Democrats made inroads, electing 16 MLAs. For the first time in twenty years, the Liberals elected members.
But the Progressive Conservatives elected 61 out of 83 MLAs, still the largest government majority in Canada. The PC campaign had the theme “Together: A New Alberta Team” and Albertans gave that team an undeniable mandate.
After the 1986 election, government finances and the Alberta economy remained dominant issues through 1986 and 1987. The other major issue in 1986 became constitutional reform, as the federal Conservative government proposed to bring Quebec into the Constitutional agreement. The process was an Alberta success, as the Meech Lake Accord agreed to by all premiers protected western interests and started a process of Senate reform, one of Don Getty’s key concerns.
The Getty PCs represented many of the traditions of the Conservative Party in Alberta: fighting for the rights of Alberta in Confederation; partnership with private enterprise in building Alberta; freedom for the individual; concern for those who need help in our society; and fiscal responsibility, to assure the future of Alberta.
Yet, there were differences emerging in the new Getty team. They were determined that the Party be absolutely approachable for any Albertan. “We can talk to each other and learn from each other” the new leader said on many occasions. He knows that Albertans expect imagination and courage in opening new economic opportunities.
Speaking to the Progressive Conservative annual convention in April of 1987, Don Getty talked about the debates in the Legislature. “They are truly about the kind of Alberta we will have in the future. The differences are quite clear, because our party and our government stand for personal freedom, individual initiative and financial responsibility. On the other side, they wantmore state control and they want big spending.”
In November 1987, the Getty administration faced its first electoral test since the 1986 general election. A by-election was held in Chinook, following the death of Henry Kroeger. The by-election focused on Albertans’ choices and the Progressive Conservative support for free trade with the US and support for free enterprise, which was distinctively different from the views of other parties. Shirley McLellan, the Progressive Conservative candidate, won a convincing victory for her party.
These choices that Don Getty talked about in 1987, and the choices which faced Chinook in November, 1987, continue to be Alberta’s choices where a strong Progressive Conservative Party can a vital contribution to Alberta. Don Getty’s message is one that applies throughout the history of the Conservative party: “…together we share a commitment to build a strong province and create a life style that benefits us all”.