Albertans have chosen a new political path with the stunning election of a New Democratic government, ending a Progressive Conservative dynasty in power for more than four decades.
The NDP, leading in the polls from start to finish, becomes only the third party to govern the province since 1935. Heading a new majority government, Leader Rachel Notley, who won her seat in Edmonton-Strathcona, now has a mandate to take the province in a new direction but will also inherit tough economic challenges.
"I think we might have made a little bit of history tonight," Ms. Notley said in her victory speech. "I believe that change has finally come to Alberta."
After speaking to a cheering room of supporters in Edmonton, the Premier-elect said her first priority would be to meet with her new caucus over the next few days. With the NDP running on a platform of increasing funding for the province's schools and hospitals, the new government will need to move fast to fulfill some promises. "We are committed to making sure those 12,000 kids have teachers in September," Ms. Notley said, referring to the number of new students expected to enter Alberta's school system next academic year. The PC budget tabled in March had no new money for teachers.
She also faced questions about whether the NDP was ready to govern. Before the election only four MLAs were in Ms. Notley's caucus, she now has over 50. "Albertans will look at our cabinet and our caucus and they'll see themselves reflected," she said, responding to questions about the perceived inexperience of some of her newly elected MLAs.
In a number of ridings, the PCs and Wildrose split a large conservative vote. Ms. Notley said that a split between the parties on the right wasn't the reason her party was swept to power. "Albertans elected a new government and I think they were looking for change. I don't think it's a conservative vote split, frankly one could argue there was a change vote-split too," she said.
PC Leader and former premier Jim Prentice immediately announced his resignation.
The NDP won 53 seats -- nine more than needed for a majority in the 87-seat legislature.
The Wildrose Party was poised to become the Official Opposition with about 21 seats while the Progressive Conservatives were crushed -- winning or leading in only 11 seats.
The NDP had about 40 per cent of the popular vote. The PCs were second with about 28 per cent while Wildrose garnered about 25 per cent.
In the midst of low oil prices and plunging tax revenues, Mr. Prentice called the election a year early after unveiling a budget that included a massive deficit and dozens of new fees. Just before the campaign, he stumbled when he told Albertans to "look in the mirror," seeming to blame them for the province's financial woes.
Mr. Prentice called the election on April 7, hoping an early vote would play in his favour. But the PCs fell all the way to third place behind Wildrose, now the Official Opposition party.
Brian Jean, the leader of the Wildrose Party, won his seat in the Fort McMurray-Conklin riding.
Mr. Prentice arrived late at the PCs Calgary headquarters and thanked his supporters before resigning as party leader and giving up his Calgary-Foothills seat, which he had just won.
In his speech to party faithful, Mr. Prentice said he accepted responsibility for Tuesday night's outcome.
"Alberta needed to make choices and they have now done so. I am satisfied the voters are always right in a democracy."
Mr. Prentice campaigned primarily on his budget, which centred on two new tax brackets for Albertans, no increase in corporate taxes and the cutting of 2,016 jobs in the public service.
Ms. Notley countered with a promise to raise the corporate tax rate to 12 per cent from 10 per cent, increase taxes on the highest-income Albertans and review the royalties that oil companies pay to the province.
Mr. Prentice had also planned to reduce the 21-per-cent tax credit for charitable donations down to 12.75 per cent. Charitable tax credits for donations made to a political party went untouched. Mr. Prentice then decided to leave the tax credit unchanged after a swift backlash.
Some long-time PC supporters were so angry at the perception that the leader had lost touch with Albertans that they switched loyalties and put NDP signs on their front lawns.
The PCs, which came to power in 1971, were hoping to keep a stranglehold on leadership with a 13th consecutive majority government.
The Wildrose Party, decimated when many of its MLAs crossed the floor to the PCs last year, is now back as the Official Opposition.
"We've seen a complete change in Alberta," Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said later. "And Wildrose proved them wrong. We have prospered mightily. We have done amazing things."
He promised to mount "fierce opposition" to the new NDP government.
"Starting tomorrow, we're going to show Rachel Notley a little bit of that opposition."
Advance polling, in which 235,410 people voted over four days, was a record, according to Elections Alberta.
Prior to Tuesday's election, those who stuck with the Tories did their best to rally a late comeback.
PCL Construction sent letters to its staff saying they were free to vote as they pleased but that they needed to know a few things. Company president and chief executive officer Paul Douglas wrote that while the PCs had not "lived up to our expectations and have experienced tremendous instability within their party," they remained the best option.
"[The NDP] policies," wrote Mr. Douglas, "discourage investment, reduce the activity of business, slow down the economy, reduce jobs and profits and ultimately reduce the amount of money they were looking for in the first place to increase the size of government and provide enhanced government services."
The Tories staged a comeback in 2012, when Alison Redford trailing badly in the polls rebounded to win over Wildrose and its then-leader Danielle Smith.
In 2015, the party never recovered as the NDP emerged as a political force in a province with a desire for new leadership.
With a report from Justin Giovannetti