“Not at all. The truth is – the name of our party is the Progressive Conservatives. It’s cliché to say that, but that’s what it is,” he said. “This is a perfect opportunity for great things to happen.”
The victory also came four days after the sudden death of Ms. Redford’s mother. She temporarily suspended campaigning, but returned with a strong debate performance less than 24 hours later, and dominated much of the weekly news cycle.
“I’m proud of my mom,” Ms. Redford told the crowd in her victory speech. “She got me involved in politics 30 years ago, she’s a big part of the reason I’m here, and I’m thinking about her tonight.”
Ms. Redford has had a distinguished legal career with international stints, including one in Afghanistan. She was first elected in 2008, and has deep family ties to the waning PC wing of the federal Conservative party. She’s married with one 9-year-old daughter, who was long asleep by the time the results rolled in. “We’ll tell her tomorrow,” the incoming premier said. (Until she is sworn in, her technical title is premier designate.)
She said an election, which some observers suspected could be called as early as this fall, will take place in about a year.
Ms. Redford’s win immediately called into question the voting system, which some say shouldn’t allow a person who didn’t lead the pack of first-choice votes to pull an upset victory. “You don’t want a decision to be based on technicalities,” said Mar backer Aleem Dhanani, 34, who was among hundreds gathered at the Edmonton conference hall to see the results roll in.
However, the party president, Mr. Smith, said the system is designed to produce a candidate that appeals to as much of the party as possible. Mr. Mar entered Saturday’s final run-off having earned 41 per cent of first-ballot votes. Ms. Redford had 19 per cent and Mr. Horner had 15 per cent.
Those votes didn’t carry over, but Mr. Mar won the endorsements of all three of the first-ballot leadership hopefuls who didn’t grab a spot on the final ballot.
The landscape, however, shifted. On Saturday, Ms. Redford carved into Mr. Mar’s support in Edmonton. Mr. Horner, meanwhile, won only a handful of northern, rural ridings that were among the first to report, including his own.
There were mixed opinions among leadership hopefuls who had missed the cut for the second ballot.
“I think it’s better to have a runoff between the top two,” said Rick Orman, who finished fifth on the first ballot and then backed Mr. Mar. “If the third choice’s second choices are affecting the winner, that doesn’t feel right.”
Doug Griffiths, however, said the system worked. He finished in last place on the first ballot, and also backed Mr. Mar. “We probably don’t focus enough on the fact that whoever wins, we’re all on the same team and we have to work on building a better Alberta,” he said.
Turnout was low – just over 78,000, down from 144,000 on the final ballot in the 2006 leadership race that saw Mr. Stelmach as the surprise winner to be elevated to the premier’s office. Opposition parties have pounced on the low figures, insisting it’s a sign support is waning for the PC government, which has strung together consecutive majorities since 1971.
Ms. Redford won by bringing in new voters and convincing others to switch over to her. Wes Heath, 24, was one of 587 people to vote in the riding of Vermilion-Lloydminster. On the first ballot, he voted for Mr. Mar; the second time around, he chose Ms. Redford on the basis of her performance at the final televised all-candidates debate. “She had no notes. It all came from up here,” Mr. Heath said. “We’ve just got to get the PC party back on track.”
It’s a lofty task. Ms. Redford leaves the right wing of the political spectrum open to Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party. Members of the upstart party believe she’ll be easy to attack.
Ms. Smith has published a statement calling Ms. Redford’s leadership campaign “perplexing,” saying she campaigned against a cabinet she was a part of.
However, Ms. Redford drew new people into the party – at a time when the Liberals are rebuilding with their own new leader, mercurial former Tory Raj Sherman, who congratulated her Sunday morning. The new blood included nurse Susan Fields and her mother, a retired nurse, Joan MacKenzie, who voted for Ms. Redford in Edmonton-Riverview, a Liberal-held riding.
“She has far more appeal for the party to go forward,” Ms. Fields said. “She’s not the same old, same old.”