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Ralph Klein to vote for former cabinet minister Gary Mar for party leadership Add to ...

Two former Alberta premiers have endorsed candidates vying for the Progressive Conservative party leadership.

Don Getty, who was premier from 1985 to 1992, is backing former deputy premier Doug Horner, 50, in the race, while Mr. Getty’s successor, Ralph Klein, will be voting for former cabinet minister Gary Mar.

Mr. Getty served in government with Mr. Horner’s father, Hugh, and sees the candidate as someone who has the rural and urban connections to represent all of the province.

“Doug’s a lot like his dad, and I’m happy to support him,” Mr. Getty told The Globe and Mail. “He’s also got his roots in the rural side, but he actually lives very close to Edmonton, so I think he’s got talent that I like. He’s quiet, but strong, and has a feel for the whole province.”

Mr. Getty prefers Mr. Horner to his own former cabinet minister Rick Orman, who is attempting a political comeback after an 18-year absence. “Rick’s a damn good candidate, but there’s just too many of them,” Mr. Getty said.

Mr. Orman shrugged off the decision, saying he entered the race late and many had already committed to support rivals. “That’s the way politics is – if you’re not in at the beginning, a lot of people get committed and they feel an obligation once they’re committed.”

Mr. Getty’s endorsement is symbolic but hardly significant – he’s long been out of politics and has no formal active role. His government also ran the same types of steep and unpopular deficits that plague the current government.

“Don Getty’s endorsement doesn’t add up to a great deal,” said David Taras, a political scientist at Calgary’s Mount Royal University. “I say that with respect, but it’s not as if there’s armies of voters who are going to swing into action because Don Getty has just blown the whistle: ‘Here’s my choice.’ “

Mr. Klein, meanwhile, is battling frontotemporal dementia and is not making public appearances, but will be casting a vote for Mr. Mar.

“I can confirm in discussion with him and [wife] Colleen they’re probably going to be casting their votes for Mr. Mar,” said Rod Love, Mr. Klein’s long-time chief of staff. “They’re not going to be doing phoning, talking or anything that can even remotely be considered campaigning for them... It can’t be construed as throwing their support, or campaigning or anything like that.”

However, of the four premiers to hold office since the PCs first formed government in 1971, Mr. Getty and Mr. Klein seem poised to be the only ones to make their preference public. Peter Lougheed has avoided stepping into the fray and there’s nothing to suggest he’ll change his mind, while departing Premier Ed Stelmach has, at the advice of staff, stayed neutral.

Among supporters of the former premiers, there’s much backing for Mr. Horner. One of Mr. Lougheed’s sons, Stephen, works in the Horner camp, and Mr. Horner shares nearly all of the same caucus support that delivered Mr. Stelmach, a soft-spoken farmer, to power in 2006.

“Certainly we’ve had good relationships over the years. Premier Getty, premier Lougheed – I’ve known them since I was a kid,” Mr. Horner said.

Mr. Horner has distanced himself from Mr. Stelmach. His campaign emphasizes his rural roots and the fact he worked internationally in agriculture marketing before running for office, but also that he’s not a farmer, an apparent effort to battle the perception that he’s Mr. Stelmach’s heir apparent.

Mr. Horner has also offered veiled critiques of Mr. Stelmach. “If I was happy with the way we’re making decisions, I wouldn’t be running,” he said.

Mr. Horner is the only PC leadership candidate from the greater Edmonton region, where Mr. Getty and Mr. Stelmach also live. Many within the PC party would, however, prefer a leader from the Calgary area. Nonetheless, Mr. Horner was pleased to have Mr. Getty’s backing.

“Endorsements are not geographic. Endorsements are about character and quality and leadership attributes,” Mr. Horner said. “He’s someone, from a political perspective, that’s nice to be able to phone and say – what do you think?”

Follow on Twitter: @josh_wingrove

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