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Former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith looks on as Okotoks town councillor Carrie Fischer defeats her in the Highwood Progressive Conservative nomination race in High River, Alta. on Saturday, March 28, 2015Jordan Verlage/The Canadian Press

Danielle Smith had been one of the most effective opposition leaders Alberta had ever seen. Then last December she upended the province's political establishment by leading the bulk of her Wildrose Party in a mass defection to the government.

On Saturday evening, Progressive-Conservative voters in the riding of Highwood rejected Ms. Smith's bid to be their representative in the next election.

Carrie Fischer, a first-term councillor in the town of Okotoks, will represent the Tories in the riding south of Calgary.

"This is, of course, a mixed emotions day for me," Ms. Smith said, moments after being told of her loss. "I wanted to get a mandate as the PC candidate for Highwood but of course residents felt otherwise."

With 972 ballots cast in the contest, both candidates were in Ms. Smith's hometown of High River to hear the results. The former opposition leader was accompanied by her husband and parents—she had few supporters with her.

Ms. Fischer thanked her opponent for running a fair campaign and promised to win the seat that Ms. Smith held since 2012. An election call is expected within weeks.

"You put your trust in me and I will not take that lightly. I will work hard for Highwood and hard to each and every constituent when an election comes forward," she said.

Ms. Smith called on the province's conservative movement to unite behind the party she once criticized.

"I believe that Jim Prentice is exactly the leader we need right now," she said. "I think it's really important when we are facing such challenging fiscal times for conservatives to unite under Premier Prentice's leadership."

As Tory fortunes plummeted in 2014, Ms. Smith tormented Premier Alison Redford and her interim replacement daily in question period. With the backing of her party, the Wildrose Leader seemed like a credible candidate to win the premier's office and end 43-years of Tory rule.

However that momentum fell apart as Mr. Prentice took over the party. Soon after he was sworn in as premier last September, members of the Wildrose began planning a defection.

Ms. Smith told the Globe that she was losing control of her own party and needed to leave Wildrose after party members rejected an anti-discrimination policy at a general meeting.

In December, Ms. Smith led eight other MLAs across the floor to join the government in an unprecedented move in Canadian history. Thanks to earlier the defections the 17-member opposition was reduced to only five.

Those who felt Ms. Smith should have consulted with Albertans before abandoning her party criticized the move.

In January, Ms. Smith apologized for the way she led the defection, but maintained it was the right thing to do. For many casting ballots in Highwood on Saturday, the defections were still raw.

"I thought it was a slap in the face of democracy for her to cross the floor. I'd vote for almost anybody else over someone who did that," said Ryan Sawatzky in Okotoks. "Carrie is better suited to see our needs. Danielle turned her back on the voters."

In High River, Melanie Collison said she was voting for integrity.

"I would like for us to be represented by someone with integrity," she said. "One of today's contender showed a lack of integrity."

In the hour before Ms. Smith was rebuffed, Wildrose voters elected a new Leader to replace her as the head of the official opposition. Former Conservative MP Brian Jean will lead the Wildrose.

Earlier this month, Mr. Jean's son Michael died as the former Fort McMurray MP campaigned.

Mr. Jean had said before the death that part of the reason he was seeking the Wildrose leadership was to right what he saw was wrong with the province's health system.

"Mikey was a very, very special person. When cleaning his room this week I found a handwritten note," Mr. Jean said in an emotional speech.

"He wrote in his own handwriting: 'What you do for yourself dies with you, but what you do for others remains and is immortal.'"

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