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Veteran Tory minister elected Alberta speaker

Former Alberta Health Minister (now speaker of the Alberta legislature) Gene Zwozdesky speaks with reporters Sept. 13, 2010 following a meeting of provincial and territorial health ministers in St. John's, N.L.

Gary Hebbard/The Canadian Press/Gary Hebbard/The Canadian Press

A veteran Tory cabinet minister, who had been left on the outs under Premier Alison Redford, has been elected speaker of the Alberta legislature.

Just two candidates put their name forward in Wednesday's vote, including one member of the Progressive Conservatives' majority caucus: Gene Zwozdesky.

Other PC candidates who considered running instead decided not to, and rallied around Mr. Zwozdesky, guiding him to a win over Liberal Laurie Blakeman.

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Of Alberta's 87 MLAs, 86 cast ballots, including one spoiled ballot. The legislative clerk said Mr. Zwozdesky won a majority, but the specific total wasn't released.

"I am both humbled and privileged by your votes, by your support," Mr. Zwozdesky told the house, reading from a prepared speech after being dragged to the throne, as is tradition, by the premier, Ms. Redford, and opposition leader, Danielle Smith.

Mr. Zwozdesky pledged to remain as "impartial as I possibly can" in his duties and improve civility in the house. He thanked Ms. Blakeman for running. "Somehow I know if I need help, you'll be there," Mr. Zwozdesky told his Liberal counterpart.

Before the vote, Mr. Zwozdesky had said he was "cautiously optimistic." The six-term Edmonton MLA, former Liberal and four-time cabinet minister - most recently leading the embattled Ministry of Health under former premier Ed Stelmach - replaces Ken Kowalski, who served 15 years as speaker before retiring earlier this year.

Initially, several candidates expressed interest in running for the speaker's role, including former deputy speaker Wayne Cao and fellow PC MLA Mary Anne Jablonski.

Ms. Jablonski said she decided not to run but wanted a PC to be speaker to control the "very spirited chamber," one including a large opposition, led by the Wildrose Party.

"I think we recognize Laurie has some strengths, but I think we also understand it's important for us to have a PC speaker," Ms. Jablonski said.

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Ms. Blakeman had been confident in her chances if several Tories ran, saying "if this is about ability, skill set, and experience - it's mine" and that a win by Mr. Zwozdesky would "signal it's same-old, same-old" under Ms. Redford.

Mr. Zwozdesky, a prominent figure of previous cabinets, was left out when Ms. Redford picked her first cabinet last fall, and was left out again in her second cabinet picked this month. On Wednesday, Ms. Redford congratulated him, saying in a prepared statement that she has "no doubt that Gene's natural exuberance and love for Alberta will serve him well" in the role.

The speaker is meant to be non-partisan, controlling procedures in the legislature and settling disputes. After losing the speaker's race, Ms. Blakeman ran for deputy speaker, saying she'd be the first woman or opposition MLA to hold the post. She was defeated once again by the PC majority, with the party's lone candidate, George Rogers, winning the post.

A speech from the throne is scheduled for Thursday, part of a brief spring session after last month's election.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More

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