As the Progressive Conservatives enter the home stretch in their provincial leadership race, Drumheller-Stettler MLA Jack Hayden watches from a familiar position.
Hayden’s preferred candidate, Doug Horner, placed third in the first ballot Sept. 17. That’s the same slot from which Ed Stelmach climbed in 2006 to win the leadership and become Alberta’s premier.
“The last one was wonderful,” Hayden recalled of the 2006 vote. “I was Ed’s rural campaign manager, so I rode the bus with him for the last several months of that campaign.”
“So, being in this position going into the final vote, I’m very comfortable. I’ve been there before.”
Three of this year’s six candidates gained enough votes in Round 1 to advance to this Saturday’s second ballot. Emerging as the clear front-runner was Gary Mar, who picked up 24,195 (41 per cent) of the 59,359 votes cast in the first ballot. Alison Redford ranked second with 11,127 votes (19 per cent), while Horner garnered 8,635 votes (14.5 per cent). Horner collected 91 votes in the Drumheller-Stettler riding, where he ran second only to Mar’s 100-vote tally.
From the outset of the campaign, Hayden decided to stick with his constituency executive’s choice and support Horner, a 50-year-old Edmonton area MLA who was the deputy premier.
“As a constituency executive, we sat down and made up a list of the things that we wanted to see in the new premier for the province of Alberta,” said Hayden, the minister of agriculture and rural development. “Then we heard from all the candidates, and my executive asked them questions and then we sat down again and went through the democratic process and had a vote to decide who collectively we would support in this race. And we chose Doug Horner.”
“Doug is a past minister of agriculture. He’s in touch with agricultural community. He has roots in our community. He actually lived in our constituency at one time. His uncle is (former MP) Jack Horner, who lived south of Hanna and ranched down there. Two of his first cousins are still down there. So he understands the history of the area and he understands the needs of our area.”
Hayden plans to be in Horner’s camp Saturday when the second-ballot results are released.
Hayden was otherwise occupied Sept. 17 during first-round balloting.
“I performed the wedding for my daughter,” he said with a smile. “I went to the advance poll so that I made sure I got my vote in, but (this) Saturday, I’ll be with my candidate.”
Across the province, a low turnout for first-ballot voting was blamed, in part, on the timing. For many rural Albertans, the election date conflicted with the heart of harvest season.
“Of course, every combine in the constituency was running (that) Saturday, which was not good for voting,” Hayden said. “But people are getting their grain cleaned up and, judging by the phone calls that are coming in, there’s a lot of interest.”
“And the three candidates that are left are all wonderful people. I’ve worked with all of them. So this is great … as we go down the road here toward the last vote, I am so comfortable, because I’d be proud to work with every one of them.”
After their first-ballot elimination, all three defeated candidates — Ted Morton, Rick Orman and Doug Griffiths — publicly declared their support for Mar.
Redford mapped out her strategy last week as she endorsed Horner as her preferred second choice on the second ballot.
Redford and Horner share “a set of values,” she told reporters Friday in Calgary. “I’m very proud of the fact that Doug decided to stay in the race. He’s very proud of his campaign workers and I think that his values around what we need to do as a party to ensure that we have a vibrant leadership selection process are the same as mine. My campaign team and supporters will make their choices, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see constituencies there.”
The polling stations for this Saturday’s run-off vote include a poll at the Stettler Recreation Centre, where 160 party members cast ballots on Sept. 17.