Alison Redford’s emergence as premier of Alberta upset conventional thinking at the Progressive Conservative leadership convention Saturday night as she knocked off perceived front-runner Gary Mar in a prolonged second-ballot vote.
“I think a lot of people were surprised,” said longtime party supporter Shirley Dennis, a Redford supporter from Stettler.
“I was really feeling that maybe she wouldn’t get it, with her mother passing away and everything. The other people (campaign workers) had to pick up for her, basically, but she held it together very well.”
Redford’s mother died just four days before the deciding vote. She overcame that personal setback and knocked off Mar, whose lead seemed insurmountable after first-ballot voting two weeks ago.
When the winner was finally announced early Sunday morning in Edmonton, Redford became the first female premier in Alberta history.
“Some people said that we weren’t ready for a woman to take over,” said Dennis, whose daughter Wanda also backed Redford. “I still think (women) have an uphill battle, though. I don’t mean anything against Alison, but some females just can’t handle power. It just seems to go to their head. (But) I think she’s got a good head on her shoulders.”
Redford, a 46-year-old former justice minister, represents Ralph Klein’s old riding of Calgary-Elbow. She didn’t have much support from cabinet ministers, most of whom endorsed Mar. But her broader appeal gave Redford the support she needed to lead the party into the next provincial election.
“I think everybody is looking for a bit of a change and I think Alison is quite strong, and hopefully she’ll give people what they’re looking for,” said Drumheller-Stettler Progressive Conservative party member Yvette Cassidy, the deputy returning officer for the constituency.
“I think she’s a good leader to have going into the next provincial election. I think she’s strong and she’s smart. She’s very well-spoken. I think that will help going up against the Wildrose.”
As Redford prepares to battle emerging Wildrose leader Danielle Smith in a general election, a major part of each party’s strategy will be trying to tap an indifferent electorate.
The low turnout at the polls for the PC leadership race illustrated a general malaise among voters.
“I think harvest had a lot to do with it,” Cassidy said in trying to pinpoint why there was a dearth of voters for the Sept. 17 ballot and for Saturday’s decisive vote.
“(And there’s) just not a lot of enthusiasm. I still think voter apathy is one of the biggest things they’ve got to get through.”
At the five Drumheller-Stettler polls, 485 people cast ballots, including 197 at the Stettler Recreation Centre poll.
“Not very much (more), but it was up about 20 per cent” from the first ballot turnout, said Cassidy, who wasn’t necessarily surprised when Redford won the top job.
“When we counted the ballots, she was really strong as a second choice, so it didn’t surprise me when she came through.”
Redford gained a 51 per cent victory over Mar after third-place candidate Doug Horner dropped off the ballot, as per rules, and the second-choice candidate on his ballots were redistributed accordingly. The fallout left Redford with 37,104 votes and Mar with 35,491.
Overall, 78,176 votes were cast Saturday for a two-week total of 137,715, which is just 57 percent of the 241,690 votes cast in the two rounds of the 2006 race that saw Ed Stelmach win the premiership.
“I truly wish more people would get out and vote,” Shirley Dennis said from her Stettler home. “Some people talk about, ‘The politicians say they’re going to do something and then they never follow through.’ But we all should get out and vote.”
Drumheller-Stettler MLA Jack Hayden supported Horner, a former deputy premier, in the leadership race. Hayden said beforehand that he was acting on behalf of his constituency association, and that all three finalists would be a worthy leader.
“I’d be proud to work with every one of them,” said the minister of agriculture and rural development.
Redford has ruled out a fall election but she said Albertans would go to the polls within the next 12 months.
The Wildrose party is trying to drum up support in Drumheller-Stettler this week as it picks a candidate to run against Hayden.
Voting began in Stettler on Monday night and winds up Saturday in Hanna.
The names on the Wildrose ballot are Rick Strankman of Altario and Doug Wade of Drumheller.