Alberta Tories vote for new leader, premier

Albertans will know Saturday night whether Doug Horner, Gary Mar or Alison Redford will be the province's next premier, as Progressive Conservatives begin voting to select a new leader.

Outgoing Premier Ed Stelmach announced resignation in January

Doug Horner (left), Gary Mar and Alison Redford are vying to become Alberta's next premier. (CBC)

Albertans will know Saturday night whether Doug Horner, Gary Mar or Alison Redford will be the province's next premier, as Progressive Conservatives select a new leader.

The three former provincial cabinet ministers are on Saturday's second ballot for the leadership of the Alberta PCs. The winner will replace Ed Stelmach, who announced in January he would resign as party leader and premier.

Mar, the former cabinet minister under Ralph Klein and most recently Alberta's envoy in Washington D.C., emerged as the front runner after first ballot voting on Sept. 17.

Mar, 49, won 41 per cent of the vote, well ahead of Redford and Horner, who finished with 19 and 15 per cent of the support, respectively.

Gary Mar laughs during a campaign stop in Edmonton on Friday. (CBC)

Three other candidates — Ted Morton, Rick Orman and Doug Griffiths — were forced to drop out of the race after failing to win enough votes to progress to the second ballot.

In the two weeks since that strong finish, Mar has taken pains to insist that he's not taking his lead for granted. After all, Ed Stelmach, a former third place first ballot finisher, emerged as the surprise winner in the 2006 leadership race.

"We've been making thousands and thousands of phone calls to individuals to remind them where it is that they can vote and we remind them of the urgency to get out and actually vote," Mar said Friday at a campaign stop at an Edmonton mosque.

Redford loses mother in campaign's last week

The campaign started immediately after Stelmach made a surprise announcement in late January that he was stepping down.

Voting hours

Polls are open Saturday from 9 a.m. MT to 7 p.m. MT across Alberta.

Redford, the former justice minister, and Horner, the former deputy premier and advanced education minister, joined the race in February. They resigned their cabinet posts, following guidelines put in place earlier by Stelmach. 

Redford, 46, suffered a personal setback this week when her mother, Helen Redford, died suddenly in hospital. Redford participated in a televised debate with Mar and Horner the next night, a decision that won her much praise, both for her performance and her resilience in the face of personal adversity.

Alison Redford is applauded Friday by workers at her Calgary campaign office. The Tory leadership candidate was openly emotional as she thanked them for their work on her campaign. (CBC)

Redford believes that debate has added momentum to her campaign.

"I will say it's made a difference and it's a really crappy way for me to get a difference, but the response has been great," she said Friday in Edmonton.

Redford spent part of Friday in Calgary where she became emotional as she thanked supporters at her campaign office.

"This is something that we can all be proud of. I'm proud of you," she said. "I wanted during this campaign to make you proud of what we were doing."

Voters from all political stripes

Horner, 50, is also campaigning hard. The Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert MLA says his volunteers are busy drumming up support.

"The next 24 hours, it's talking to as many people as we possibly can," he said. "It's helping out with the campaign team in whatever way I can."

Although his campaign is still in high gear, Horner is looking forward to the end of a long eight-month race.

"It's going to nice to have it done and I think Albertans want it to be done too," he said. "We feel good. I think there's going to be some interesting surprises."

Doug Horner shakes hands with people Friday during a campaign stop at an Edmonton mosque. (CBC)

Only party members can vote for the three candidates.

In a province that has seen 40 years of consecutive Progressive Conservative governments, Albertans of all political stripes buy party memberships because they believe it gives them a say in who the next premier will be.

Gerry Tighe, a New Democrat, plans to throw away his brand new Tory membership card, right after he votes for Redford.

"Because this province is going to vote PC, then I think making a difference in terms of voting for who I hope will be leader is important," he said.

Members will vote for one of the three candidates between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. at polling stations across the province.

Voter turnout for the first ballot was relatively low. Political observers are watching to see if more people will turn out for Saturday's vote.