Albertans have elected another Progressive Conservative majority government, making Alison Redford the province's first elected female premier.
The Tories, led by Redford, were elected in 61 ridings and captured 44 per cent of the popular vote. The Wildrose is elected in 17 and had 34.5 per cent of the vote. The Liberals took five seats, while the NDP claimed four ridings.
Voters have elected 11 Tory majorities in a row — this will be the 12th — since Peter Lougheed first led his party to power in 1971, but polling during this campaign suggested the streak could end.
In the end, voters turned out in large numbers, suggesting that strategic voting to keep the Wildrose Party out of power may have played a role in the Tory win.
"Every Albertan knew that this election was about choice," Redford told cheering supporters in her victory speech at the Metropolitan Centre in downtown Calgary.
"A choice between to put up walls or to build bridges. A choice about Alberta's future. Tonight, Alberta chose to build bridges."
For Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, the result means her party will form the Official Opposition.
"We found out that change might take a little longer than we thought," Smith told party faithful in her Highwood riding, where she won over her Tory competitor, John Barlow.
"We knew that when we started this project that we had our work cut out for us, but the growth of Wildrose is nothing short of remarkable."
Redford, who was re-elected in her riding of Calgary–Elbow, became Alberta premier in October, when she won the leadership of the Alberta PC Party.
NDP Leader Brian Mason was re-elected in Edmonton–Highlands–Norwood. Liberal Leader Raj Sherman was re-elected in a close race in Edmonton–Meadowlark, a riding he first won as a Tory in 2008.
Sherman will be joined in the Liberal caucus by four incumbents: former leader David Swann, re-elected in Calgary-Mountain View, Kent Hehr from Calgary-Buffalo, Laurie Blakeman in Edmonton-Centre and Darshan Kang in Calgary-McCall.
The Liberals failed to keep Edmonton–Gold Bar, a seat that was held by longtime MLA Hugh MacDonald, who retired from politics. The riding was won instead by PC David Dorward, who beat NDP candidate Marlin Schmidt and Liberal Josipa Petrunic, who placed second and third, respectively.
"Tonight the people of Alberta have made a decision, and although it may not be the decision we had hoped for as Liberals,... we must remember a great maxim of democracy: The people are wise," Sherman said. "It is out of great deference and respect for that wisdom that I congratulate Alison Redford and the Progressive Conservative Party."
NDP incumbent Rachel Notley was elected to a second term in Edmonton–Strathcona. Notley and Mason will be joined in the NDP caucus by David Eggen in Edmonton–Calder and Deron Bilous in Edmonton–Beverly–Clareview
"I can tell you, we're going to have a renewed NDP opposition in that legislature," Mason told an enthusiastic crowd at a downtown Edmonton hotel.
Pollster and CBC analyst Bruce Cameron suggested the Tories may have benefited from strategic voting, where people who would normally vote for the Liberals and the NDP voted for the Tories in a bid to keep the Wildrose from power. Some centrist and left-wing voters expressed concern over the issue of conscience rights and the racist and anti-gay comments made by two Wildrose candidates.
"The social and moral and ethical issues that the Wildrose raised in the last week really brought some of those Liberal and ND voters over, and that's what really contributed to the massive win," Cameron said.
Many members of Redford's cabinet were re-elected, including Thomas Lukaszuk in Edmonton–Castledowns, Dave Hancock in Edmonton–Whitemud, Verlyn Olson in Wetaskiwin-Camrose, Doug Horner in Spruce Grove–St. Albert and Jonathan Denis in Calgary–Acadia.
Four Tory cabinet ministers lost to Wildrose candidates: Ted Morton was defeated by Bruce McAllister in Chestermere–Rockyview, Ray Danyluk lost to Shayne Askiw in Lac La Biche–St. Paul, Evan Berger fell to Pat Stier in Livingtone–Macleod and Jack Hayden lost to Rick Strankman in Drumheller–Stettler.
The Wildrose Party had four MLAs when the election was called on March 26. The Tories had 66 seats, the Liberals had eight, the NDP held two and the Alberta Party had one.
Smith's hope for 'big change' dashed
All four leaders were optimistic as they voted on Monday.
"I voted strategically," Smith joked to photographers as she cast her ballot at the Highwood Memorial Centre in High River.
The Wildrose leader then quickly walked to a waiting car with her husband, David Moretta. "We certainly hope there is big change," she said.
NDP Leader Mason cast his ballot in his riding, then said "thank goodness it's over" afterward with a laugh.
"I enjoyed myself very much during this campaign. I think we got some really good messages out to people, we showed people what was possible.... I'm looking forward to some good results tonight."
Mason said he felt his party had momentum during the campaign and should pick up seats, particularly in Edmonton.
Liberal Leader Sherman pulled up to his polling station at the Edmonton Arts Centre in his campaign's red pickup truck.
Clad in a red shirt with a red scarf draped around his neck, Sherman chatted with campaign workers about turnout and thanked them for their work.
"Here it goes. The change of government, right here," Sherman said as he placed his ballot in the box.
Sherman declined to predict how many seats his party would win, joking that it would be between "zero and 87."
Redford walked with her daughter Sarah to cast her ballot at a Calgary elementary school.
After making her choice, Redford put her arm around her school-age child, instructing her to look at the cameras as they both placed the ballot into the box.
"I always take Sarah with me to vote. So it was nice that we could go to together," she told reporters afterward. "It's going to be an exciting day. I think there's a lot of people out voting, and I have a very optimistic view of the world."
Redford then hit the road, making stops in Edmonton, Leduc, Innisfail and Red Deer for photo opportunities before returning to Calgary.