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Rodney MacDonald (CP Photo)

Rodney MacDonald won a second-ballot victory to become the leader of the Nova Scotia Conservatives and premier-designate of the province.

MacDonald, the 34-year-old minister of tourism, beat former insurance executive Bill Black by 1,263 votes to 855 on Saturday.

"Friends, today I am humbled, but I am ready," he said, citing his experience, energy, enthusiasm and plans.

The Conservatives have a minority in the provincial legislature but MacDonald will become premier because they form the government.

He led the first ballot with 789 votes, but did not have enough to claim victory. That came after former provincial finance minister Neil LeBlanc was eliminated from the second ballot, and threw his support to MacDonald.

MacDonald, from Cape Breton, will be sworn in on Feb. 24. He was first elected in 1999. Before entering politics, he was best known as a fiddler and small town gym teacher.

Premier John Hamm sparked the leadership contest by announcing his retirement last fall after 10 years in politics, including more than six as premier.

Hamm praised

Some of the delegates had to brave blizzards to get to downtown Halifax Friday for Hamm's farewell party. The sendoff featured tributes from political allies near and far.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper flew to Halifax to pay tribute to the 67-year-old former family doctor for his years in office.

Harper said Hamm's legacy to Nova Scotians of the future is the agreement that forced Ottawa to give Nova Scotia 100 per cent control of its offshore resources.

A past federal Conservative leader also had a campaign story to tell by videotape. Quebec Premier Jean Charest recalled a visit to a Halifax tavern in 1997.

"And lo and behold what does John Hamm have to drink to connect with the good people and the blue collar workers of Nova Scotia? A good solid glass of milk. John, to your good health," Charest said.

Hamm, who plans to remain a member of the legislature until the next election, may have a role in shaping federal policy. Conservative insiders in Ottawa say he has been short-listed for the job of helping deliver Harper's campaign pledge to reduce health-care wait times.