Alison Redford pulls a Christy Clark

In a huge upset win last night, Alison Redford pulled ahead of favourite Gary Mar to win the Progressive Conservative leadership and became the next premier of Alberta.

Mar was a powerful minister in Ralph Klein’s cabinet and had hoped to used that connection to his advantage. Nearly the entire PC caucus had endorsed Mar.

But similar to how Christy Clark won the leadership of the BC Liberals earlier this year, Redford became the anti-establishment candidate, rallying the votes needed to win.

Mar’s concession speech subtly highlights the issues Redford may now face as leader

"I know that I am leaving this province in very good hands. We have a very good team and a strong group of Progressive Conservative supporters," [Mar] said. "And I say ‘progressive’ conservative supporters, that’s very important."

Redford was seen as the more moderate candidate, one who would keep hospitals and schools open, while Mar had openly mused about more health care privatization – a cause he championed for Klein as health minister. By electing Redford as leader, the PCs now risk losing a few more right-wing members to the extremist Wildrose – a party that had been stalled in the polls recently.

This move also threatens newly-minted Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman’s ability to offer a stark alternative to the PC dynasty that has ruled Alberta for more than four decades. Sherman had joined the Liberals after being kicked out of the PC caucus. It may also put the brakes on the  Alberta Party, created as a grassroots centrist option.

Redford’s come-from-behind win is likely to make some PCs recall Ed Stelmach’s unlikely win in the last leadership convention. As the compromise candidate between the more right-wing Ted Morton and more progressive Jim Dinning, Stelmach offered little offensive to party members, and correspondingly offered little of substance as premier. Perhaps we’ll see a revolt against preferential ballots in the party.

In my personal opinion, Redford was the best choice for the PCs, her win symbolically ends the “old boys club” that has dominated Alberta’s political scene for decades and sets up for an election pitting her against the media darling Danielle Smith.

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