Doug Horner brushed aside his election disappointment to give full backing to Alberta’s first-ever female premier, Alison Redford.
“I see myself as a soldier on the battlefield and I have a new commanding officer,” he said. “She will give me orders and I am ready to fulfill them.”
Even in defeat, Horner hailed the efforts of his campaign team.
“I think we did all that we could do. I am very proud of the team, all the volunteers did a great job,” he said. “To be one of the top three candidates in the province makes me immensely proud.”
He also paid tribute to Redford, saying she ran a “strong” campaign and earned her victory through hard work.
MLA for Calgary-Elbow, Redford was elected the 14th premier of Alberta after second-choice ballots were counted in the second round of voting Oct. 1.
She won with the help of Horner’s supporters’ second choices, beating out front-runner Gary Mar for a surprising victory just days after her mother’s death.
“Of course I am disappointed, nobody likes to lose,” said Horner. “But I’m not the kind of person who spends too much time reflecting on what happened. Alison is going to need the support of those around her. I am not one for looking in the rear view mirror.”
The election went down to the wire, with Horner believing he still had a chance of pulling off a victory until late in the process.
During the Oct. 1 polling, voters marked a first and second choice on the ballots. In order to win the race, a candidate had to receive 50 per cent of the votes cast, plus one.
None of the candidates obtained this majority off the bat – Gary Mar was in first with 42.51 per cent, Alison Redford followed suit with 37.09 per cent and Horner placed third with 20.40 per cent – so the second choice on the ballot was taken into account.
That meant Horner was dropped from the ballot and his supporters’ second choices were used to determine the winner, which ultimately gave Redford the premiership with 37,104 votes (51.11 per cent), narrowly beating out Mar’s 35,491 votes (48.89 per cent).
The second ballot had a total of 1,266 votes cast in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock, which was a significant increase over the 680 first-ballot votes cast. Horner took the lead with 902 votes, while Redford placed a distant second with 253 votes. Mar came in last with a mere 111 votes.
Speaker and Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock MLA Ken Kowalski said voters in his riding had given Horner a lot of support.
“In our riding, he did extremely well. I mean, … the second-highest vote count in Alberta for Doug Horner was in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock,” he said.
He added that in the riding, 459 of the second choices on the ballot went to Redford and only 67 went to Mar.
Including the 253 votes she got on her own, Redford received 712 votes in the riding, which was a significant number, Kowalski said.
Across the province, Horner received 15,950 votes, cluding the 902 from his home riding.
In the election aftermath, Horner described himself as disappointed, exhausted, proud and resolutely forward-looking.
He said he believed he had a genuine chance of winning until he saw numbers coming in from communities in the north east of Calgary and southeast Edmonton. In his gut, he knew then that he would come up short.
Barrhead voters, however, did him proud.
“I am very pleased with the support I got in Barrhead,” he said.
Although not one for reflecting too much, Horner believed his campaign stumbled when he appeared not to close the door on a privately funded health service. The message got skewed, even though he tried to correct it.
Horner said he had emerged a stronger person after the months of campaigning and learned valuable lessons.
“I’ve made friends and met a diverse and interesting people,” he said. “I’ve seen the entire province and visited really rural Alberta. It’s a fabulous province.”
He also said he learned a lot about how to run a campaign and how to be a better public representative.
“I have a better appreciation of the concerns of people,” he said.
Horner said the campaign had been exhausting physically and mentally, and had required great sacrifices by his family.
It was too early to say whether he would run for premier again — but it would have to be a very compelling argument to persuade him to do so.
“At the moment I am looking forward to a little bit of down time, before rolling up my sleeves to serve my new leader,” he said.
Although Kowalski publicly supported Horner during the campaign, he said that on Friday night, a day after the most recent leadership debate, he saw the momentum headed in Redford’s favour.
Now a Calgary resident, Kitimat, B.C.-born Redford, 46, is a human rights lawyer, and despite losing her mother and suspending her campaign just four days before the vote, she came out stronger than ever.
Despite a lack in first-choice support of the new premier in the riding, Kowalski said the new leader will do well for the province.
“This woman is articulate, she is intelligent, and she is focused. Everybody knows she’s gutsy,” he said. “She’s got international, national and provincial experience and she handles herself extremely well in the Alberta legislature.”
In her acceptance speech, Redford vowed that teachers would be returning to classrooms, access to health care would be improved and funds would be set aside for future prosperity.
Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith was quick to criticize the new leader, saying in a release, “I would like to remind her that her Progressive Conservative party presided over the deterioration of our public finances, property rights, democratic institutions, public health care and social services, as well as the complete erosion of our once proud Alberta Advantage.”
The release went on to say that the Wildrose will pay close attention to the decisions made the Tories to ensure they are what is best for Albertans.
Voter turnout jumped throughout the province, from roughly 60,000 in the first ballot to more than 78,000 this time around. However, it was a steep decline from the 2006 leadership race, when more than 144,000 voters cast a ballot in the second round.
“That’s been the norm for the previous two. There’s always been more people going out the second time because the choices are fewer and they’re clearer and the same thing held true again this time,” Kowalski said. “People don’t get that interested in these things until pretty much the end. It’s like watching the World Series. Who’s watching the first couple of games? They’ll really watch the last seven games.”
He attributed the decrease to a variety of factors, adding that people are back to school, and in rural areas many people are busy with the harvest.
Redford’s swearing-in date had not yet been determined, but she said in her acceptance speech that she hopes to do it sooner rather than later.