EDMONTON — Jim Prentice won the Progressive Conservative leadership race Saturday and will soon be sworn in as Alberta’s 16th premier.
The 58-year-old former Calgary MP handily defeated former provincial cabinet ministers Ric McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk in a vote overshadowed by computer and phone foul-ups that left some members saying they were unable to cast a ballot.
Prentice takes over a PC government that has fallen sharply in the polls this year following the travel and spending controversies of former premier Alison Redford.
“The end of this leadership campaign represents a new beginning for Alberta,” Prentice told party members in a room at the Expo Convention Centre Saturday night, minutes after the vote totals were announced.
“Today we begin the work of restoring trust in government and making Albertans proud of the people who represent them and serve our province.”
Prentice captured almost 77 per cent of the votes cast, more than the 50 per cent plus one needed to avoid a run-off vote.
McIver, the member of the legislature for Calgary-Hays, took 12 per cent.
Lukaszuk, the member for Edmonton-Castle Downs, collected 11 per cent.
Prentice now needs to gain a seat in the legislature and has already promised to call a byelection as soon as possible.
The only vacant seat is the one that was held by Redford, although Neil Brown of Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill has offered to leave his seat so Prentice can run.
The next general election is slated for 2016.
Redford resigned as premier in March with a caucus revolt brewing over her leadership style and spending. She resigned her seat last month ahead of a damning auditor’s report examining her travel expenses.
Prentice had been the favourite from the time he announced his candidacy.
Almost all members of the PC caucus announced their support for him. His campaign raised $1.8 million, more than double the $300,000 raised by Lukaszuk and $417,000 raised by McIver combined.
His pedigree is in federal politics. He served as minister of environment, aboriginal affairs and industry while in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government.
He quit politics in 2010 to take an executive position with CIBC
Harper congratulated Prentice quickly after the results were announced.
“I look forward to working with Mr. Prentice on issues of importance for Albertans and all Canadians, including the economy, responsible resource development and job creation,” Harper said in a news release.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi also added his kudos.
“The new premier will have an eager partner at City Hall,” Nenshi said in a statement.
Prentice has promised to refocus the Tory government and return integrity to it.
During the campaign, he pledged not to hike taxes or tinker with oil royalties. There will be an accelerated paydown of Alberta’s debt and a push to get new schools built.
Prentice has also promised a slimmed-down cabinet to reflect his government’s commitment to fiscal austerity.
He ran a campaign positioning himself as the outsider, untainted by Redford’s scandals Prentice castigated Lukaszuk and McIver for sitting idly by in cabinet during the worst of Redford’s excesses.
Prentice has been pilloried in turn by Lukaszuk and McIver for giving away memberships to supporters. The party had asked all candidates to sell the memberships at $10 apiece.
Lukaszuk and McIver labelled the actions underhanded and undemocratic.
It was the party’s third leadership vote in eight years, and the number of voters continued to decline.
The party announced 23,000 votes in total.
In 2006, 97,000 voted in the first ballot in the campaign ultimately won by Ed Stelmach.
In 2011, 59,000 voted on the first ballot in a race Redford eventually won.
This was the first time the PCs gave voters the option of voting online or by phone as well as casting a ballot in person.
It was a rocky process. Over Friday and Saturday, voters complained that they had not received the required 20-digit PIN. Others had a PIN but were disqualified due to home address mix-ups or for other reasons.
Still others reported facing long delays or not being able to gain access to the system at all.