In a contest few were willing or able to call, Alberta's ruling Progressive Conservatives handily held onto majority government Monday night, but had to leave their agriculture minister behind.
Evan Berger finished a solid second in his riding of Livingstone-MacLeod, on a night which also saw former ag ministers Jack Hayden and Ty Lund fall to the upstart right-of-centre Wildrose Party.
The Wildrose, formed in 2008 from the former Alberta Alliance party and led since 2009 by Danielle Smith, fell far short of widely held expectations that it would either beat Alison Redford's Tories or hold the Tories to their first minority in decades.
While the Wildrose won most of rural southern Alberta, it won just two seats in Calgary and only one seat north of Camrose.
Late Monday night, the Tories were elected or leading in 61 ridings, compared to just 17 for the Wildrose, five for the Liberals and four for the New Democrats, allowing all three opposition parties to hold official party status in the legislature. All four party leaders, including Redford, Smith, the Liberals' Raj Sherman and NDP's Brian Mason, kept their seats.
Berger, with 80 of 81 polls reporting, was trailing Wildrose candidate Pat Stier by 8,565 votes to 7,403. Stier, a seismic data consultant and rural planning agent who was raised on a family ranch, was a councillor with the Municipal District of Foothills for three years (2004-07).
Hayden, who Berger replaced as agriculture minister, lost his seat in Drumheller-Stettler on Monday night to Wildrose candidate Rick Strankman, by a score of 7,451 to 6,573 votes.
Strankman, a grain grower at Altario and former treasurer of the Western Barley Growers Association, risked jail time in the mid-1990s for his part in cross-border protests trucking wheat into the U.S., in violation of the Canadian Wheat Board's single marketing desk on wheat exports.
Lund, a farmer and longtime MLA who replaced former premier Ed Stelmach as ag minister in 1999, lost his seat to Wildrose's Joe Anglin on Monday night in the riding of Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre by a score of 7,647 to 6,145 votes.
Berger's loss leaves Redford's Tories searching for a new agriculture minister before the legislature reconvenes. Among the possible candidates is former agriculture minister Doug Horner, who held his riding of Spruce Grove-St. Albert for the Tories on Monday night by a score of 9,928 votes to 4,850 for the Wildrose's Travis Hughes, with 82 of 85 polls reporting.
Other new and returning Tory MLAs with a background in farming or the ag portfolio include:
- Bridget Pastoor, a former agriculture critic for the provincial Liberals, who crossed the floor to the Tories in November last year and was re-elected in Lethbridge-East on Monday with 6,592 votes over 5,147 for Wildrose's Kent Prestage, a former Alberta Wheat Pool staffer;
- Doug Griffiths, formerly a parliamentary assistant to the agriculture minister, who held his Battle River-Wainwright riding by 7,205 votes to 6,710 for Wildrose candidate Dave Nelson, a Metiskow-area rancher and former president of Responsible Firearm Owners of Alberta;
- Hector Goudreau, a farmer, former provincial crop specialist and former municipal affairs minister, who narrowly held his Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley riding with 3,983 votes over 3,756 for Wildrose's Kelly Hudson, a farmer and president of the Rycroft Agricultural Society;
- Wayne Drysdale, a Grande Prairie-area farmer, former board member with Alberta Beef Producers and Alberta Milk Producers, and Redford's deputy whip, who held his seat of Grande Prairie-Wapiti with 6,710 votes over 4,511 for Wildrose's Ethane Jarvis;
- Everett McDonald, a farmer and reeve of the County of Grande Prairie, who won the Grande Prairie-Smoky riding for the Tories with 5,474 votes over 4,901 for Wildrose's Todd Loewen, a farmer and outfitter; and
- Maureen Kubinec, whose family farms in the Linaria area, and who held the Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock riding for the Tories over a star Wildrose candidate, former Alberta Report editor/publisher and party co-founder Link Byfield, by 7,447 votes to 7,106.
Along with Strankman and Stier, the Wildrose Party's roster of candidates for opposition agriculture critic include:
- Drew Barnes, a Medicine Hat businessman with irrigated farming and ranching interests, who beat the Tories' Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA, farmer Len Mitzel, with 7,112 votes to 4,737;
- Kerry Towle, a former turkey producer, who beat former transportation minister Luke Ouellette in the Innisfail-Smoky Lake riding by 7,091 votes to 6,139;
- Shayne Saskiw, a lawyer and former farmer who beat Redford's transportation minister, rancher Ray Danyluk, by 5,950 votes to 5,417;
- Ian Donovan, a farmer and Vulcan County councillor, who beat Tory candidate John Kolk, a former Chicken Farmers of Canada chairman, by 6,756 votes to 4,477 in the Little Bow riding; and
- Jason Hale, a cow-calf producer and former professional bullfighter, who beat Strathmore-Brooks' incumbent MLA Arno Doerksen, a former Alberta Beef Producers chairman, by 81,58 votes to 5,737.
CORRECTION, April 24, 2012: An earlier version of this article identified Rick Strankman as the treasurer of the Western Barley Growers Association, when in fact he stepped down from the association board in January. Doug McBain of Cremona, Alta. is currently treasurer of the WBGA.