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Danielle Smith wins Alberta UCP leadership, named premier-designate

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After a night of delays, the vote counts came hard and fast, resulting in Danielle Smith being named the UCP’s new leader and Alberta's next premier.

“I’m back,” Smith told the room after taking the stage.

Smith said the night marked the beginning of a new chapter for Alberta.

“It is time for Alberta to take its place as a senior partner in building a strong and unified Canada,” she said.

“No longer will Alberta ask permission from Ottawa to be prosperous and free.

“We will not have our voices silenced or censored.

“We will not be told what we must put in our bodies in order that we may work or travel.

“Albertans, not Ottawa, will chart our own destiny on our terms, and will work with our fellow Canadians to build the most free and prosperous country on earth.”

Smith won on the sixth and final ballot of the night, defeating her closest challenger Travis Toews, a former minister under outgoing UCP leader and premier, Jason Kenney.

She had 53.77 per cent of the votes to Toews' 46.23 per cent.

Brian Jean, Rebecca Schulz, Todd Loewen, Rajan Sawhney and Leela Aheer were all eliminated in earlier rounds.

Smith thanked her fellow candidates, “for their commitment to our party, but also to democracy,” and said she looked forward to working with many of them.

She also thanked Kenney, saying he has fought for Albertans for decades in various capacities.

“First as an advocate for taxpayers, then as one of the most influential conservative cabinet ministers in Canadian history, then leading the charge on unifying the conservative movement, running and beating Rachel Notley's NDP, and then governing as premier for one of the most tumultuous times in Alberta history,” she said.

It apparently won’t be a long wait before Smith takes over the premier’s office.

She said Thursday night she would travel to Edmonton this coming Tuesday to be sworn in.

She said she “can’t wait” to get started.

“If there's one thing I've learned about Albertans, it is that we don't expect our leaders to be perfect, but we do expect them to stay humble, admit when they are wrong and to learn from their mistakes,” she said.

“I love that about our province and am grateful to have earned this second chance from you.

“I will never forget it, and I pledge to you tonight, I will not let you down.”

Loewen, after he was eliminated from the race, said he felt he gave some Albertans a voice in this campaign.

"There were a lot of Albertans that felt they were unheard the last three year," he told CTV News on Thursday.

"I had a lot of support across the province, of course not as much as I'd hoped and not as much as I needed, but we ran a good, hard campaign and we ran a positive campaign."

He says he is still proud of his campaign and that it was good to see so many Albertans buying memberships in the party.

"I'll congratulate (Danielle) happily."

Loewen was not alone in his acceptance as that the vote wasn’t going to go his way.

“I am a team player. I've said that all along. So we will spend every day for the next seven or eight months making sure that we see a conservative government elected here again in Alberta,” Schulz said following her elimination from the race.

Jean, shortly before he was ousted, said whatever comes, it’s a result of the membership speaking, and that’s what matters.

“The main thing is the members have had their say and this is what they want to have happen,” Jean said.

“We'll see where it leads, but we've got to make sure that whatever happens, we stay united.”

Originally, the UCP event and leadership results were expected to begin at 5:30 p.m. MT but were delayed.

More than 250 volunteers were called in to help count about 85,000 ballots, the vast majority of which were cast by mail.

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