EDMONTON - Alberta premier-designate Alison Redford stepped into a room teeming with politicians who just days ago weren't her backers and quickly got down to business as their new boss.
Progressive Conservative members — most who did not support Redford's come-from-behind leadership bid last weekend — gave her a standing ovation as she opened her first caucus meeting in Edmonton Tuesday.
Redford later said she wasn't sure what to expect.
"I think a lot of people wondered what caucus was going to be like today, including me," Redford told reporters. "It was fantastic. We had a great time. This is a government that's ready to govern. It's a party that's ready to lead."
She quickly named one of her rivals in the Tory leadership race as her Number 2. Third-place finisher Doug Horner will serve as deputy premier, the post he held under outgoing Premier Ed Stelmach.
Redford also announced that Education Minister Dave Hancock, who backed front-runner Gary Mar for party leader, will remain government house leader.
Redford, who will officially be sworn in as the province's first female premier on Friday, said her yet-to-be named cabinet will take the oath Oct. 12. She offered no hints but previously said she wants to put her own stamp on government and add some new faces to her inner circle.
Redford also moved quickly to squelch criticism from opposition parties. She found herself under fire for initially suggesting that the legislature would not sit in the fall, but changed her mind, announcing Tuesday there will be a fall session starting Oct. 24.
"I wanted to ensure that I had the advice of caucus and that we were ready to go with setting that new agenda," she explained.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith responded in a news release by criticizing Redford for her "flip-flop" on the fall session.
NDP Leader Brian Mason called on Redford to eliminate a conflict of interest by having Ken Hughes, chairman of Alberta Health Services, on her transition team. Redford did just that, announcing that Hughes is taking a leave of absence from his Health Services job.
Stephen Carter, the campaign strategist being widely credited with engineering her upset win, will be Redford's new chief of staff.
The 46-year-old married mother, a rookie legislature member representing former premier Ralph Klein's old riding of Calgary Elbow, delivered a stunning victory over Mar in the leadership race.
A former justice minister under Stelmach, none of Redford's colleagues in cabinet endorsed her.
Hancock supported Mar, but said Tuesday he's happy to serve the new premier. He scoffed at the suggestion Redford wouldn't be prepared for a fall session.
"Have you seen this lady? Unsteady on her feet? I don't think so."
Hancock added he's not concerned about possibly losing his education cabinet post even though Redford campaigned on a promise to rescind cuts to public education.
Redford has said she may have to dip into Alberta's sustainability fund to restore the $107 million cut from the education budget, a decision that forced school boards to fire teachers and hike class sizes.
"What will be will be. We're all part of a team," Hancock said. "You don't come into this as a cabinet minister, you come in as an MLA.
"The premier has a really tough job of putting together a cabinet. She's got to choose what kind of face she wants to put on the government, the direction she wants to take. The rest of us work with it."
Horner said putting the leadership battle aside can be a challenge, but it's necessary for the good of the party.
"We're all adults," Horner said. "We all have to be team players, and I think everybody joins this business with that in mind."
Backbencher Ken Allred said he's impressed with what Redford has done in just a few days, especially given her 71-year-old mother died just days before the final leadership vote.
"She's hit the ground running," said Allred. "She must be just exhausted, but she doesn't show it."
Energy Minister Ron Liepert said Redford's win was unexpected, but has given the party a needed boost.
"I haven't seen excitement in Alberta like this, about our party, in over a decade. And that's good."
However, he said he doesn't support everything the new premier is trying to do. Redford campaigned on the promise to hold an independent inquiry into allegations Alberta doctors have been coerced by bureaucrats to keep quiet about avoidable deaths in the system. She said Tuesday she's not backing down from that promise.
"I don't support it," said Liepert, a former health minister. "I really don't see the need for an inquiry, but if that's what the new premier wants to do, then fine."
Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky said the Health Quality Council, an arm's-length investigative body, needs to first complete its report into the matter by Christmas before an inquiry can be called.
"She wants a full public inquiry to clear the air, and I'm assuming that's what's going to happen in the event the Health Quality Council doesn't clear it first," Zwozdesky said.