EDMONTON - A Toronto-based conservative advocacy group is questioning the election of Alberta premier-designate Alison Redford.
The National Citizens Coalition says it appears a "highly controversial backroom deal" involving the Alberta Teachers' Association played a major role in her victory.
Coalition CEO Peter Coleman calls Redford's pledge to restore $107 million in education funding a special favour that Alberta can't afford to a special interest group. Coleman says the promise prompted some teachers who aren't really Progressive Conservatives to buy party memberships so they could vote for Redford.
"I think it puts the incoming premier in a bad spot. It doesn't allow her to have a totally clean slate going forward," Coleman said Wednesday from Toronto.
"Are there any special favours by people who have come to vote for you at the last second?"
The coalition suggests Redford used the treasury as her personal piggy bank when she pledged to restore education funding. Coleman said an allegedly Conservative party should be on the side of taxpayers.
Also at issue is the preferential ballot used by the Alberta Tories to elect leaders since 1992. It is used if no candidate wins a majority in the first round of voting. If that happens, the three top candidates move to a second round one or two weeks later.
Voters must list their first, second and third choice in that round. If there is no majority winner, the person finishing third drops off and the second choices on that candidate's ballots are added to the tallies of the top two.
Redford managed to squeak past front-runner Gary Mar by getting more of those second-choice votes.
The coalition suggests the system allows people who are not really Tories to tip the outcome by signing up at the last minute. It says the same thing happened when Ed Stelmach became premier in 2006.
"Alison Redford won a contest with these terribly lax rules — which are rife for abuse," said a coalition news release. "The NCC is calling for a review of the process."
Stephen Carter, architect of Redford's campaign victory who is now her chief of staff, said he really doesn't care what the National Citizens Coalition thinks.
Carter said he's shocked that someone from outside the province is speaking out against how Alberta Tories choose their leaders and what programs the government plans to spend money on.
"We followed the rules and we won," Carter said from Calgary.
"I'm amused that someone from Toronto is picking apart our process and deciding what interests are special interest in the province of Alberta. We are talking about 500,000-plus students in our public education system.
"That is not a special interest. That is our focus."
Redford was attending her mother's funeral Wednesday and was not available for comment.
Bill Smith, president of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta, said the party's leadership selection, first used in 1992 when Ralph Klein was chosen, is fair and open. He said it encourages as many Albertans as possible to take part.
Smith declined to comment on the coalition's statements about Redford and the Alberta Teachers' Association.
The party is bound to review its leadership selection at some point, but probably not until after the next provincial election, he said.
"It is my expectation that, regardless of whether we have a constitutional amendment to change it or not, there will be a committee of some sort struck to review it."