POLITICS
12/14/2011 01:25 EST | Updated 02/13/2012 05:12 EST

'Mixed emotions' for Tory hopeful turned Alberta trade agent Gary Mar

EDMONTON - Two months after seeing his dream of becoming Alberta premier implode, Gary Mar says he's moved on.

Mar, 49, says he's focused on heading to Hong Kong by the start of the new year to begin work as Alberta's trade envoy.

"I'm not interested in talking about the leadership race," Mar said Wednesday in his first public comments since his Oct. 2 loss to Alison Redford on the second ballot of the Tory party vote.

"I will say this: the province of Alberta has a premier and the Progressive Conservative party has selected its leader. I support that leader and I support this premier."

It was a bitter defeat for Mar. He was a former health minister and was serving as Alberta's envoy in Washington last spring when he quit to run in the race to replace former premier Ed Stelmach.

Mar was considered the front-runner. His campaign had the most money and the support of most Progressive Conservative legislature members. He also had the most first-place votes from all parts of the province in both rounds of balloting.

But under the party's preferential balloting, a candidate has to gain a majority outright to win. When Mar failed to do so, second-choice candidates were factored in, putting Redford over the top. Two weeks later, she named Mar to the Hong Kong post.

He will oversee all six trade offices in Asia — three of them in China — and will co-ordinate how to boost Alberta exports to and investment opportunities in a highly competitive region.

"We as Albertans are not the first to recognize the importance of this marketplace. Other jurisdictions, other countries, other states, are also interested in working in this area, which emphasizes the need to have a strong and co-ordinated approach to Asia-Pacific."

The value of Alberta exports to the region was $6.5 billion last year.

Mar became emotional, his voice catching, when he was asked about moving his wife and three children to Hong Kong. He said he leaves with "mixed emotions."

"This province has been my family's home for over a hundred years, and I want it to be my family's home for the next 100 years," he said.

"In order to ensure that my children and my grandchildren will always have the opportunity to stay in this province, it will be important for us to make sure that our economic growth as a province continues.

"By taking on this responsibility, I can help make this happen."

Mar had served as Alberta's envoy to Washington for three years.

One of his files was the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. TransCanada's proposed line would run crude oil from Alberta through the U.S. heartland to upgraders in Texas.

Environmentalists, including some Hollywood celebrities, staged protest rallies against the line this year. They said it would solidify American dependence on oilsands crude, which they say is too environmentally harmful to justify. There was also concern that the line would run through a critical aquifer in Nebraska.

Last month, the U.S. State Department announced it was delaying the decision to 2013 to further examine environmental impacts. Critics said politics played a part as the controversy threatened to become an issue in next year's presidential election.

Mar said a combination of publicity and pipeline mishaps led U.S. President Barack Obama to act.

"He indicated it was because of the State Department, but I believe the State Department was acting as an arm of the president's decision to delay the Keystone decision. And that is perfectly within the jurisdiction of a sovereign government to do so."

Former Calgary mayor Dave Bronconnier is taking over from Mar in Washington.