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, is the current treasurer of the Western Barley Growers Association. He 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:
Along with Strankman and Stier, the Wildrose Party's roster of candidates for opposition agriculture critic include: