Alison Redford set out to change Alberta, but she never understood or respected the province
Former Alberta premier Alison Redford worldliness came off as snobbish, Jen Gerson writes.
Jen Gerson | August 6, 2014
CALGARY — There was always something oddly — and, in hindsight, unduly — momentous about the 2011 selection and election of Alison Redford.
To a certain set of Albertan, the kind of people elated over Naheed Nenshi’s win of the Calgary mayoralty the previous year, Ms. Redford was the closest thing to a Liberal premier the province was ever likely to see.
A lawyer who worked for the UN in a succession of overseas postings, Ms. Redford was a worldly pick for a province whose previous premiers included a hard-living journalist and a farmer. To Alberta’s progressives, Alison Redford heralded a new, cosmopolitan era. She was an educated, capable woman from the Peter Lougheed line of Red Tories.
Ms. Redford was going to change Alberta. She was going to change the way others saw Alberta. She was going to change the way Alberta saw itself. Not some arch-conservative backwater oil well: Ms. Redford was going to make this province a leader in Confederation.
Shortly after she was picked by her party to be premier, Ms. Redford met with then-Quebec premier Jean Charest — a friend from her time in Brian Mulroney’s PMO. She spoke French, and discussed a bilateral relations with Alberta’s long time foil.
Ms. Redford resigned as MLA Wednesday, five months after fleeing the premier’s office, transformed from a figure of hope and optimism into a pariah so toxic it threatens to decimate the long-ruling PCs.
Noting the early promise of her tenure, PC Party president Jim McCormick observed in a statement on Wednesday: “Unfortunately, it was her own personal choices that led to her demise.”A few hours later, PC Premier Dave Hancock said the government would refer the latest of her scandals to the RCMP to be investigated.
According to a leaked auditor report obtained by the CBC, Ms. Redford’s office booked fake passengers on government planes in order to ensure the premier could fly alone, unmolested by her caucus or staff. She also reportedly used those planes for personal use, including taking an apparent family holiday to Jasper, as much of southern Alberta managed catastrophic flooding last year. The full auditor general report is slated to be released to the public on Thursday.
In most of history’s better tragedies, the protagonist’s downfall can be divined from her strengths. This is true of Ms. Redford.
Albertans pride themselves on being “severely normal” people. Blunt, successful, perhaps acquisitive — as a whole, we have perhaps too much tolerance for corruption, and too little for affectation.
Ms. Redford’s worldliness came off as snobbish. Her talk of changing a wildly successful province, off-putting and insulting.
When she was elected in 2012, the Globe and Mail wrote, infamously “Alberta steps into the present” on its front page. To this day, nothing better sums up the disconnect between the Canadian elite and Edmonton.
And yet, Ms. Redford’s ambitious progressivism didn’t do much good, even among those who saw her as a harbinger of an enlightened Alberta.
She failed to make Keystone XL or the Northern Gateway pipeline more palatable to a world increasingly wary of Alberta’s key product. If anything, antipathy toward the oil sands only grew under her tenure, despite her plans to create some vague Canadian Energy Strategy that no one could quite define.
Her frequent trips to the U.S., and delegations to India and Davos, Switzerland, alienated the taxpayers left at home. It was often said Ms. Redford visited India before she went to Rocky Mountain House. This penchant for expensive, taxpayer-funded international travel only contributed to her increasingly corroded brand, that of an out-of-touch, high-living UN bureaucrat at the trough.
If one wants a sense of how deep the problem was, look to her final resignation letter, penned and published in Alberta newspapers on Wednesday.
“I was appointed by the United Nations as one of the Four International Election Commissioners to administer Afghanistan’s first parliamentary election. I have had assignments in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Namibia, Uganda, Vietnam, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and the Philippines. I had the privilege of working in many places where people had a choice to look forward or to look back. For them, the past offered no solutions, no prospects for a better quality of life. Whether they liked it or not, they had to embrace change, believe in the future, and find a way to make it better than the past.”