Alison Redford returns and tells us to look in the mirror for the reasons for her fall

Posted on March 21, 2015, 2:05 am
13 mins

PHOTOS: Alison Redford leaves Government House on March 13, 2014, supposedly with a “work plan” she must fulfill to keep her job. A week later, she had been fired. Below: Ms. Redford speaks with the media on the night she was chosen as Progressive Conservative Party leader in October 2011; she meets the press again on March 11, 2014, surrounded by Edmonton city officials and her supposedly loyal caucus members, some of whom would give her a shove days later.

Just to start, I have to admit I have a hard time imagining Alison Redford in the kitchen, flour on her hands, baking. Apple pies, presumably.

But that’s how the former Alberta premier portrays herself in Globe and Mail Western Canada columnist Gary Mason’s lengthy account yesterday of how she now sees her fall from grace after a year of “self-analysis.”

Mr. Mason’s story – which sets out Alison Redford’s record as seen by Alison Redford – created a major buzz yesterday among Alberta’s chattering classes. Alas, for all that, it was not terribly illuminating.

Redford11It was headlined, provocatively, “I’m a Polarizing Figure!”

Well, most politicians are polarizing figures, especially the successful ones. Pierre Trudeau was a polarizing figure, and thanks to him we have our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to keep the likes of our current polarizing prime minister in check. Napoleon was a polarizing figure, and he was master of Europe for only 48 hours or so.

Ms. Redford hardly had enough supporters at the end of her political career to be described as polarizing. And no one can accuse her of having accomplished very much during her three years in power.

Leastways, most of her accomplishments, many of the Margaret Thatcher variety, are being dismantled one by one by the current government of Premier Jim Prentice, who was chosen by the Progressive Conservative party to be the Anti-Redford, to restore the party to its former glory and stave off the collapse and defeat that were the likely products of Ms. Redford’s short, unhappy spell at the helm.

The most recent Redford accomplishment to be so renounced was Bill 45, the Public Sector Services Continuation Act, clearly unconstitutional legislation passed by Ms. Redford’s government in December 2013 that established a national benchmark for anti-union bullying, and even banned free speech by any citizen who wanted to comment on labour relations in the public sector.

Just yesterday, Mr. Prentice promised a room full of public-sector union leaders he would repeal the act as quickly as possible, to their enormous relief.

Good for Mr. Mason, I guess, for persuading Ms. Redford to sit down in a Calgary golf course clubhouse for three hours to muse about her three years in Alberta’s top political job. Not so good for him to have tossed over the side the need to point out to readers the obvious factual flaws in her self-serving rendering of events.Redford14

For example, notwithstanding Ms. Redford’s claims to the contrary, there is a documentary record showing she and her staff were deeply involved in the Sky Palace Affair, the secret plan to build a private residence for the premier and her young daughter atop a government building in downtown Edmonton.

As for the rumours of personal impropriety Ms. Redford denies in passing in the column, who cares? These were nothing more than idle gossip among the political classes that never reached the general public and had nothing to do with why voters turned on her.

In Mr. Mason’s story, Ms. Redford’s take on almost every setback she experienced during her brief tenure is that it was someone else’s fault – and that on the issue of gender in particular, we all need to take a long look in the mirror to fully understand how we done her wrong.

She claims, with just enough justification to make it dangerous, that she was unsuccessful because of widespread misogyny, in the party and in Alberta society, and because the PC Party Old Boys never wanted her in the job.

There is nothing new about either of these arguments, which surfaced among her supporters before her political ship finally sank one year ago yesterday. Understandably, they have been part of the narrative ever since.

As has been said in this space before, the idea deserves serious and thoughtful consideration because sexism and misogyny are real phenomena, deeply entrenched in our culture, even among many of us who struggle against it.

But it cannot be denied that Ms. Redford was the only woman who ran for the Progressive Conservative leadership in the fall of 2011, and that her gender certainly did not stop her from winning.

Moreover, during that race, her superior strategy saw her come from behind and surpass several candidates who, whatever their other strengths and weaknesses, had more years of experience and more support in caucus than Ms. Redford – who had the support of only one MLA.

These particular facts, mind you, are interpreted by Ms. Redford to suggest the Old Boys’ Club in caucus never accepted her as premier because of her gender.

There is some truth to this assertion too. And because the PC Party arrogantly threw the selection open to members of the public, if they bought a membership for a nominal fee, the Old Boys gave up some of their control – with, from their perspective, disastrous consequences.

Still, the Tory Old Boys were neither fools nor suicidal. Having seen Ms. Redford elected, it was not in their interests to upset her apple cart. So they mostly jumped aboard and fought hard for her victory in the 2012 general election campaign. Some, like former finance minister Doug Horner, were doggedly loyal long after it was good for his own career.

Moreover, in 2012, the contest to see who would lead the government of Alberta was a contest between two women – Ms. Redford, and Danielle Smith, then the leader of the Wildrose Party, which became the official Opposition after the votes were counted.

The two male party leaders, Brian Mason of the Alberta New Democrats and Raj Sherman of the Alberta Liberals, were also-rans, and at times mere afterthoughts.

Certainly, both Ms. Redford and Ms. Smith were taken seriously by commentators and voters alike.

So Ms. Redford didn’t win the general election because of her gender, and Ms. Smith didn’t lose it because of hers.

Later, with Ms. Redford in office and voters beginning to turn against her in increasing numbers, the preponderance of evidence suggests this had to do with the hard-right policies she implemented and her personal style of leadership.

When her approval ratings fell so low her party panicked, she was pushed out. But when the same PCs suffered a similar crisis of faith with her predecessor, Ed Stelmach, they pushed him out decisively too.

This was done quietly by comparison, but that was more a reflection of Mr. Stelmach’s and Ms. Redford’s personalities than their sex. Mr. Stelmach had had enough. Ms. Redford wanted to stay.

In the end, Mr. Stelmach’s inclination was to go without too much encouragement; Ms. Redford required a hard shove from her panicked fellow PCs – another small misleading point in Mr. Mason’s article, which implies that the decision to depart was Ms. Redford’s alone.

One can make a case that when gender played its most significant role, in 2011 during the leadership campaign, it worked mostly in her favour.

Many of us, myself included, jumped to the conclusion she must possess such positive characteristics as compassion, consensus building and even frugality because she was a woman – even though there was little evidence she’d ever demonstrated those qualities.

Many members of the public, moreover, continued to hold that positive impression of Ms. Redford long after the evidence was strongly pointing the other way.

Whether “not a nice lady” was appropriate terminology for MLA Len Webber to use to describe the premier when he quit the PC caucus to protest her style of leadership and where it was taking the party – an incident emphasized in Mr. Mason’s account – he was pointing to real aspects of her often-imperious character and entitled manner.

Not unlike Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Ms. Redford ruled autocratically, showing contempt both for the concerns of her caucus and the views of the groups that supported her in the 2011 leadership vote and the 2012 general election.

Above all, the policies she implemented, like the outrageous Bill 45, betrayed progressive voters who had elected her and saved her party at a perilous moment in its history.

Surely a politician with an 18-per-cent approval rating, as Ms. Redford had at the end of her career, had more than just men against her.

Ms. Redford is doggedly sticking to the misogyny defence, but the reality that disillusioned her former supporters in droves was that while she promised to be different from the old boys, she turned out to be pretty much the same.

How could anyone with the first-rate mind, as evidenced by her international and professional accomplishments before entering politics, and the huge potential of Ms. Redford go so spectacularly, so catastrophically wrong?

This is a mystery for the ages that we won’t get much help solving from Mr. Mason’s story.

One thing shines through regardless, though. It was Ms. Redford’s sense of entitlement, her lousy policies, her expensive and entitled style, and her betrayal of her political allies on both the right and left that did her in.

For that, she has no one to blame but herself.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

10 Comments to: Alison Redford returns and tells us to look in the mirror for the reasons for her fall

  1. March 21st, 2015

    Alberta needs to face the facts that neocon ‘lets just get government out of the way’ policies are the most slovenly ideology that has resulted from the maximization of short term profit thinking. Alberta – back in the days when government was expected to be an example of the highest ethical public interest standards, say in the day of Ernest C. Manning, at that time, the province was striving to participate in governance for the common good. There was a time that the government of Alberta and the United Nations joined forces to perfect the technology for the tar sands. This project was known as UNITAR, a project of the UN Training and Research division. When the technology for extraction was in place – Alberta walked away from the program. If it had leadership like Northern Europe it would have stuck with UNITAR until there was a closed-loop extraction and recovery of all effluent, but that would be regarded as “nanny state” in the small minds of these utterly phony conservatives.

    Reply
  2. Public Servant

    March 21st, 2015

    I’m not sure why the Globe newspaper would publish this thinly disguised plea for a job, but Redford didn’t do herself any favors. She came across as entitled, arrogant and oblivious which is exactly why she’s looking for work in the first place.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      March 21st, 2015

      The Globe published it because it was a “scoop” that entailed no risk of doing anything actually different from what other publications were doing. I would have done the same in their shoes. I’m sure Ms. Redford intentionally snubbed the Alberta media because she blames them too, along with a long list of others, for her troubles. I do not accept the argument she did this to find a job. Ms. Redford will have no trouble in my view finding rewarding work, in Alberta or elsewhere. No, she truly doesn’t accept that her political fate was her own fault and is compelled to tell the world about it. The anniversary of her announcement provided an opportunity. This may be delusional, but it is quite understandable. Most of us, I suspect, would feel the same way in similar circumstances. DJC

      Reply
  3. Athabascan

    March 21st, 2015

    “Most of us, I suspect, would feel the same way in similar circumstances.” Really? I guess if one is similarly arrogant, deceitful, imperious and mean spirited enough to get themselves into such circumstances, they too would be equally as delusional as Redford, since they would require the same kind of sociopathic personality in the first place.

    However, lucky for society there are very few sociopaths like Redford around.

    Reply
    • CuJoYYC

      March 22nd, 2015

      “ Really? I guess if one is similarly arrogant, deceitful, imperious and mean spirited …”

      I suspect DJC was alluding to the sad reality that most, supposedly sentient, humans instantly eschew person responsibility in favour of finger pointing as it is far easier and less troubling to one’s ego.

      Reply
  4. Expat Albertan

    March 22nd, 2015

    As an aside, it was interesting to follow the rants of right-wing critics in the comments section of past Globe and Mail articles about Alison Redford. Almost exclusively, these delusional comments claimed that she was not a real conservative but a liberal in disguise, going so far as to capitalize the ‘Red’ in her name (of course, nowhere were her anti-labour policies ever discussed). I think it is instructive of the type of mindset in certain parts of the political blogosphere, where if you are not a budget-slashing alcoholic with little more than a high school education, you are automatically suspected as being an unreliable leftie, the evidence, notwithstanding (no disrespect to the many fine people with a high school diploma).

    Reply
  5. ronmac

    March 22nd, 2015

    It was interesting to read the comment section. The common consensus is that
    true Queen Allison was aloof, arrogant and brought the whole thing on herself, she ran afoul of the old boy’s club right from the get go.

    For this reason she was hounded by the media. Unlike the Ralphster who got a free pass. That’s because he was running around like a puppy dog much of the time and you can’t stay mad at a puppy dog for long.

    Let this be a lesson for your kiddies out there thinking about a carreer in politics. You can be a Jerry Jerk or a Jimmy Jackass but when the cameras start rolling you need to morph into a Jolly Joe and aplogize.

    The electorate loves a politician who says they’re sorry. It gives us a sense of moral superiority knowing the people we elect to make decisions on our behalf are fallible human beings. The error of your ways is the excuse we need to put you on a leash. We all like to be in control, especially a puppy that is still feeling its way in the world. That’s a good thing.

    Because the number one rule in politics is that you can’t stay mad at a puppy dog for long.

    Reply
  6. westerner

    March 22nd, 2015

    “How could anyone with the first-rate mind, as evidenced by her international and professional accomplishments before entering politics, and the huge potential of Ms. Redford go so spectacularly, so catastrophically wrong?”

    Her choices are ample evidence of some one who DOES NOT have a first-rate mind. It is painfully obvious.

    Reply
  7. jim

    March 22nd, 2015

    Bill 45 was one of Redford’s only accomplishments. With it gone, we can expect more illegal strikes and similar stunts by unions and that we as taxpayers will foot the bill with no recourse. Prentice has lost my vote.

    Reply
    • Pogo

      March 23rd, 2015

      Alison “Wonderland” Redford was a huge disappointment for very many people. If she had been what she said she was, she would have raged into the legislature with an LED lit flashing icon of Lougheed and challenged any of her countless Brutii to have a go. Instead she tried to juggle scorpians (sic). Politician’s are such frightful hooker like creatures nowadays all contagion and no succour.

      By the way, being an undereducated working stiff, could I impose on someone to lay out Peter Lougheed’s original tax and save scheme and his relationship with that Trudeau person? Maybe a bit of a what if on the NEP might be good too. Thanks P. Go

      Reply

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