Alberta’s first woman premier calls for more than talk about the deplorable treatment of women in politics

Posted on April 06, 2017, 1:53 am
7 mins

PHOTOS: Former Progressive Conservative Premier Alison Redford smiles sadly as she leaves Government House in Edmonton on March 13, 2015, the day her Progressive Conservative caucus made the first steps toward firing her. Below: NDP Premier Rachel Notley, CBC morning show host Mark Connelly and NDP Status of Women Minister Stephanie McLean.

Alison Redford was certainly right when she told a radio interviewer yesterday we need as a democratic society to have a mature conversation about the treatment of women in politics outside the limits of a particular policy debate.

Alberta’s 14th premier, who led the province’s government from October 2011 to March 2014, was also right when she warned it’s hard to separate a discussion of how a politician is treated from the passions aroused by entirely legitimate disagreements over policy. Making that kind of separation takes time for reflection and requires the passions of the moment to fade.

But, as Ms. Redford said, this is not simply a question for the judgment of history – the problem is with us here and now, and not much has changed about the role of misogyny in Alberta politics between when she was premier and the present moment with another woman at the helm, Rachel Notley of the NDP.

“I don’t think things have changed,” Ms. Redford told CBC interviewer Mark Connelly, host of the broadcaster’s Edmonton morning drive show. “I think the only thing that’s changed is we’re talking about it now, if you look at, say, my experience, or what Premier Notley’s gone through.”

Understandably, we’ve not heard much from Ms. Redford since she was in effect driven out of power by her own Progressive Conservative caucus in March 2014. As she observed, the short time she was in power was “a very hairy time in Alberta politics.”

She briefly resurfaced yesterday to try to put to rest one of the controversies that dogged her short-lived government, the role she played in 2012 in selecting the legal consortium conducting the province’s health care cost-recovery lawsuit against the tobacco industry. The consortium she chose – and it seems clear Ms. Redford did the choosing – included a law firm in which her former husband and political confidante was a partner.

On Monday, she was cleared of conflict of interest allegations by the second of two ethics inquiries, the first by Alberta’s former ethics commissioner, and, after new information came to light, the second by British Columbia Ethics Commissioner Paul Fraser.

“Of course my family is pleased with the results,” she told Mr. Connelly yesterday. “It’s something we’ve been living with now for three years, and we’re glad to have that over.”

However, she went on, “if you enter public life you have to have a certain understanding that you will be open to public criticism and that’s entirely appropriate. … It’s the to and fro, the cut and thrust of political debate.”

But there is little question, she argued, that women politicians are held to a different standard than men. “There is a different understanding of how women conduct themselves in politics and what is the public expects of women. Characteristics, you know, that are normally considered attributes in men are not considered to be attributes in women and are sometimes referred to in a derogatory way.

“What I think is hopeful right now is that we’re talking about it,” she told her interlocutor, “that you’re asking those questions, and that there are people thinking about it.

“What I would like us to be able to do is to talk about that outside of the heat of the political debate, and think about it in a way that’s wider. … It’s not necessarily wiser when we’re right in the middle of … a policy debate, to start asking whether or not the political leader who is raising the issue is being treated fairly or unfairly. But after the fact to take a look at those sort of considerations I think is important.”

Certainly, Ms. Redford offered an appealing and persuasive new face to Albertans at the start of her run toward power in 2011. She picked her initial campaign team well, and she placed herself for campaign purposes in the sweet spot of the political-economic psyche of most Albertans – the socially progressive, moderately economically conservative centre.

Alas, once her first government was safely elected in 2012, Ms. Redford, by all accounts a brilliant person, turned from the progressive policies that attracted so many of her supporters, and, worse, became mired in a series of ethical controversies that included not just the so-called “Tobaccogate” affair, but inexplicable schemes like the fakes-on-a-plane passenger-booking scam, excessive spending on travel and the mad decision to secretly build a $2-million private “Sky Palace” residence for her and her daughter atop a government building.

Given all that, I don’t know if history will be kinder to Ms. Redford’s government than commentators were at the time she was in office – it very well may be, as she surely hopes – but it is too soon for that assessment.

It’s not too soon, though, to take her advice to do more than just talk about the deplorable treatment on women in politics by certain actors in Alberta.

Premier Notley’s NDP Government will do just that at 10 a.m. today, when Status of Women Minister Stephanie McLean launches a series of new videos and a second #ReadyForHer tour designed to encourage more women to run for municipal councils and school boards in Alberta’s municipal elections this October.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

24 Comments to: Alberta’s first woman premier calls for more than talk about the deplorable treatment of women in politics

  1. Bob Raynard

    April 6th, 2017

    The best example of the double standard Ms. Redford is talking about showed up during her flight controversy. Yes Ms Redford abused one of the perks of office when she treated the government plane as her private toy, and she deserved the nasty press she got as a result. Now compare that to the free ride Ralph Klein got when he used government planes to fly between Calgary and Edmonton rather than use a commercial flight, primarily because he could smoke on the government plane.

    Reply
  2. Robert Wm Smith

    April 6th, 2017

    Great start David. This is a very important conversation that unfortunately will not be indulged in by the ultra right haters. The bile that is continually and vigorously spewed at Premier Notley is not only beyond the pale and unforgivable, it reflects an attitude toward women in general that literally threatens the safety of our mothers, sisters, daughters and grand daughters. It’s clear that Alberta society has failed to evolve beyond primitive. That said, primitive man may have possessed a greater sense of civility.

    Reply
  3. Anne Peterson

    April 6th, 2017

    I don’t think the scheme to build the sky palace was any more costly than Ralph Klein’s scheme to give the petroleum corporations a buy as far as cleaning up oils wells went. She was probably getting bad messages and felt threatened. I know that’s not justification, but it is understandable in a way. He was just sucking up and being one of the old boys.

    Reply
  4. Val

    April 6th, 2017

    “Premier Notley’s NDP Government will do just that at 10 a.m. today, when Status of Women Minister Stephanie McLean launches a series of new videos and a second #ReadyForHer tour designed to encourage more women to run for municipal councils and school boards in Alberta’s municipal elections this October.”

    usually no one build the house from the roof to foundation. but seems NDP try “progressively” change it.
    how about instead of all that crap, just simply to begin with eliminating pay gap and move forward from this point?

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      April 7th, 2017

      You think we haven’t been trying to eliminate the pay gap… like for several generations now!

      Reply
      • Val

        April 8th, 2017

        reality TV alike shows and empty, obligated to nothing rhetoric and declarations?

        can you elaborate, how exactly and how the quantity of elected women in municipal councils and school boards, could improve well being for couple of million ones, left out of these boards?

        Reply
        • Rocky

          April 8th, 2017

          Let ME explain, Val. Having brain-dead, ignorant, Wildorse illiterates in the Legislature means brain-dead, ignorant illiterates such as yourself get the brain-dead and ignorant policies they wish for and believe in. Women tend on average to be smarter than dopes like you, so, not only would due consideration be given to women’s issues, sadly lacking now, but the quality of decision-making on average would be less brain-dead, ignorant and illiterate. This, in turn, would be a benefit to all of society. Capisce?

          Reply
          • Farmer B

            April 9th, 2017

            I am curious Rocky how an insult laden response such as that adds anything of value to the debate?

          • Val

            April 9th, 2017

            pretty colorful expressions.
            better write and sell poetry than waste such talent on redneck like me.

        • Val Jobson

          April 8th, 2017

          Elected people decide where to spend money. If more women are elected, they will spend more money on women’s priorities.

          Reply
          • Athabascan

            April 13th, 2017

            Hey Val,

            I wish only women were elected that way I could make sure my taxes are spent on women’s priorities like: Education, health care, daycare, family planning, jobs, senior’s care, safer cars, the elimination of violence against women, school lunch programs, and public transportation….

            Come to think of it, I prefer women’s priorities over men’s.

        • Expat Albertan

          April 8th, 2017

          I would if I understood how your question relates to my response.

          Reply
          • Val

            April 9th, 2017

            is there are legislation to regulate equate pay between male and female employees for same work?
            is there law enforcement body with function to control implementation of such legislation?

  5. tom in ontario

    April 6th, 2017

    TV Bright Light Kevin O’Leary just visiting from Beantown as quoted by CBC Edmonton on March 23.
    “Let’s take a Rachel Notley. She is beyond the measure of incompetent. She just let $12 billion leave. She’s a vicious, poisonous, toxic cocktail of mediocrity, incompetence, put together. She requires an extra amount of adult supervision.”

    Kevin and Kenney. Boy what a pair.

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      April 7th, 2017

      Wow, Kevin describes himself to a T! But then that’s ‘transference’ for you.

      Reply
  6. Public Servant

    April 6th, 2017

    Alison Redford was a disaster because she was incompetent, arrogant and entitled. She abused taxpayers at every opportunity. Playing the gender card is her last attempt at rehabilitating her reputation.

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      April 7th, 2017

      Agreed. Redford did more to setback the women’s movement than any man could. If people have low opinion of women in politics she is partly to blame.

      I would not want my daughters to follow in her footsteps or grow up to be like her. Women have no lessons to learn from Redford, unless it’s “do the opposite.”

      Reply
    • Sassy

      April 7th, 2017

      My thoughts, exacyly. Redford was (is) not a friend of women and her type never will be.

      Reply
    • April 7th, 2017

      What reputation? She was a disaster. She was also dealt a poor hand but here demise was of her own doing.

      It could have been so different if she had not dived into the entitlement pool with such gusto or hadnot been so arrogant that she felt she did not have to consult with her Cabinet.

      Reply
  7. Sean

    April 6th, 2017

    I have read (though I am not qualified to speak to the veracity of this) that Redford’s predecessors all were guilty of acts similar to the ones that got her turfed and that the only difference was the tenacity of the media and of her opponents.

    Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      April 8th, 2017

      My gut is making me wonder if you are right, Sean. The plane (ab)use I mentioned above is a concrete example, and I am sure there are others. In the absence of the good old boy persona that Ralph Klein had, Lorne Gunter and Rick Bell had nothing to attach their man crush to and had to look at her policies instead.

      Reply
  8. Douglas Meggison

    April 6th, 2017

    The story would have been strengthened by reminding readers of how venal members of Redford’s own caucus were– contrasting this with the unified and misogyny-free ND caucus.

    Reply
  9. David

    April 6th, 2017

    However history judges Ms. Redford, I do think she was treated much more harshly at times because she was a women. That is not to say she didn’t do many bad things, but I feel some of the things she did would have been more overlooked, ignored or excused if she was a man.

    She certainly was a divisive figure that inspired strong feelings both within her party and among Albertans. First, I think she tried to make her party more progressive than it was comfortable being. Second, I think when the party chose her as leader, they expected she might be a better listener, more interested in compromise and negotiation, perhaps the more stereotypical view of a woman. However, perhaps to the surprise of the tory old guard, she seemed to have more of a Margaret Thatcher leadership style – convinced of her own correctness and superiority and not willing to listen to others much. She certainly isolated herself from the old boys club, but I also suspect some of it was mutual. I am sure there were some in the old guard of the PC’s who could handle being dictated to by a man much better than by a woman.

    I don’t think being a woman led to her downfall or was even the major part of it, but I suspect it did play some role. It is too early for history to judge, I suppose we will have to wait for her memoirs and perhaps those of Hancock, Horner or Lucaszuk to get a better idea of everything that went on during those tumultuous times.

    Reply
  10. albert

    April 7th, 2017

    Alert! This is a very suspect post! I think that if we are a community, we should welcome Allison Redford back to our politics. Yes her choices and the ridiculous opposition she faced from her self destructive party doomed her. Thomas Lukaszuk alone was a death sentence. But then what choices did she have? Horner and Hancock, but she failed to see her own folly. Whatever. Bring her back as an NDP candidate, and tell the real story. The one we all need to hear! The one we’d pray for if we ever tried to walk in her shoes!

    Reply

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