Five years ago today, Alison Redford was sworn in as premier of Alberta … and the wheels fell off the Tory bus

Posted on October 07, 2016, 1:57 am
7 mins

PHOTOS: Alison Redford takes the oath of office as Alberta’s 14th premier. Below: Ms. Redford speaks her first words as premier of Alberta and is greeted by enthusiastic well-wishers as she walks through the Legislature’s Rotunda. Bottom: Gary Mar, whom Ms. Redford defeated for the leadership of the PC party and the premiership of Alberta.

Today is the fifth anniversary of the day the wheels fell off the Tory bus.

That is to say, today is the fifth anniversary of the day Alison Redford was sworn into office as Alberta’s 14th premier, the leader who was supposed to renew the Progressive Conservative Party one more time, as Ed Stelmach, Ralph Klein and Don Getty before her had all been meant to do in their time.

alisonspeaksJim Prentice was supposed to play the same role too, but by then, notwithstanding his own blunders, it may have been too late.

So all this means that yesterday was the last day steady old Eddie, Unlucky Premier No. 13, was at the wheel of Alberta’s PC bus, and while it may have needed a coat of paint and a new set of spark plugs, it was still a perfectly serviceable vehicle.

Once in office, Ms. Redford was sui generis – a phenomenon with no equal in Alberta political history, not even the quasi-revolutionary William Aberhart, who founded the Social Credit dynasty the first PC premier, Peter Lougheed, managed to topple in 1971.

Ms. Redford turned out to be the political equivalent of a hurricane. Indeed, it’s hard to credit that it all even happened … the flights, the fights, the travel scout, the Skypalace … and that it wasn’t just a made-for-TV drama, or maybe a weird dream.

With Ms. Redford at the helm of the four-decade-plus Tory dynasty, the waters rose – literally and figuratively – and in the end the levees couldn’t hold, setting the stage for the election in May 2015 of a majority NDP government led by Rachel Notley in a vote the Tories thought they owned. You wouldn’t think anyone could make this stuff up!

The irony is that when Mr. Stelmach made his considered decision to leave, the Tory brain trust had a plan in place to replace him with Gary Mar, a former Klein Era minister and a schmoozer par excellence. In retrospect, that doesn’t look like such a bad plan.

redfordwellwishersBut Mr. Mar unwisely rolled the dice and flapped his gums about big changes to public health care. I suppose he imagined that that if he won, which then seemed likely, it would give him more scope to actually implement an unpopular role for private health care. It was a blunder, helping to vault Ms. Redford into power – power she lacked the character to manage.

The big question that the future would answer, I wrote on this date five years ago, was “if Premier Redford can sustain the toughness and focus, not to mention hang onto the good luck, that marked her leadership campaign.” We know the answer now.

Beyond that, there wasn’t much of substance to report about the ceremony at the Alberta Legislature:

“Ms. Redford’s swearing-in was cheerful, upbeat and mercifully warm – taking place, as it did, in the crowded confines of the Legislative rotunda. Security was tight, but not overwhelming. The speeches contained enough references to the Almighty to sound suspiciously like an American political event. …

“Someone sang O Canada, pleasantly if a little off key and pitched too low for even determined public singers to yodel along. There was a bagpiper. Everyone who was there seemed to have a fine time, even quite a few of Ms. Redford’s political opponents, a genus that may include several members of her caucus. There were chocolate-chip cookies, which were really quite good by Legislative standards.”

garymarIt was all downhill from there, though. It ended on the evening of March 23, 2014, four days after a very Albertan coup in which Ms. Redford was effectively sent packing by her own Legislative caucus.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we can see it was already likely too late. We can also see Ms. Redford, who seemed so right when she was chosen, was exactly the wrong leader to take up the reins of a party that assumed it ruled by divine right, and which otherwise had forgotten what it was there to do.

Chosen with so much hope, she had turned out to be an arrogant and inconsistent leader, perpetually persuaded she was the smartest person in the room, harsh in her treatment of subordinates, certain she deserved to travel first class, convinced she could casually betray people with whom she had built alliances without consequences for herself or her government.

Who can doubt a smooth old charmer like Mr. Mar, the practical Doug Horner or even a right-wing ideological zealot like Ted Morton, the other front-runners in the Tories’ 2011 leadership race, wouldn’t have done a better job reinventing the party so that it could survive yet another electoral test and last a half a century?

But give her this: Ms. Redford may not have intended to, but she smashed the mould. Alberta politics will never be the same again. And it all started five years ago today.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

10 Comments to: Five years ago today, Alison Redford was sworn in as premier of Alberta … and the wheels fell off the Tory bus

  1. David Khan

    October 7th, 2016

    Five years already? I can’t believe it.

    Reply
  2. Maria

    October 7th, 2016

    I remember it well. My family and several friends, who had never voted conservative, took out party memberships for the single purpose of voting for Ms. Redford. We stood in line among Gary Mar supporters who had just come of a Gary Mar bus. (We had taken out memberships once before for Nancy Betkowski when she ran unsuccessfully against Ralph Klein). Premier Redford may not have worked out for the Conservatives, but her reign worked out well for anyone fed up with the Conservative dictatorship.

    Reply
  3. Bob Raynard

    October 7th, 2016

    I really think Alison Redford’s downfall was the arrogance she showed the fate-determining media. As a non-media person I never really saw the it, but I can imagine how reporters dealing with her directly would, through condescending looks and other body language that the cameras don’t pick up.

    Probably the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Alison Redford was her abuse of the government planes. I have always been frustrated that so much was made of Redford’s use of the planes when Ralph Klein got a complete free pass when he wasted thousands of dollars using the government plane travelling between Edmonton and Calgary, instead of flying commercial, just so he could smoke on the plane. It really strikes me as unfair that Redford should be vilified for it, while Klein remains the darling of the right wing.

    Why did it work out that way? I think it was the simple element of style over substance. If Alison Redford could have been one of the good ole boys, that fulfilled Lorne Gunter’s, Rick Bell’s et al man-crush need, I really think her premiership would have been different. Instead, given David’s comments about arrogance, I assume she just put off the people who decided what kind of spin she would get.

    Reply
  4. Val

    October 7th, 2016

    i guess she isn’t alone among politicians who think salary at $17K per month not enough for modest living.
    beside past NL premier Danny Williams, i don’t know any of, who doesn’t see political work only as a good pay, benefits and achievement of influential power for doing mostly nothing.
    not really see many reason on your side to write about political greed. there are much more small everyday things which impact albertans wellbeing on much greater scale.

    Reply
  5. Anon anon

    October 7th, 2016

    Poor Alison. She was likely shocked more than most of us by her victory and in a fit of paranoia at having won with no insider support, chose that cliche of a blundering Falstaffian villain; Thomas Lukaszuck as her Lt.
    The reason behind the fact that she failed to clean house and establish a new regime before venturing off into Bilderberg land, is a mystery.
    Our little fiefdom does hatch and import some curious egos though.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      October 7th, 2016

      This is a very good point. She was a Tory, for heaven’s sake. She could have cleaned house if she’d acted quickly. I remember the night she won. I was leaving the EXPO Centre in Edmonton at the exact moment in the wee hours her new Sheriff’s Department bodyguard unit was escorting her to the (armoured?) Suburban to take her home, or perhaps in for her first briefing. (The nuclear codes and all that, or whatever the Canadian provincial version of that is.) The look on her face was one of delighted wonderment. I agree with this commenter … Ms. Redford did not expect her victory that night.

      Reply
      • Anon too

        October 8th, 2016

        And Notley has failed to clean house because … ?

        Reply
        • Anon Anon

          October 10th, 2016

          Anon Too; I think she cleaned house on a couple of key levels. Her cabinet is loyal as is her staff. You’re right though, a more thorough housecleaning with a stern legalistic view to accountability, was warranted for senior bureaucrats. In her defense, I believe she sees herself as being able to rehabilitate or at worse manage them with leadership skills that Alison could only have wished for. They do after all know how to keep the lights on.

          Reply
          • Anon Too

            October 12th, 2016

            fair enought, but they also know very well what lights to leave off keeping this rather callow group corralled and away from doing anything substantial to the Wildrose/Con system.

  6. David

    October 11th, 2016

    This is a textbook example of how tired old governments try, but fail to reinvent themselves. She seemed to have all the PC arrogance, but without any of the wisdom that experience could provide. Perhaps with Mar, we might have got a bit more of the latter even though we probably would have had to put up with plenty of the former.

    I think a culture of arrogance develops over time, so I really don’t blame Redford for it completely. It was the environment in the party which she was a part of, so it is not surprising how she governed, given how immersed in it she was.

    The PC’s believed a fresh face would solve their problems and didn’t really learn from the almost close call Redford’s election was. People were looking for change and the PC’s were basically trying to continue to sell the same old thing only in a shinier new package. After her election, people were understandably quite disappointed when they took the wrapping off the package and discovered it was just the same old stuff.

    I suppose being in government may not have given them much time for reflection and self examination. Perhaps now being in opposition will give them more opportunity for this.

    Reply

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