Alison Redford, as Alberta’s new premier, on the campaign trail in 2012 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Seven years ago today, Alison Redford resigned as premier of Alberta. 

Her rise and fall were swift. Unexpectedly chosen to replace the departing Progressive Conservative premier, Ed Stelmach, in the wee hours of Oct. 2, 2011, she was sworn in six days later. She survived an election the PCs had been thought likely to lose to the far-right Wildrose Party on April 23, 2012. 

Ms. Redford in the wee hours of Oct. 2, 2011, surrounded by some of the usual suspects of the old PC Party and the new UCP as well (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

But her time as premier did not go smoothly and did not last long.  

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

By the end of 2014, most of those who knew her were as astounded by what had happened as those of us who did not.

Certainly Ms. Redford lacked support in key corners of her own PC Party. And it was not just the party “Old Boys” who didn’t like her and wanted her to fail, although that was manifestly the case. Many of the ideologues and financial bagmen who lurk in the shadows of conservative politics did what they could to ensure her failure too. 

Subverting the progressive and democratic instincts of Ed Stelmach, which were at least talked about by Ms. Redford when it appeared they were the key to her victory, was why those operators bankrolled the Wildrose Party in the first place.

So even if Ms. Redford had done everything right, things might well have ended in tears for her and her most ardent supporters.

Unquestionably, though, in 2011 and 2012 she offered an appealing and persuasive new face to Albertans. 

Ms. Redford, deeply tired, campaigning for her political life a few days before the end of her leadership in 2014 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

She picked her initial campaign team well, and placed herself in the sweet spot of the political-economic psyche of most Albertans – the moderately conservative centre, with a strong dose of progressivism on social issues.

Were those Ms. Redford’s own views, or the clever positioning of Stephen Carter, the sharp political advisor she hired to run her campaign and be her first chief of staff? 

Après le déluge in 2014, the prevailing view was that Ms. Redford was a tabula rasa upon which Mr. Carter had written, and the whole project went to hell in a hand basket when he left her staff.

I was not so sure in 2014, and I am less sure now. I suspect her progressive beliefs were sincere, but that they fell prey to a number of factors later in her premiership – among them bad advice from the out-of-province advisors with whom she replaced Mr. Carter, pressure and conniving from the economic and social conservative right within PC Party circles, the constant attacks of the Wildrose opposition, and the flaws in her own character.

Stephen Carter, manager of the Redford leadership campaign and later Ms. Redford’s chief of staff (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, Ms. Redford cannot be excused from her own role in her downfall. 

We know many of her advisors complained she wouldn’t listen to them. We don’t know what they advised her to do. Listen or not, whatever she was told, what on earth could have persuaded a brilliant woman to countenance unethical and transparent schemes like the fakes-on-a-plane scam, to have thought it was appropriate to spend $45,000 in public funds for herself and one aide to travel to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral, or to have allowed plans to proceed to secretly build a $2-million private residence for her and her daughter atop a government building?

It beggars the imagination, then and now. 

Still, I doubt Ms. Redford came up with all this herself. That said, there is little doubt the fundamental flaw in her character was that she simply never got it that it wasn’t all about Alison. In that, alas, she is hardly unique.

Jason Kenney, campaigning to lead the UCP in 2017 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The real tragedy of Alison Redford, though is that she really could have helped to build a better society in Alberta and ease this province away from the real catastrophe it had been driving toward since Ralph Klein’s premiership. 

That is, to be nothing but an undemocratic petrostate, the beneficiaries of which will simply walk away with their bags of money when the party is over.

Ms. Redford could have made a bigger difference — and certainly wanted to make a difference — if only she could somehow have conquered her own personal demons.

Instead, she chose — or was pushed, or both — to betray her own promises and turn on her most enthusiastic supporters, and to behave in ways that were both bound to be discovered and to destroy any chance of success she may have had.

Maybe in the end, she was just too persuasive for the flawed person she turned out to be, and therefore we were all bound for disappointment. Her departure – she was in effect fired by her own caucus – represented a genuine tragedy, a lost opportunity for Alberta, and for Ms. Redford herself. 

Rachel Notley, Alberta’s NDP premier and later its Opposition leader (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

However, while she may not have succeeded, she changed the place all the same, igniting a longing among many Albertans for a more progressive government, more in tune with the era, with the realities of a changing world.

At the end of 2014, the question asked by many Albertans was, How can we build a better Alberta now that Ms. Redford has burned our bridges, as well as hers?

The PCs thought they had found the answer: Jim Prentice, come from Ottawa, to restore the Tory Dynasty founded by Peter Lougheed. Albertans begged to disagree. 

By the spring of 2015, when Mr. Prentice called an early election after persuading much of the Wildrose Opposition Caucus to cross the floor and join the PCs, Albertans had found a better answer of their own. 

They elected the NDP led by Rachel Notley to a majority government. And while it had its flaws, as all governments do, it turned out to be a pretty good government too.

Jim Prentice, who was supposed to be the answer to the PCs’ problems, and turned out not to be (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This has been seen in retrospect as a triumph of Ms. Redford’s flaws. The government that followed the NDP, the United Conservative Party led by Jason Kenney, would very much like you to see the NDP as a fluke that was partly the fault of Ms. Redford.

But in a way it was a triumph of her best qualities too – her progressive instincts, at the very least, ignited the hope Alberta really could be a better place, and opened the eyes of Albertans to the fact that was possible. 

That changed politics here forever. 

The rise of the UCP in 2019 was not a surprise. Governments change. Mr. Kenney’s leadership was sold, persuasively, as a return to the progressive conservative values of old. His promises, which we now know he has almost entirely failed to deliver on, were beguiling. 

We can now see the UCP more clearly for what it is: the redoubt of the bitter enders of the Wildrose Party, with not much of a plan for the present, let alone one for the future. It is addicted to confrontation, and it has a long list of enemies it wants to confront. It is in denial about the future of the fossil fuel industry. Its leaders acolytes of a cruel ideology that rarely delivers on its promises.

Sic transit gloria mundi Alison Redford? 

I don’t think so. Alberta’s story isn’t over yet, and it doesn’t have to be written with the pen held by Jason Kenney. 

Alison Redford played her part in making a better future possible. 

Join the Conversation


  1. Looks like the NDPization of Redford is starting to happen, much like Lougheed. Well, they do probably need another patron saint.

    And of course, the saint was done in by the dastardly UCP.

    You can probably sell it to the faithful.

  2. Allison Redford’s brief tenure was marred by confusion, half-arsed policies, and the one great failing that has plagued two of Alberta’s former premiers, that is having a uterus.

    Redford’s surprising electoral win had more to do with the usual Liberal and NDP voters pooling their votes to stop the Wildrose’s bid to storm Alberta’s peaceful kingdom and burn the whole thing to the ground. But after that election, all the voters went back to their usual corners, leaving Redford to fend out the troglodytes in the Alberta PCs. The days of moderate conservatism promoted by Premier Lougheed were long gone. Left behind were the carpetbagging shenanigans of backroom cronyism and stabbing the premier in the back. I knew Redford’s tenure would be short lived; and it was, thanks to the usual suspects, the unholy alliance of SocCONs and Calgary’s O & G bag men.

    I thought Redford’s departing speech could have been better. She had already secured her substantial transfer allowance to private life, so why not be totally honest and say loudly what everyone already knew.

    “F*ck you guys; I’m outta,” would have been a more appropriate parting blow.

  3. I think its fair to use the words potential and disappointment when referring to the Redford era. Initially we believed she had to potential to do more and be better. I don’t think that was all wrong, but obviously things did not work out as hoped.

    To mix my personalities, she was sort of Alberta’s Gorbachev. She had risen in the party over the years and was very much a part of it, but also had some new and different ideas. I think being such a part of it got her into trouble with voters who wanted more change and having some new and different ideas got her into trouble with those in her own party who wanted less. I suspect any party that is in power too long develops some dangerous entitlement issues and she (and her party) definitely had those.

    So, they got rid of Redford, who made mistakes someone who was not such a creature of the system might not have made, or at least handled better. However, the party was like the monarch that learned nothing and forgot nothing. Prentice seemed like a safe choice, but Albertans didn’t really want a choice that the party was comfortable with. Yes the Wildrose was the noisy official opposition pushing the PC’s to the right, but while they were successful in getting attention and damaging the PC’s, they didn’t really convince Albertans to move more towards the right. They only convinced Albertans that we needed to replace the PC’s.

    I recall Danille Smith’s smug assurance when first asked about the danger of vote splitting on the right – not a problem, as there are so many right wing voters on the right we can afford to have two parties competing. Of course, Kenney was more clever than that, but his smug assurance shows when he says without vote splitting on the right the UCP can not be defeated. We’ll see about that.

    For quite a while, the PC’s were good about becoming the party that would appeal to enough voters to stay in power. Like someone sailing with the changing wind, there was some flexibility, but somewhere along the way they lost that and began to believe in their own invincibility and become too rigid. Although I don’t think it was her fault, I think that set in sometime around the Redford years when the Premier tried to shift, but couldn’t bring the party along with her.

  4. “But in a way it was a triumph of her best qualities too – her progressive instincts, at the very least, ignited the hope Alberta really could be a better place, and opened the eyes of Albertans to the fact that was possible.”

  5. As I recall, Alison Redford was guided by Peter Lougheed as to how she should be running things in Alberta. Like Don Getty, Ralph Klein, and Ed Stelmach, she did the opposite of what Peter Lougheed did, and that’s where she ran into problems, which didn’t help Alberta.

  6. What does Alison Redford think about Jason Kenney perched high in the sky palace? Does she ever phone Ric McIver to talk about old times? What does this friend and advisor to Nelson Mandela think about the tiki-torch marches and attacks on racialized minorities in 2021 Alberta?

    If there is one bad apple in the Alberta conservative bushel, the whole lot of them will be
    rotten to the core. Do we want nothing but bad apples from this day forward? Is this how we see ourselves, the bad apple gang complaining about sour grapes for the remainder of Alberta’s days?

    Or do we pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps, dust ourselves off and start building a future that includes women, children, young adults, minorities, the economically disadvantaged, doctors, nurses, public servants, etc.? Do we want to be a one-horse, one-industry town whose glory days are long gone, or a place of diversity and inclusion, ingenuity and opportunity? Actions speak louder than words, and we’ve seen the actions of this UCP gang. What they do is quite different from what they say they’ll do during an election. Alberta now is a place where dreams, like dusty old horses, go to die. Why would we self-flagellate by electing another group of cons to do it to us all over again?

    1. Your question “Why would we self-flagellate by electing another group of cons to do it to us all over again?” is an excellent and important point. Sort of like the old saw “The electorate gets what they deserve.” I know I’m biased but having seen the other side and now the dark side why indeed would they stick with the dark side. I could speculate but I’m not in a position to do so. Really good question there ABD (does that refer to you or your postings?)…

  7. Alberta’s right wing nuts Don’t allow any variants to spread .

    Of course O’toole likely wasn’t trying to get more votes/seats in Alberta anyway. He has 33 of 34 and most by three to twenty thousand vote majoriries. His remarks were intended only to secure more seats in Ontario and maybe a few in Quebec and the Maritimes with no intention of producing any real policy change. All talk and no action. But oil rich Alberta wasn’t taking any change in a realistic way.

  8. Principles over popularity.

    We will never be able to choose a perfect leader. Ever! Most of the time we have to choose the least imperfect of the lot.
    So it behooves all of us to have some sort methodology for measuring the character of the person before making the decision.
    This is only one of the reasons conservatives today have absolutely nothing to offer the population. They are stuck with dogma and doctrine, in other words, popularity. If their guy, or gal, makes the right noises, then they get the vote. This is the very definition of fascism. It’s more than little dangerous.

    Let’s hope there are more thoughtful voters out there at the next election.

  9. How retrogressive can progressive conservatives get? Hindsight has its context: the neoliberal highjacking of traditional conservative parties was first broached by real conservative politicians as a bit of prudent fiscal housekeeping after, they said, a quarter century of public budgetary deficits and resultant debt; but sometime around the coincidence of Alberta’s Ralph Klein and the heyday of market fundamental nostrums everywhere in the Western World, this “neo-rightism” had adopted stealth.

    Sure, the clownish premier of “Ralph’s world” was popular, but only by concealing how he kept it up, cutting deeply into social serves under cover of ‘market cycles’ that citizens were duped into accepting as normal for resource-based economies, dipping into public savings like a besotted, blood-letting doctor, while revving the billowing bitumen industry with tax and royalty favours that paid wages and partisan politics well, but undermined workers’ and citizens’ public weal. These tactics weren’t uniquely Albertan and Klein wouldn’t have considered them backward-looking: this, at the time, was a new ‘conservative’ trend and pursuing it could fairly be seen as a kind of historical progressiveness. Ralph liked going with the flow. Indeed, premiers following Klein (who, in retrospect, marks a turning point for his party—at the time, one of the longest running provincial regimes in Canada) might themselves be called retrogressive as they tried—and ultimately failed—to get Alberta back to the fiscal health it once had under Peter Lougheed. Of course, today, Ed, Alison, Dave, and Prentice look progressive compared to Ralph—perspective enhancing point-of-view.

    Even Brian Mulroney, the last elected PC PM, revelled in the features of progressiveness of his party—the detente achieved with Quebec, the resulting two, back-to-back, largest majorities for any party, ever, his advocacy for Nelson Mandela, even his indelicate, rhetorical time reference, “there’s no whore like an old whore,” or, for that matter, his making way for Canada’s first woman PM and the first Québécois PC leader, Jean Charest (although good old “Joe Who?” who later became PC leader for a second time might be seen as anomalously retro, in this respect—but there are always exceptions).

    For today’s perspective, Manning and Bouchard changed all that, the latter making a new, Quebec-only party from his chunk of PC flesh, the former making a federal-only party out of his—which Quebec voters naturally shut out of their own province (another dying Conservative party, the BC Socreds, were reproached by Manning for registering their defeated rump as the BC Reform Party; it was soon absorbed into the neo-right BC Liberals, anyhow). Really, for this critique of Alison Redford, former HarperCons Kenney and Prentice need closer inspection. She, of course, was two-time federal PC leader Joe Clark’s senior policy advisor when he was Secretary of State for External Affairs in the Mulroney government. Three transplanted Canadians who came to Alberta from federal politics.

    I give weight to gender prejudice and discrimination in Redford’s ouster. First, the political right only seems to turn to women leaders when it’s in trouble and male politicians don’t want to clean up the mess they’ve made (cf federal Dippers who elected women leaders by policy: affirmative action): Kim Campbell, Rita Johnston, Kathy Dunderdale, and Christy Clark can be characterized as clean-up leaders for their respective right-wing parties—with Alison Redford for hers, of course. (Margaret Thatcher took a stiff broom to her own Conservative party, too—but, unlike the others, ended up riding it for quite a long time.) In the Canadian examples, one is tempted to say they were treated something like char women to be stuffed back in the closet with their mops and pails when—and if—they got everything spit-spot for the men. The “lake of fire” notwithstanding, Danielle Smith polled high until Election Day in Alberta, perhaps because she tended to make messes she wanted other people to clean up instead.

    The case could be made that the NDP’s Rachel Notley got a taste of conservative male chauvinism, too—the first time beneficially (when Prentice foolishly condescended her during the campaign’s TV debate—“math is hard”), the second when erstwhile PC voters who elected her party to government surged back, four years later, to the new UCP, despite the fact she performed pretty well in circumstances that would have been trying for any premier (as they certainly have for K-Boy). It’s almost as if voters only wanted to use her to mop-slap the long-governing PCs who’d disappointed them—and that might have included Danielle Smith’s decision to join/rejoin her Wild Rosers back with the PCs under their new leader, Jim Prentice—likely the last Alberta PC Premier ever. Smith hadn’t scrubbed hard enough, I guess: Slow Walkin’ Jim sullied by the fallen char?

    Notley’s single term somewhat diminishes the idea that Redford’s legacy has been to make it easier for subsequent female leaders to be accepted in Alberta. But gender can’t be the only reason Redford or Notley got bounced. For one thing, the circumstances were different: Notley lost an election after winning one, and she stands as government in waiting with good odds of winning in two years. Redford did win an election, but her ouster was done by her own party, harshly and unceremoniously. Too bad: she was smart with a great CV—a real progressive conservative. Her foibles seem trivial, but storm clouds were heavy on the horizon. It might have been the first time Conservatives thought they could change the weather by changing horses (but, naturally, that’s not the same a s changing the climate—or whole parties).

    Naturally voters couldn’t know the future, nor how Jason Kenney would handle the crises befalling their province. In retrospect, he’s been so bad that Notley is looking good. Perhaps, as a woman, she needs that something more than her demonstrated skill at governing, something more than skill at providing the first real Loyal Opposition Alberta’s had—almost in living memory for Alberta voters to embrace her party again. Circumstances might give her the opportunity to make women more electable in Alberta—like Ms Redford, to the extent circumstances allowed.

    How Kenney got here and where he’s going might have something to do with where he came from. True, Prentice also was a HarperCon cabinet minister, but we can discern a distinction—one that includes for the last four PC Premiers: they weren’t really friends of Harper, whereas Kenney always was and still is. In contrast, Ed raised petroleum royalties (tisk!); Alison created a Human Services Ministry (oh, my!); Dave was a former judge—and from Edmonton, to boot (horror!); Jim had problems with Harper’s handling of Jim’s portfolios —especially the ‘death portfolios’ of Indian Affairs and Environment (like “math is hard,” Jim ought to have known better). They out-progressed the Progressives and out-retrogressed by the Regressives. Talk about whiplash!

    At the rate Jason’s going and the polling numbers he’s getting, Alberta voters might be ready to let Rachel give him a mop-slap upside the head, too. But hard times such as there’s been in the good province of Alberta really makes it hard to not long for the past—which is where Kenney promises to go. Except, this time, Notley’s got a past that’s worth longing for, too—looking back to the future. But that’s another kind of retro-progressiveness. The lefty kind.

    1. “… Brian Mulroney, the last elected PC PM, revelled in the features of progressiveness of his party…” Not least which was his government’s two big achievements on the environmental front: the Acid Rain Treaty with the US, and taking a lead role in international action to restore the Earth’s ozone layer. Can you imagine the likes of Erin the Tool doing something similar on the current environmental crisis, climate change? The federal Cons are a far cry from the PC party of Stanfield, Clark & Mulroney.

      As for the Alberta scene, why the apparent worship of the memory of the late Peter Lougheed, from all parts of the political spectrum? As one of those Eastern bastards left to freeze in the dark — I didn’t move to Alberta until the closing months of 1985 — my perspective on the new Saint Peter is bit more nuanced than that of many of your commenters here. When he was Premier, did his government never do anything wrong? Realizing he was more progressive than his SoCred predecessors, he was still a Tory, not a Grit or a Dipper.

      1. JERRYMACGP: Here’s what made Peter Lougheed so good.

        1) Peter Lougheed was an Albertan, but also a Canadian. He knew that. He had roots that came from First Nations ancestry, settlers, roots in Eastern Canada, and Western Canada. He didn’t try to pick fights with other politicians in Canada, even if he disagreed with them.

        2) Peter Lougheed knew that the oil and natural resources belonged to Albertans, not the oil and resource companies. He did not let the oil and resource companies shaft Albertans. The royalty rates Peter Lougheed got were very good. Peter Lougheed also knew that oil is a finite commodity, and he understood that oil booms never last forever, because he happened to be in that line of employment in the 1950s. Contrast this with what happened after, and it is a very bad situation. $575 billion was lost from the Alberta PCs not getting the right oil royalty rates, and Albertans also have to contend with a $260 billion cost for abandoned oil well cleanup in Alberta. Peter Lougheed did not give away Alberta’s oil to foreign companies. Ralph Klein did so, and Alberta never benefitted from that.

        3) Peter Lougheed did not allow industry to operate, if the environment would be put at risk in any way.

        4) Peter Lougheed knew that it was important to keep the important services properly funded, such as education, infrastructure, healthcare, and social services. Peter Lougheed never supported privatization, or deregulation, like Ralph Klein did.

        5) Peter Lougheed knew that it was very important to save money for a rainy day. He even spoke out against Ralph Klein handing out the $400 cheques to Albertans, because when things got bad, how would Alberta function with a reduced revenue stream? The Heritage Savings Trust Fund in Alberta wasn’t funded since 1986. Currently, the Heritage Savings Trust Fund is less than $18 billion. There should be more than that in it. $575 billion. Ralph Klein used it for disastrous pet projects, like Alpac. Ralph Klein also robbed the Heritage Savings Trust Fund to supposedly get Alberta out of debt. The UCP had lost nearly $2 billion of the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, from the failure that is AIMCo.
        AIMCo made $4 billion in pension money from Albertans vanish without a trace.

        6) Peter Lougheed collected the right corporate taxes.

        7) Peter Lougheed was virtually scandal free. He never did very costly shenanigans like Don Getty and Ralph Klein did.

        8) Peter Lougheed supported democracy, unlike Ralph Klein, or the UCP. Ralph Klein never put it to Albertans if they wanted utilities deregulated, liquor stores put into private hands, registries privatized, driver training privatized, or highway maintenance privatized. The UCP didn’t consult with teachers about putting their pensions into AIMco, didn’t consult with A.I.S.H clients about changing their payment dates, and didn’t consult with Albertans regarding open pit coal mining in the Rockies. There is also skepticism as to the validity of the UCP being elected.

        These things make Peter Lougheed different, and also respected. The UCP try to invoke the spirit of Peter Lougheed, but they fall short of that.

  10. I must be living in a parallel universe. The Premiership of the Alison Redford I knew was nothing short of a train wreck. She bested (cheated) the more appropriate leadership candidate Gerry Mar by back room shenanigans that would make Jason Kenney blush, and then once in power devolved into an entitled Princess. Taking private planes, taking expensive trips. Didn’t they book a block of London hotel rooms for the olympics that sat empty. It was waste, entitlements, mismanagement,more waste,more entiltlements,more mismanagement, just like Jason kenney’s leadership.Didn’t she get one of her security officers fired for making eye contact with her. They were to stare at the ground when she walked by.

    1. “appropriate” is a great descriptor for Mar, given that he was all set to hand another tax-break to Alberta’s ruling class, like a good Klein Kon. However, there definitely were “shennanigans” underlying Redford’s ascendence to the Kon throne. I have family members who, along with a circle of like-minded chum , bought Kon memberships during the period in question. The payback for such duplicity was being added to Tailgunner Jay’s mailing list once he was installed following the Interregnum of the Neoliberals Dressed as Progressive party. Having never seen actual Kon internal messaging before, I found no end of amusement in these kooky missives. Entitlement has always been the Kon way.

  11. There is no question the MLAs from the Lougheed era were right when they taught me that these phoney conservatives are Reformers and nothing like the true conservatives we proudly supported under Lougheed and Getty. Spreading lies and looking after their own well-being and that of their rich friends is all they care about.

    Cutting corporate taxes by $9.4 billion then promising to cut health care and education jobs to make up for their revenue cutting stupidity proves that the former MLAs were right. The certainly don’t care about average Albertans.

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