Alison Redford gives her victory speech at 2:11 a.m. on Oct. 2, 2011, in Edmonton’s EXPO Centre (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

I happened to be leaving the Edmonton EXPO Centre at the same moment as Alison Redford in the wee hours of the morning she was declared the winner of the race to lead the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, Oct. 2, 2011.

It’s hard to believe that a decade – 10 tumultuous years in Alberta politics – has passed since that moment.

Gary Mar, the front-runner to lead the Progressive Conservative Party in the 2011 leadership race (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It was after 2 a.m. by the time Ms. Redford got to give her victory speech, it having taken all evening and into the night for the recounts needed to persuade the Tory Old Boys who had opposed her to admit that Alison Merilla Redford, then 46, was their leader, and Gary Mar, their preferred choice to replace premier Ed Stelmach, was not. 

Ms. Redford, who less than a week later would be sworn in as Premier Redford, was being escorted past me by a gaggle of Alberta Sheriffs Branch security officers, all full Secret Service in their earplugs, pistol bulges, and darting eyeballs. 

Still, even they couldn’t stop smiling at finding themselves part of history at a moment it had taken an unexpected turn. 

Ms. Redford couldn’t suppress her grin. At the same time, she had a look that, to me anyway, said, “What the hell are we going to do now?”

A great question, as it turned out. 

She smiled at me, full of delight, as if I were in on the joke, before her security team whisked her into the back seat of a huge black General Motors SUV, which roared off into the night. 

Mr. Mar, who was supposed to win, was still back in the convention hall, commiserating with his supporters and wondering what the hell had happened to what was supposed to have been the crowning moment of his political career. 

Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, during her campaign to lead the party in 2009 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

For her part, Ms. Redford could thank good luck, a good resume, good management by her campaign team, and the fact that, sometimes, the stars and planets all just line up the right way to turn a longshot campaign into a victory run. 

I thanked my lucky stars I’d had the good fortune to be there when history was made. I’d been a sport and attended an Octoberfest fund-raiser for another talented woman in Alberta politics, a New Democrat MLA named Rachel Notley. No one who ever would be, or could be, premier, I imagined at the time, but someone I liked and admired. 

My route home took me past the EXPO Centre, inconveniently located in a rough and tumble district on Edmonton’s east side not far from the soon-to-be-replaced hockey rink where Wayne Gretzky brought back the Oilers’ Stanley Cups. As I drove past, I could see the lights were still burning, and the parking lot still packed, and decided to drop in to see what was going on. 

By the time Ms. Redford finally got to make her victory speech, she told the crowd that had hung in to the end that, “Today Alberta voted for change.

Those were still the days, remember, when Alberta politicians didn’t really see much difference between Progressive Conservative Party members and Alberta voters generally. “Make no mistake,” she went on. “We are going to do things differently.”

A steely eyed Rachel Notley of the NDP in 2012, the highly competent premier who was the first politician to win that job in a general election after Ms. Redford’s resignation (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

That was certainly true. There were many blunders to come that made Ms. Redford seem, for a spell, like a pretty awful premier. She formally resigned on March 23, 2014, after being effectively pushed out by her own caucus.

With the benefit of an exciting decade of hindsight, though, we can see that she wasn’t that much of an outlier among all Alberta premiers since Ernest Manning stepped into William Aberhart’s shoes. 

Until 2019, that is. 

Premier Redford’s progressive pitch won a comfortable majority for the PCs in 2012 – to the great disappointment of mainstream Alberta media that had carried water for the farther-right Wildrose Party and its leader, Danielle Smith.

Notwithstanding a number of scandals that seem small beer in the present circumstances – expensive travel to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral, false passenger bookings on the government plane so the premier could travel in privacy, and a plan to build an apartment for the premier atop an Edmonton government building, the notorious Sky Palace – the government she ran looks positively exemplary compared to the current deadly gong show in the Alberta Legislature. 

Premier Ed Stelmach, Ms. Redford’s predecessor as premier and leader of the PC Party (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Indeed, many of us, looking back at the Redford Government feel almost nostalgic for the day-to-day competence with which it ran the business of the province, even if we had problems with Ms. Redford’s obvious sense of entitlement and some of her not-so-progressive legislation. 

Health care was in crisis then, too, you could argue. But despite the hyperbole, it was never on the verge of collapse.

The next premier to be elected in a general election was the highly competent Rachel Notley of the NDP, now the leader of the Opposition in the Legislature. After Ms. Notley came the catastrophic Jason Kenney and his so-called United Conservative Party, and with it chaos, COVID mismanagement and culture wars. 

We’ll save comment on them for another night.

Let’s just say that Oct. 2, 2011, was the moment at which Alberta politics – which under 44 years of the PC Dynasty founded by Peter Lougheed had become the longest running bore in the land – became truly interesting. 

They have stayed that way. Since 2019, though, they’ve been interesting in the sense of the proverbial Chinese curse.

Join the Conversation

28 Comments

  1. Ah yes, it seems so long ago now, almost like another world, but I remember too how Ms. Redford was supposed to put the Progressive back in the PC Party after almost two decades of the Conservative side dominating. Long story short, she was a disappointment and the Conservative side wasn’t at all eager to let the Progressive one have a turn again. So now we have gone from a disappointing Premier in Redford to a disastrous one in Kenney. To very loosely paraphrase what Obama said, history is not a straight line of progress and sometimes things go backward.

    I believe the Kenney era, which I hope is very soon coming to an end, will be looked back at as one of the darkest ages of Alberta ever. Even Aberhart, whose rule was not fun times for Alberta, could at least say the worst things of his times were not mostly his fault – not the depression, nor the dust bowl. Aberhart arguably tried to make things better and didn’t really succeed, but Kenney has taken a bad situation and actually made it worse in so many ways.

    I wonder what would have happened if the PC’s chose Mr. Mar instead of Ms. Redford. I suppose this was the road not taken. Mar seemed to portray competence, but there was a sense it was all too slick and underneath there was even a bigger sense of entitlement and many people behind him only in it for money and power. He might have been the PC version of Strom and I suspect even the PC’s at that time sensed Albertans wanted more change. The real tragedy for the PC’s was they were not able to change enough and much like their predecessors, became complacent, too institutional and too out of step with things towards the end.

    Ms. Redford did relatively accurately portray herself as someone more socially progressive, but that set off quite a reaction from those more socially conservative, used to having some sway. Arguably, she was not your grandfathers PC. However, despite initial hopes, she really wasn’t better fiscally than her PC predecessors and had the bad fortune of coming in just as the oil boom was again starting to falter.

    So we have gone from a Premier who was not your grandfather’s PC, to one who is closer to the conservatives before that PC grandfather. I believe Alberta will start to move ahead again, after Kenney and the UCP are gone, but it will be a heck of a mess to clean up.

      1. Look on the bright side. While Ms Redford was Alberta’s first woman Premier, had Mr Mar won the PC leadership he would have checked off a different box on the diversity in politics checklist… Alberta’s — and maybe Canada’s? — first Asian Premier.

        Whether he would have been a good one to boot, remains one of history’s classic hypotheticals.

      1. Mr. Strom is a footnote, a coda to the long years the Social Credit movement transformed into just another conservative party. He’s about as significant to Alberta’s political history, in my estimation, as premier Dave Hancock – who now that he’s a judge has apparently forgotten he ever was a premier. Mr. Strom, though, would certainly deserve a big mention in a history of Bow Island, or was that Purple Springs. DJC

        1. I remember Strom because my Grade 8 class visited the Legislature while he was premier. I don’t think he was present that day, all I recall is a rather whiny sounding MLA who wanted an apology for something. We heard later that after we left an MLA went to sleep and fell out of his chair. Exciting times, indeed!

        2. “Keep building Alberta together….
          Keep it strong….
          Keep building Alberta together
          We can’t go wrong.
          We’ll build a mighty province…
          and however the heck it went after that

          went the SocRed campaign song. I remember seeing it. On the Television. And apparently I remember the words some 50 years later. That may explain my current inability to learn French.

      2. Well, I would have really preferred to mention someone more recent, but he was the Premier the last time parties actually changed power in Alberta before Redford.

        I am really hoping after 2015 Alberta will become more normal democracy where parties come and go from power more regularly. I don’t think having them around in power forever to become sclerotic, institutional parties is a good thing for anyone. Of course these days, sadly it seems some can even become sclerotic long before being institutional.

  2. The picture you took on 10-11-11 illustrates the problem with the Conservative party in Alberta, regardless of what name it goes by. In addition to a few reporters, I see such truly worthless Conservative hangers on as Joan Crockatt, Tommy Olsen, Doug Elniski, David Xiao, Dave Rodney and Peter Sandhu, losers every one.

  3. Alison Redford was mentored by Peter Lougheed. Alas, Alison Redford didn’t listen to Peter Lougheed’s advice, and it took a downward spiral. Alison Redford was also involved with the tobaccogate affair, that had a very hefty cost of $10 billion, and other added costs on top of it. Gary Mar was involved with some type of costly fiasco, that was around $400,000. That made his aspirations to become premier go into the abyss. Danielle Smith started mentioning her admiration of Ralph Klein, and was even attempting to copy his bad moves, with Dani Dollars, a clever vote buying scheme. Furthermore, Danielle Smith had wacky ideas, such as giving expired beef to the destitute. She also didn’t tell UCP candidates to keep their tongues under control. The icing on the Wildrose cake, was when former Reform Party leader, Preston Manning, (the one who wants Conservatives to support the carbon tax), urged Danielle Smith, and a bunch of other Wildrose MLAs to cross the floor and join the team of Jim Prentice and the Alberta PCs, to avoid a supposed vote split. These pretend conservatives and Reformers sure fool a lot of Albertans, and we see where it gets us, and that’s the unfortunate thing. The UCP are another classic example of that. When people speak out against these pretend conservatives and Reformers, they are ignored. The results haven’t turned out so well. It ends up being an I told you so moment. Peter Lougheed knew better than to trust these Reformers, so why haven’t Albertans?

    1. Danielle Smith still has some wacky, if not dangerous, ideas. Did she not tout hydroxychloroquine as a cure for Covid-19 and then later suggest that the AHA and the College of Physicians and Surgeons were suppressing information about ivermectin as a Covid-19 treatment. I know the National Post is a right-wing rag, but you would think even they must have some standards. Why they still publish her stuff is beyond me.

      Is there something in the water here in AB, perhaps too much runoff from open-pit coal mines, that causes so many here to embrace and promulgate these delusional beliefs?

  4. And what has Mar been doing lately one wonders?
    Warming up in the Canada West Foundation bullpen ready to step in for a late innings rescue perhaps?
    Or will he stay satisfied with his éminence grise status?

  5. We live in interesting times, alright. There are so many parallels to the past: a pandemic, with a chaser of climate change. Then as now, hard times bring us autocrats all around the world. Then as now, Albertans often vote against their own best interests.

    We have a chance to send a message on October 18. Do we want more of Kenney and his ilk running our cities and towns? Or will we choose carefully and vote for candidates that will carry us into the future? Will we empower Kenney by supporting his referendum, or will we vote “no” to his equalization formula and “no” to his Saskatchewan time question? Will we select his hand-picked future senators, or vote for the senate abolition candidate, Duncan Kinney?

    What we do now determines where we will be in the future. For some, that is literal. Do we build a future with vibrant cities that include our young people, or do we drive them away? Progress or regression? That’s really the message we will be sending to our youth in this civic election. We will have to live with the consequences.

    1. You are quite right, ABS. Of all the points you raise, I think Duncan Kinney’s candidacy deserves special mention. Please, everybody, tell your progressive friends about Duncan’s candidacy! I have told several people, and no one knew there was a better option out there than spoiling your ballot.

  6. Possibly. But where did Mar stand on health care? Was he a supporter of Canadian Medicare? Or would her have been on the side of American health care where employment is your ticket to employer/employee shared medical insurance Which is not cheap?

    For several years we wintered near Tampa. I recall talking to a retired person from Iowa. He was 68 and American Medicare covered him, but his wife was only 61 and he was paying $800 per Month for her medical insurance.

  7. I can only offer this quote to Alberta voters from another wickedly bad Alberta Premier. Points if alert readers can identify who. “It is your god given right to suffer more, if you have not suffered enough. “

    So next time Albertans consider carefully at the ballot box. Previous performance often speaks to the future results. Cushioning the blows of fate may well depend on careful discernment.

  8. While David C has given a lot to think about we should remember that the Redford government tried pass legislation with the majority they had to implement the kind of pension changes that the ATA is fighting against as well as some terrible labour legislation. It was only the work of thousands of union members working very hard that stopped this from happening.

    1. David: You are quite right about this. I was part of the campaign against those pension changes, both as a trade unionist and on this blog. You can find much of my coverage on Rabble.ca, which has done a better job of preserving my old posts than I have. That said, while the Redford Government enacted bad policies – in at least one case, unconstitutional, later rescinded by Jim Prentice – they were not a full-blown catastrophe, denying and ignoring science, literally killing people through neglect, and tolerating Q-inspired lunacy from the United States. On policy, Ms. Redford was a disappointment, Mr. Kenney is a disaster. To use a foreign example, it’s a bit like the difference between George Bush and Donald Trump. The tragedy of Alison Redford is that she had such potential and failed to deliver. The tragedy of Jason Kenney is that we knew exactly who he was and Albertans elected him anyway. DJC

  9. What struck me about the above photo is how many of Redford’s hangers-on became Kenney’s hangers-on. I wonder how many pushed their knives into Redford’s back?

    No wonder Kenney is surrounded by his own Praetorian Guard.

  10. DJC. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Alison Redford was a walking self-inflicted disaster. Yes, she had lots of potential and looked good on paper. But, like Kenney, she did not understand her constituency. They both thought that the voters would view them as gifts from on high and that they could do as they liked. In Kenney’s case, he was never a true Albertan, after having lived away from here for many years and never having had a real job, living off the taxpayer teat in one form or another for most of his adult life. In Redford’s case, it looked like a case of entitlement, something that Albertans generally dislike with significant intensity.

    I don’t know if she would have, in the end, made a half-decent premier. Who knows? Initially, I thought Stelmach would be terrible, then he somewhat redeemed himself by trying to get the oil companies to pay a fairer share of the royalties, and then he just rolled over when the oil lobby pushed back.

    I know that some conservatives laud Prentice and wish he had become premier. But, as has been pointed out here and other places, Prentice was a disciple of the neo-classical, libertarian, Koch-supported, winner of the sham Noble prize in Economics, Fredrich von Hayek. That is a scary prospect to think how close we came to have a premier who supported the ideas espoused by Hayek and his ilk.

    Recently, on the CBC podcast, West of Centre, I heard some commentator saying Rona Ambrose is being mooted as a replacement for Kenney. The last thing we need is another Harperite to descend upon us from on high. In the case of Rona Ambrose, as has been pointed out in this blog, she is a disciple of that nutbar, Ayn Rand. God help us.

    Thank you, DJC, for your commentary.

    1. Not likely.

      Rona (Rosa) Ambrose is a mid-50s, never married, childless uppity wymmins.

      The Evangelical crazies in Alberta do not trust her kind. As for a similar male, they’re all over that shite.

  11. When Alison Redford show came to town I thought she had set a record of scandals forever.
    Little did I know we were going to see way worse with Jason Kenney.
    Being Alberta, I am scared to think that worse than this is still possible.

  12. Yes all of the blood suckers are in that photo trying for opportunities!
    Conservatives never change, they just become greedier and better at blood sucking – Tom Olsen hit the jackpot with the War Room.

  13. The Sept. 30 quarter end UCP report out on party donations should be interesting. The UCP party executive and Kenney are no doubt already aware of the numers.

    If they are bad, really bad…..this could be a game changer. Follow the money!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.