What does Alberta’s new premieress stand for?

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GEORGE BROWN

Off the Record

So how was your weekend?

Chances are unless you and your spouse just welcomed a child into your family, won the lottery or discovered cold fusion using an Easy Bake Oven, your weekend can’t compare to the one Alison Redford experienced last Saturday night.

Alberta’s new premier was chosen by Progressive Conservative party faithful in what has become typical fashion — finish second or third in the first round of balloting and then win on the second go-round when preferential votes are counted. Klein, Stelmach and now Redford have beaten their front-running rivals in their leadership races.

Proving that hard work and determination can beat arithmetic, Redford had just 18 per cent of the 59,500 votes cast on Sept. 17, Mar had nearly 41 per cent. When the nearly 73,000 first ballots were counted Oct. 1, Mar still had only 41 per cent.

Yet, after 1 a.m. Oct. 2, party officials announced that with the help of Doug Horner’s supporters, Redford had jumped ahead of Mar to finish with 51.11 per cent. Horner supporters added about 8,000 votes to Redford’s total, just 2,000 to Mar.

Clearly, while Mar’s support among party members was strong, there was no soft support ready to move from the other camps to push him over the hump. Redford announced she would throw her support to Horner on the second ballot if she were in third place. Horner’s people obviously saw this cagey political move as magnanimous and the rest is history.

The first term Calgary-Elbow MLA and former justice minister is now Alberta’s first female premier. In the next election, Albertans will basically have to choose between Redford’s Tories and Danielle Smith’s Wildrose party to form the next government. Either way, Alberta will have a woman at the helm for at least the next four years.

Redford’s win is particularly interesting because she had garnered little support from among Tory MLAs and none from her cabinet colleagues. That will make her choices for cabinet ministers relatively free from influence or political debt. Holdovers from the Klein and Stelmach governments should be given the boot but expect to see Mar (who must get elected first) and Horner given important ministries.

Prominent ministers who should expect to be dumped include Education Minister Dave Hancock, who cut the $107 million Redford now wants to circumvent the legislature to replace; Health and Wellness Minister Gene Zwozdesky, who refused to hold the public inquiry Redford campaigned for that would look into allegations Alberta doctors were intimidated by politicians and health officials; Energy Minister Ron Liepert who has made a mess of every portfolio he has been given; Justice Minister Verlyn Olsen, placeholder while Redford campaigned for the leadership; and Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette, one of the old boys holding the purse strings.

A few ministers who backed Horner but then brought their supporters to Redford might expect to stay around the cabinet table. Jack Hayden, Lyndsay Blackett and Hector Goudreau might be considered more for their geography than their loyalty. Will Alberta’s first premieress appoint more women to cabinet? Is there room for Diana McQueen, Cindy Ady, Alana DeLong or Mary Anne Jablonski?

On a personal level, Redford showed determination by continuing with the leadership campaign after her mother died just four days before the final vote.

In her victory speech, Redford pledged, “We will govern with integrity, transparency and accountability.” And then later on in the day cancelled the fall sitting of the legislature. With the opposition parties and her own caucus criticizing that decision, it seemed Tuesday afternoon there might be a fall sitting after all. She had pledged to restore the $100 million that had been cut from education. Will this now be a decision of cabinet with no debate in the legislature? So much for transparency.

With Redford’s selection as PC party leader, it looks like Albertans escaped the wintry election that would likely have been called if Mar were the premier. Redford should pick her cabinet, cut ribbons and meet Albertans before tabling a budget and calling a spring election.

Redford has shown Albertans she’s passionate about education and health care, carrying on the campaign after her mother dies proved she’s mentally tough but can she unite the party and inspire Albertans? She supported all the contentious bills and policies of the Stelmach government and then campaigned against those decisions. What does she stand for?

Will history see her as a Maggie Thatcher for the new millennium or another Kim Campbell, soon to be swept aside by voters disillusioned with the Tory old guard?

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