In the end, Alison Redford, who resigned as Premier of Alberta on Wednesday, will be remembered as the politician who spent $45,000 to fly to South Africa for a week. The details – whose funeral she was attending (Nelson Mandela), who flew with her (an aide), that she (eventually) repaid the money – will all slip away.
The fact that Ms. Redford is a Progressive Conservative will be remembered for a while – but only by members of rival parties. The fact that some of the poor decisions she made caused something close to a revolt among other Progressive Conservatives will never be the answer to a question at any Wildrose Party trivia night.
Some have suggested that Ms. Redford will be remembered as the premier who spent $45,000 to fly to South Africa because she is a woman. I suspect it’s because she spent $45,000 to fly to South Africa – and even leaders with multiple volumes written about their long, distinguished careers are ultimately mostly remembered by a single bullet point.
Arguably, it’s a sign of progress that a woman like Ms. Redford will soon have her time in office reduced to a single escapade. Until quite recently, she would have been remembered only as “a woman.” So rare in politics no distinguishing extravagance need have been cited.
Now, as is our tradition with male elected officials, we will disregard the good Ms. Redford did, as well as the additional (often, but not exclusively, travel-expense-related) bad.
We will whittle her life down as we do the lives of most politicians – driven to make them fit on the tab of a “roll up the rim to win” cup.
Like many clever, well-intentioned and ambitious people, Ms. Redford wasn’t, perhaps, a particularly gifted politician. If she were, she might still have taken that $45,000 trip – but I suspect she would have had more defenders in her party to metaphorically greet her at the airport when she landed.
They weren’t there. The people who voted for her fell away. So she sensibly resigned, giving a speech so chock full of dignity and grace that it’s a miracle she found the time to list all of her own accomplishments. But she did! There was apparently no room left for her to acknowledge any culpability in her downfall – sincere or not, this would have been politic. The speech said a lot.
The argument has been made that former Alberta premier Ralph Klein (remembered for drunkenly bursting into a homeless shelter, “please play again”) used government jets liberally and that a double standard is being applied to Ms. Redford.
Over on Twitter, where we sometimes trade in facile comparisons, it was noted that Prime Minster Stephen Harper, a male, hasn’t stepped down over the Senate scandal.
Others bemoaned the fact that Ms. Redford was resigning but Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was not. This week, further Information to Obtain documents were released, stating that his behaviour relating to his friend Sandro Lisi was “indicative to that of drug trafficking.”
The ITO also describes a video in which “Ford holds a glass cylinder to his mouth, slowly moves a flame around the bottom of the pipe, inhales and exhales … consuming what appears to be a narcotic,” making the Toronto police the most politic entity in the news this week.
All of this is, of course, apples and oranges, if citrus could smoke crack. Stephen Harper still has the support of his party, which is doing fine in the polls. Back in Ralph Klein’s day, it was a lot easier to hide these things. Rob Ford has no party to answer to – and no shame.
Once Ms. Redford began her descent, sexist remarks flew, sure. But to suggest that being a woman was her undoing undermines her accomplishments as a politician.
She lived (at one point with 77-per-cent party support) and died (how one spends $45,000 on a trip to South Africa without ending up owning property there, I’ll never know) by the sword.