A weird thing happened in Canada last week. The premiers of Quebec and Alberta got together and had a friendly conversation about oil. This could be a first. The two provinces usually are bitter rivals, especially when Quebec’s premier is a sovereigntist.
But these two premiers have a lot in common. They’re the new girls in the old boys’ club. Both Alison Redford and Pauline Marois are smart, hard-working women who paid their dues and earned their success against long odds. Both are principled and grounded. You get the feeling you could run into either one of them at Costco.
Just coincidence? Or maybe things have really changed. A new generation of female political talent has come of age. Kathy Dunderdale is popular in Newfoundland and Labrador. Christy Clark is hanging on in B.C. (until May, at least). Eva Aariak is Premier of Nunavut. And Ontario’s next premier could be a woman – two of the most able candidates in the race to succeed Dalton McGuinty are Sandra Pupatello and Kathleen Wynne. Before long, Canada’s four biggest provinces could all have female premiers.
Think how the atmosphere at premiers’ conferences will change with all that estrogen in the room. No more silly jock talk. Instead, leaders will be asking each other where they got those fabulous shoes.
I like Alison Redford a lot. She’s authentic and direct, a classic Red Tory centrist. Her personal heroes are Peter Loughheed and Nelson Mandela (she met and travelled with him just after he got out of jail). She believes in building bridges, not firewalls. She thinks the whole country ought to benefit from Alberta’s petro-wealth. She has no trouble saying global warming is for real, but she also makes the case for all the social goods that flow from oil. She’s an articulate and credible champion of responsible resource development.
Our energy challenges are immense, and how we tackle them will shape our future. Is Ms. Redford tough enough for the job? Some people don’t think so. They say Alberta needs an aggressive, hairy-chested fighter to get those pipelines built. Perhaps they’re referring to Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Party. She’s a woman, too.
Ms. Marois has also found the centre of the road. She has an economy to run, and she’s obviously aware that she won’t get re-elected if she screws it up. You can’t endorse her politics, but she has held together a fragile coalition and outlasted her rivals, both inside her party and outside. She knows she has to win the confidence of business, and has made it clear that sovereignty is on hold. That’s why she showed up at the premiers’ meeting in Halifax and agreed to discuss a pipeline to the east. She even told her anti-Alberta environment minister to put a sock in it.
Do women bring a different tone to politics? Often, they do. Ms. Redford can switch back and forth between the global energy revolution and the shortage of daycare in Alberta, and sound equally comfortable with both. Women are good at using their own families’ stories to connect to voters. And they have a different way of demolishing their opponents. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard recently delivered the most blistering speech on sexism I have ever heard. It was a masterly piece of political theatre that reduced her hapless victim to a grease spot on the floor. Men use sledgehammers; women use stilettos.
It’s great to see strong women on the public stage who are neither showboats (Sheila Copps) nor dingbats (Kim Campbell, anyone?). The U.S. has Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, and Germany has Angela Merkel. (The euro zone would probably come unglued without her.) Their accomplishments affirm that the sordid business of politics can actually be a respectable, even noble, calling. Not that I believe female politicians are nobler or more virtuous than men. But, generally, they’re less puffed up.
I’ve no idea whether the new girls on the scene will succeed. Politics is a chancy calling, half skill, half luck. But I want to wish them well. I love it when two women get together to discuss pipelines. It’s about time.