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Alberta Conservative Leader Alison Redford: ‘There are political parties out there who are talking about change who are made up of a lot of people who used to be members of this party 20 years ago. That doesn’t sound like change to me.’ (Chris Bolin For The Globe and Mail)
Alberta Conservative Leader Alison Redford: ‘There are political parties out there who are talking about change who are made up of a lot of people who used to be members of this party 20 years ago. That doesn’t sound like change to me.’ (Chris Bolin For The Globe and Mail)

Alison Redford: A leader on the brink Add to ...

By the time Ms. Redford's family returned to Alberta, she was 12, and the odd one out in her own country. She and her sisters were used to wearing uniforms to school and having servants. “I can remember my mother fighting with me for months to make my bed because I had never made my bed,” she says.

And then there was the culture shock: “These were the days of Welcome Back, Kotter [the schoolyard sitcom that made a star of John Travolta] and kids being ‘cool' at 10 or 12,” a concept totally foreign to her – she'd never even watched TV.

The youthful activist

Meanwhile Alberta was undergoing a cultural upheaval of its own, as Peter Lougheed swept the Alberta Progressive Conservatives into power and the Social Credit Party out after three decades. Mr. Lougheed brought with him a modern, progressive agenda, determined to make the most of Alberta's resources. Ms. Redford became the president of the party's youth executive and was excited to sit in meetings with the new premier: “I learned a lot from him including how to behave as a leader.” On the federal front she devoted her energies to Joe Clark, another Alberta Red Tory.

By then she had graduated from high school and begun a patchwork progress through university, spending a year each at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Mount Royal in Calgary and Queen's in Kingston. But politics was her real education. It also played the matchmaker in her romance with her first husband, Robert Hawkes. They met in 1985, working for Ron Ghitter, who ran against Don Getty for the leadership of the provincial party after Mr. Lougheed retired.

“She was super-smart and very engaged and very likeable,” recalls Mr. Hawkes, now a lawyer in Calgary. They married in August, 1986, while she was a law student at the University of Saskatchewan.

After finishing her degree in 1988, she was set to article with Jim Prentice (who would become Minister of Industry and later the Environment in Mr. Harper's cabinet before quitting politics in 2010), but the Free Trade campaign had a stronger pull than a Calgary law office: She headed east to Ottawa to work for Brian Mulroney and then stayed on after the election.

Eventually an opening came up in Mr. Clark's office – he was Minister of External Affairs, and taking a leading role in mounting Commonwealth sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. “Even then,” Mr. Clark remembers in a telephone interview, “she had a great intuitive understanding of politics, of how people related and what the issues were.”

Once a year, Mr. Prentice would call from Calgary and ask if she was coming back, and she would always beg for an extension. “Finally,” she recalls, “he said ‘No, it is time you come back.'” So she returned to Calgary (after meeting and travelling with Nelson Mandela after his release from prison in February, 1990) and did her articling at Rooney Prentice. Mr. Prentice was unavailable for an interview but it is clear from some of his recent speeches that he shares Ms. Redford's pan-Canadian view of resource sharing and infrastructure building.

She split up with Mr. Hawkes in the spring of 1991, and both have since remarried – her second husband is Glen Jermyn, the father of her red-haired daughter Sarah, and a senior lawyer in Aboriginal Law Services for the federal Department of Justice in Calgary. But she and her first husband remain friends – although she says they still argue (“Now, that's why I divorced you,” she will parry), she did ask Mr. Hawkes to lead her transition team after she became Premier.

After completing her articles, Ms. Redford formed a small law firm with another lawyer with whom she had articled and then went out on her own, before deciding to become a consultant with Agriteam Canada, a Calgary-based NGO that works internationally on development issues such as legal and judicial reform. One of her first assignments was in South Africa, working with Mr. Mandela and the African National Congress in their discussions with the beleaguered former apartheid regime.

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