Alberta's political leaders have long cast themselves as the tough-talking lone wolf, eager to take on foes in Ottawa or around the world. It's a loud, unabashed and partisan political ethos.
And it's what Alison Redford plans to change.
Days after Ms. Redford won the leadership of Alberta's venerable Progressive Conservative Party, her vision for it has begun to emerge. Simply put, she prefers constructive compromise to a strong arm.
She sees a friend in Ottawa and its regulators, not a foe as other Alberta leaders have. She's a fierce supporter of the oil sands, but prefers to leave the advocacy to staff and is loath to be the face of the oil and gas industry. She has little time for protesters, saying they don't help find solutions, but she wants more input from opposition parties. She's willing to change her mind and endure the shouts of “flip-flop” from across the aisle.
Welcome to Ms. Redford's Alberta – Canada's quieter, less partisan economic engine, where a new leader is navigating a bumpy road trying to reinvent the way politics is done.
“We're going to go through a change in culture in terms of how I'm going to be a premier and how government's going to work,” Ms. Redford told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday. “It's just a more sensible way.”
The work started on Tuesday with her first caucus meeting. Ms. Redford was nervous about her reception in a room where only a few backed her bid – so much so that she pre-emptively cancelled the fall legislative session, thinking it best for a divided party to regroup before next year's budget and election.
However, her caucus put on a show of unity – three standing ovations (or 10, depending on which MLA you ask) and a photo-op designed to show them as one big family. “I think this building rocked today. It was amazing,” Ms. Redford said. Now, the legislative session is back on, but it too will look different. Opposition parties say it's their only chance to criticize the government; Ms. Redford wants to reform Question Period and give her opponents a more substantial input in decision making.
“There has to be a shift in the way we think about how the legislature works in Alberta, and how politics works in Alberta,” she said.
Ms. Redford faces a long to-do list. She has to be sworn in, find $100-million for education, call an inquiry into patient deaths in Alberta's health-care system, balance the budget and name a cabinet. She also has to bury her mother, who died suddenly four days before the vote. Focused on earning an upset win, she had little else planned for her first days. “Oh, my goodness. It's been so much more than I could have expected,” she said.
If she were able to look ahead, she might have avoided two gaffes – changing her mind on the fall session and pushing back a promised date for a fixed election.
“If people want to call them flip flops, they can. ... You're never going to find me being the person who says, ‘I said it, I'm going to do it, I'm not shifting,'” she said, adding that it's unrealistic for a politician to never reconsider a choice. “Albertans are sensible people. I'm not really sure that most people sitting and looking at this [change]stare and say, ‘Oh God, they got her. They got her.' I mean, really.”
Internationally, she will push for the Keystone XL pipeline and supports the oil sands.
What success she'll have is unclear. Caucus MLAs, despite their good show, are clearly waiting to see her cabinet before deciding whether to back her. “If my name's on the list, I'll be running. If it's not, I'll be riding into the sunset, basically,” said MLA Art Johnston, who was Ms. Redford's only caucus supporter before the first ballot.
And so Ms. Redford faces an uphill battle, even if it's her show. But she hopes to play peacemaker on the national stage, and has called fellow premiers laying out a vision.
“What happened on Saturday in Alberta was a little bit of a coming of age in politics,” she said of her victory. “People saying we're going to engage in the issues we care about. We're not joining a party because we're centrist, conservative, left, whatever. What they said was we want to have good government, we want to have transparent government, we want to have accountable government, all of that. That's the issue.”
Alison Redford’s challenges
On the oil sands
“What I believe is that we have a very strong regulatory framework. We can always improve it. There’s certainly work we’re doing right now on regulatory enhancement, and we’re going to keep doing that, but we’re not doing it because we have a weak framework. We will continue to be able to make our environmental stewardship better, but I would say we’re strong. We need to defend what’s there.”
On Alberta’s national role
“I believe that Albertans – and we heard it on the campaign trail – want Alberta to be proud partners in Confederation. They want us to play a meaningful role. And I think perhaps in the last while Alberta has become fairly preoccupied with its own issues. And looked at them through the eyes of how they impact Alberta. And we have an opportunity now to widen that conversation.”
On hitting the ground running
“I really hadn’t contemplated all of the situations I would be in. So, when we started, you really had to trust your instinct, right? Trust your gut. And having never done this before, you don’t know if you can do that. But I think I’ve been really proud of it. And I’ve been proud of the team that’s going to come together. And I thought the conversations I’ve had have gone really well. And I hope, I really do hope, that one of the reasons for that is I come to it from my heart. I didn’t come in with a tactical plan or strategy. I believe I’m a very genuine person and I approach everyone that way.”