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Letter from Alberta

Fresh off win, there's little time for Redford to waste Add to ...

Two days have passed since Alison Redford won the leadership of Alberta’s Tory dynasty. They’ve been a blur.

She’s been overwhelmed by interviews while putting in calls to Progressive Conservative colleagues and getting a friendly team in place to smooth her transition into the premier’s office in the east wing of the Alberta legislature. That’s the easy stuff.

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On Tuesday, however, her real work begins with a caucus meeting – and her agenda is as lofty as you’d expect for a long-shot candidate who doled out promises in a last-minute sprint to be elected. There’s much to do.

First, she has to find just over $100-million for education. The clock is ticking. Roughly 1,000 teachers weren’t brought back this fall by provincial school boards after austerity cuts in the recent budget. Ms. Redford has pledged to reverse those, but needs the money. Her opponents said financing that would take time; she insisted it could be done in 10 days. Two have passed.

Another platform was democratic renewal. Ms. Redford cast herself as an agent of change but has stumbled on this file early out of the gate – cancelling the entire fall session in the legislature. Her predecessor typically held short sessions, and there’s no requirement to have one, but opposition parties say it’s an insult to democracy.

“If this is the change we can expect from her, perhaps she should call an election right now and let Albertans decide if this is the change they actually want,” said Rob Anderson, house leader of the right-leaning Wildrose party, which is breathing down the PC party’s neck and is at odds with many of Ms. Redford’s centrist policies.

Delaying the session also delays how quickly she can set fixed election dates – another move she campaigned on, and one the legislature has to agree to. By cancelling the fall sitting, she buys herself time to push back an election that was expected in the spring. Now, she says it will be within 12 months, likely June or September.

Then there’s Keystone XL. There’s a major hearing in Washington, D.C., on Friday. Ms. Redford hinted she may go, but she doesn’t know the energy file well. The man she edged out for the job – Alberta’s former advocate in Washington, Gary Mar – said during the campaign he’d go personally. She may be forced to call on him or energy minister Ron Liepert (one of Mr. Mar’s staunchest supporters and no friend of Ms. Redford) to do so. Regardless, Alberta wants the pipeline built; as such, the new premier would be unwise to altogether ignore the hearing.

There’s also a judicial health inquiry. Ms. Redford’s campaign strategy was to emerge as a legitimate contender and carve out media attention early on by supporting opposition calls for an inquiry into complaints of substandard patient care. The party does not want an inquiry, which could expose ugly truths of its 40-year tenure. Ms. Redford, however, was unequivocal – if she doesn’t call one soon, it will be backtracking.

It all starts Tuesday, however, with Ms. Redford’s caucus meeting. That’s no small task, either. Nearly all her caucus backed someone else in the leadership race. The party put on a brave face of unity after Ms. Redford’s win, but it’s clearly fractured. She also has to pick her cabinet, one that she’s said will be a major overhaul of the current cabinet.

And, amid all this, she needs to plan and attend a private burial for her mother, who died four days before she became premier-designate.

Ms. Redford has been in the limelight since she won. She’s well-educated (the first Alberta premier with a university degree in roughly two decades) and has experience running a ministry, but is relatively inexperienced in government – elected in just 2008. Her nine-member transition team, consisting largely of campaign backers and prominent Calgary lawyers and political staff, will help.

“I am confident in the collective years of skill and talent in this group, and couldn’t feel more positive about setting up my office,” she said in a statement Monday. The honeymoon, however, won’t last long. There’s much to do if she’s to deliver on her promises – and meet expectations of a party badly in need of renewal.

Follow on Twitter: @josh_wingrove

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