A champion of Canadian energy projects, a driver of the national agenda on health-care reform, and a bridge-builder to friends and critics alike – that's the Alberta that Premier Alison Redford sees as she savours her election victory.
One day after her Progressive Conservatives won another majority by fending off the right-wing Wildrose Party, Ms. Redford was back on the job. The result has been framed as a split in Canadian conservatism, but Ms. Redford rejected that, saying her party has simply evolved. She clings to a progressive vision, pledging to continue to invest in health care and education, saying she won’t cater to the Wildrose opposition, and that Alberta has indeed changed.
The province’s new role begins, she said, with reaching out to its neighbours and foes – instead of invoking, as the province occasionally has, an ethos at odds with the rest of Canada. She announced, for instance, she’ll lead an Alberta delegation to the United Nations’ Rio+20 conference on sustainable development this year.
“There is still a lot of work to do in terms of Canadians not just accepting what’s happening here ... but also embracing it,” Ms. Redford told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday afternoon. “And I know that’s an ambitious goal. But I think it’s possible.”
Ms. Redford’s government wants to pursue a Canadian energy strategy that would knit the goals of Alberta’s economy with those of other provinces. She’s encouraged by signs the United States will move ahead with the Keystone XL pipeline, but says her province needs to engage “environmental stakeholders in what economic development looks like in Alberta.” She will pour $150-million annually into energy research with the hope of diversifying the economy. “Because it’s not simply going to be enough to keep extracting and exporting,” she told The Globe. “I mean, it’s important to us, we want to keep doing it, [but]one of the issues is what do we do if the markets change?”
She also plans to work with Saskatchewan and other provinces to promote innovation in health care; in Alberta's case, Ms. Redford plans to open up 140 collaborative care clinics to boost access to primary care (a goal that led to a clash with doctors during the campaign).
“My goodness. I think it’s unique in Canada,” Ms. Redford said when asked about Alberta’s role. “It’s no doubt that the economy that we are stewards of is critical to the economic success of Canada, and it’s not only critical because of all the traditional transfer payments, and that sort of thing, and equalization. It’s because I think if we do this right, we get to grow an energy economy right across this country.”
Many considered the Alberta campaign to be a battle between conservative factions – Ms. Redford's Progressive Conservatives against the small-c conservatism of Wildrose, which many in the federal Conservative Party had backed.
Ms. Redford doesn't buy it, saying her party has survived by evolving with Alberta, and has done so again under her leadership.
“I actually see us as very different political parties that are representing different ideas. And I think that’s at the provincial level. ... The federal Conservative Party has also evolved over time. The federal Conservative Party today is a very different party than it was when it was first started, and I think that’s a good thing,” said Ms. Redford, a red Tory who has clashed with federal counterparts. “Parties evolve, and they change, and I don’t see an awful lot of dissimilar views between us right now.”
She didn’t expect her win would hurt relations with Ottawa, saying any rift is overblown and she and Prime Minister Stephen Harper – a fellow Calgarian she has known since she was a teenager – see eye to eye on most things. On crime, however, Ms. Redford, a lawyer and former justice minister, has been a champion of preventive measures, and only reluctantly supported the federal Tories’ crime bill, which takes a tougher approach.
“That’s true, [we disagree]in terms of prevention, ... although ironically they’re not building any more prisons,” Ms. Redford said, smiling.
She announced on Tuesday that she will soon name a cabinet and will return to the Legislature before the summer – presumably to pass an education bill that died on the order paper before the writ dropped.
Ms. Redford struck a gleeful, carefree tone on Tuesday, saying she isn’t as surprised as others by the results in a vote where turnout was estimated at 57 per cent, the highest since 1993, when the PCs fended off a challenge from the Liberals. Albertans, she said, responded to her party’s vision for the province as a force on the national and international stage.
“You know, I was very surprised when I became Premier in October – and went away to Ontario and Quebec and did that sort of thing – at the response when I came back to Alberta. To this, this excitement, that we were, it was almost like they were saying we were part of Canada again. We can be part of the conversation, we can be proud of our role in the conversation,” Ms. Redford said. “Albertans are proud to be Canadians. We want to continue to participate in Confederation. We are from everywhere in this country, and are very proud, I think, to have those ties back to other provinces, and are very confident that as we move ahead and continue to succeed, that Canada will as well.”