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Alberta Premier Alison Redford during a press conference in Calgary April 24, 2012 after being elected premier Monday night.

John Lehmann/John Lehmann/Globe and Mail

The future belongs to Alberta. It is an oil-producing province in an oil-hungry world. The challenge for a wealthy province nearly alone in a country facing difficult economic choices is to act in a spirit of generosity. Premier Alison Redford has the mandate and the opportunity to become a leader among premiers, presenting a positive and unifying vision of the country. Alberta is already an intellectual and innovation powerhouse, and Ms. Redford can build on that for the long term, and be a model for the rest of the country.

Albertans rejected a narrowly conceived populism when they turned their backs on Danielle Smith and the Wildrose Party. Albertans made their point loud and clear in Monday's election: They don't wish to cower behind firewalls. They want to play a constructive role in Confederation. They want to step up.

Ms. Redford understands that. She said when elected that she wants to build bridges, not walls, and given the importance of Alberta's oil industry to Canada, the ability to ease environmental concerns over the impact of that vital industry is critical. Alberta can't duck that challenge. Albertans won't benefit from a leader who hunkers down or carps; they need someone who sees the bigger picture, and can talk to people who have different perspectives.

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First, though, Ms. Redford should put the province's fiscal house in order. Markets change, the politics of oil, particularly oil sands, are difficult (getting that oil to market will be a major challenge), and nothing lasts forever, a truism that the Progressive Conservative Party had lost sight of.

Over the first decade of this century, the public-sector wage bill in Alberta rose at nearly double the rate of the national average. Albertans understandably bristled. Wildrose was a response to that growing unhappiness with provincial spending. A critical challenge for Ms. Redford is to restore fiscal discipline. If the Progressive Conservatives fail, Wildrose may be more ready next time.

Alberta has a well-earned reputation for innovation, beginning with the oil industry but extending to social policy in health care and education, and to world-leading universities such as the University of Alberta. The province is an economic leader and Ms. Redford is in the position now to enhance its standing as a moral and national leader.

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