Alberta politics became a little more exciting in the early hours of Sunday, October 2, 2011 when the sharp-minded former Justice Minister and human rights lawyer Alison Redford defied critics, but not readers of this blog, by defeating front-runner Gary Mar in the PC leadership contest. Ms. Redford will become Alberta’s first woman Premier when she is sworn-in to her new office in the coming days. She also rides into victory carrying a banner that promises change to her party members and Albertans.
One of her first challenges will be to build a new provincial cabinet.
Without many endorsements from her fellow MLAs, Ms. Redford may have more freedom to pick and choose the members of the next cabinet. Her win was a strike against the PC Party establishment that lined up behind Mr. Mar, so it will not be surprising to see a significant cabinet shuffle after she officially enters her office.
It is too early to know who will be in cabinet for sure, but there are a number of political indicators that we can use to speculate. Former Deputy Premier Doug Horner, who placed third in the leadership contest and whose supporters helped push Ms. Redford over the top on the run-off vote will likely grab a key cabinet spot. Remaining in cabinet because of their political strength on the ground (as proved by the total number of memberships sold in their constituencies) should be Lac La Biche-St. Paul MLA Ray Danyluk and Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Dave Hancock.
Uncertain futures lie ahead for former Finance Minister Ted Morton and Battle River-Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths, who both endorsed Mr. Mar after they were eliminated from the first ballot vote on September 17, 2011. It should be noted that both their campaign managers endorsed Ms. Redford, as did voters in their constituencies in the October 1, 2011 vote.
To reinforce the message of change that Ms. Redford reminded PC Party members of in her victory speech, she will need to clean out some of the dead wood in the current provincial cabinet. This will mean smaller offices and salary cuts for some cabinet ministers, including loyalists of outgoing Premier Ed Stelmach.
Also significant to watch along with a new cabinet team will be the appointment and shuffling of Deputy Ministers. These top public servants are the professionals who can spell the key to success or failure for a new cabinet minister and can also signal the direction in which a government wishes to drive an agenda.
Ms. Redford ran a policy heavy campaign, of which two of the main issues were education and health care. She announced the restoration of funding to rehire the thousand teachers who were laid off only months ago. The campaign also highlighted her support for the public health care system in order to differentiate her from front-runner Mr. Mar, who came out strongly in support of privatized healthcare earlier in the campaign. Alberta may be fertile ground for conservative political movements, but the results of the PC leadership contest reinforces the position that those same conservative party members also support a strong public health care system.
Like her opponent, Mr. Mar, she has committed to represent the Government of Alberta at congressional hearings being held in Washington D.C. about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on October 7, 2011. Increased international attention on the oilsands and our province’s environmental record has created a new challenge that the previous government struggled to handle. It will be interesting to watch what kind of approach Ms. Redford’s government will take to defending Alberta’s record in natural resource extraction.
Ms. Redford’s selection as Premier has already made Alberta politics more exciting and unpredictable. Opposition leaders Danielle Smith, Raj Sherman, Brian Mason, and Glenn Taylor will not be given a chance to challenge Ms. Reford during a Fall session of the Assembly, which will be delayed while the new Premier legitimately prepares a Legislative agenda for 2012. They will have to take to the airwaves, newspapers, and twittersphere with their criticisms.
With a provincial general election expected next year, Ms. Redford will have less than a year to prove that she can walk the talk when it comes to changing attitudes and politics within her forty-year governing Progressive Conservative Party. It is going to be interesting to watch!