A new era for Alberta.
Congratulations to Alison Redford,chosen by her governing Tory party early this morning as the first woman premier of Alberta, Canada's most prosperous province.
Redford is among the new faces of an Alberta more progressive than supposed elsewhere in Canada. She shares that distinction with with fellow Calgarian and centrist Naheed Nensh, popular new mayor of Calgary, the world's third-largest oil industry centre (after London and Houston).
The dynamic Calgary is regarded as more right-wing in its outlook than Edmonton, the capital, a lonely redoubt of progressives in the province. Yet Cowtown now boasts one of the country's most enlightened mayors, which, mind you, hasn't diminished in any way his hometown pride. Asked during a recent visit to Toronto what he would do to improve Hogtown, his first suggestion was "Make it more like Calgary."
By that he meant, among other things, greater exploitation and respect for the city's natural wonders, including Calgary's defining Bow and Elbow rivers running through the city. Among his first orders of business is to construct more elaborate walking, jogging and cycling trails along the entire lengths of those arteries, into the suburbs. (There have long been such trails close to downtown.)
Redford, 46, is a bilingual human-rights lawyer. She is married with a 9-year-old daughter. Reford campaigned on an unapologetically progressive platform. It includes restoring $100 million in education cuts; introducing family care clinics; raising salaries of non-profit sector workers; and increasing payments to the severely disabled, among other measures the rest of the country would do well to study and emulate.
Tory MLA Dave Rodney rejects the harsh right-wing stereotype of Alberta held by many non-Albertans. "The name of our party is the Progressive Conservatives. It's a cliche to say that, but that's what it is. This is a perfect opportunity for great things to happen."
Redford, too, rejects the notion that Alberta has, with her upset victory (the prohibitive favourite was former energy minister Gerry Mar), turned a corner to more progressive future. "The province changed some time ago, and politics is catching up."
Indeed. Alberta has long invested more money in healthcare than any province. Education, too. When David Cameron, the British PM, addressed a joint session of the Canadian Parliament recently, his praise of his host included noting that the world's students most proficient in English are to be found not in Great Britain but in Alberta. Alberta for years has outpeformed most world jurisdictions in global educational achievement rankings - inordinately so given its relatively modest-sized population.
Such strengths don't come overnight. Fact is, the 40-year unbroken PC rule of Alberta - the remarkable legacy of Peter Lougheed, who first brought the Tories to power in 1971 - has been characterized by substantial public investment in the province's future. The payoff has included Calgary's consistent rating by the Economist as one of the world's top 10 most liveable cities; and the world-class R&D at institutions like Foothills Hospital and the University of Alberta. One of the renowned architect Santiago Calatrava's most alluring and futuristc current projects is his Peace Bridge commissioned by Calgary.
The province increasingly is living up to its billing as "tomorrow country," leading the way as much in social justice as much as the entrepreneurship for which it has long been acclaimed. Alberta's supreme court was one of the three across Canada that found prohibitions against gay marriage to be unconstitutional, prompting then PM Jean Chretien to make gay marriage the law of the land.
For whatever reasons - and here a seasoned political scientist is called for - the West is the nation's chief incubator of experiements in governance - birthplace of the Reform Party and much earlier the predecessor to today's NDP, and, of course, Medicare, the single Canadian attribute we say we cherish most. It was this spirit that brought Redford to attention, and ultimately the premiership, despite her status as a rookie MLA. "In caucus, she was always the one asking the questions the rest of us should have been asking," MLA Art Johnston told the Star. Johnston was the only caucus member to support Redford's improbable leadership bid from the beginning, eight months ago. "I had to go with supporting her because it was the right choice. It wasn't about whether she had a chance of winning or not."
The federal version of the Tories is not progressive, of course. It is the old, minimalist-government Reform Party, suspicious of Central Canada and contemptuous of so-called have-not Atlantic Canada, suspicious of immigrants, women's reproductive rights, women who choose not to be stay-at-home moms, Canadians of non-hetrosexual orientation, francophones and Quebec nationalists especially, and social progress generally, which absorbed a faltering federal PC party whose first leader more than anyone founded this country, that now rules in Ottawa with the support of just over one-third of the people - a ceiling it seems never able to pierce.
Not that it tries. With a slender mandate, the Harper government is wasting no time imposing on all Canadians the agenda of its narrow reactionary base. Mr Harper, having first brought his Conservative Party of Canada, sans "Progressive," to power in Ottawa in 1996, will not, as the Alberta PCs have done, keep winning the favour of the electorate for 40 years. It will not enjoy the 41-year rule of the Ontario PCs under progressive, competent premiers Leslie Frost, John Robarts and Bill Davis. Today's CPC, still the old Reform in practice, its leader the former and first policy chief of the Reform, has never formed a provincial or territorial government. Which explains in part its chronic difficulty in grasping the essence of the country. (The NDP has now formed the government in five of the 10 provinces, from B.C. to Nova Scotia.)
When the PC's adopted that moniker, there was amusement about the apparent oxymoron of "progressive conservative." And yet wherever PCs have ruled, in Ottawa, Edmonton, Queen's Park, St. John's and Halifax, PC governance in practice has been a blend of fiscal responsibility and progressive social policy. That's what made the PC's viable for so long federally, and accounts for their continued electability in the provinces and territories.
Often as not, Grits in power have adopted PC virtues, notably the 11 consecutive budget surpluses that began under Jean Chretien. PCs have acted similarly, founding the CBC, introducing a pre-Medicare form of affordable health insurance in Ontario and elsewhere, and of course, financing with public funds that greatest infrastructure project in our history, making Confederation possible - the CPR.
As the federal NDP has shifted toward the centre, though by no means to the centre, antagonizing extreme "lefties," its embrace by Canadians steadily grew in the 2000s, the "orange crush" movement culminating in the NDP's winning official opposition status May 2 for the first time in its 79-year history.
That is not entirely to the late Jack Layton's credit. As Alberta premier-designate Alison Redford says, the people have been moving in this direction for some time. Toward a more caring society, and arguably the one country so blessed in climate, innovation, natural wonders and especially the civility of its people to become the world's most caring society. Given our blessings, we should aim for no less.
Alison Redford new leader of Alberta's PC party. (Petti Fong, Toronto Star)
Alberta to get first female premier.(Dawn Walton and Joshn Wingrove, Globe and Mail)