Alberta Diary

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David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

Alison Redford has already been Alberta premier too long to be prime minister

| July 10, 2012
Sir Charles Tupper

Alison Redford has been premier of Alberta too long ever to be prime minister of Canada.

A columnist for a local daily newspaper recently made the suggestion Redford may harbour prime ministerial ambitions -- a notion he presumably heard first in the same place everyone else did. While this may be true, and while there is also conflicting evidence to the contrary, the possibility of her realizing such an ambition is extremely unlikely whatever she wishes.

Indeed, with only one notable exception -- and that one is so exceptional that it truly is the proverbial exception that makes the rule -- no Canadian provincial premier has ever become prime minister of Canada.

There is a good reason for this, obvious on its face. To succeed, no national leader acceptable to sufficient portions of this very large and diverse country to become prime minister can be too closely identified with a single province's interests.

So it is no slur on Redford's truly formidable political abilities to say it is extremely unlikely she could overcome this liability sufficiently to satisfy prime ministerial ambitions, or indeed that, in the words of the Edmonton Journal's Graham Thomson, "when Harper decides to quit, Redford might be ideally positioned to take a run at his job."

Just being photographed in a cowboy hat presents a danger to any politician from Alberta with thoughts of a national role -- a reality that is profoundly unfair since politicos from Ontario, Newfoundland or Quebec can wear the same ostentatious headgear without risk because everyone knows they don't really mean it. (Calgary Stampeder Thomas Mulcair, c'mon down!) This is something our current sourpuss prime minister really ought to think about.

Regardless, as a corollary to the axiom above, no provincial leader who becomes a premier can succeed for long without clearly emphasizing the interests of her or his province to a degree that would make federal ambitions a problem.

What's more, having been a provincial premier, especially an effective one, gives your opponents a track record at which to take potshots. This is no doubt the real reason Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, a former NDP premier of Ontario, recently said to heck with seeking the permanent leadership of his party.

Never mind premiers so popular locally their supporters couldn't keep from touting them as potential prime ministers even though they had no particular interest in the job (Peter Lougheed, Bill Davis), the road to Ottawa is littered with political corpses of former premiers who really would have liked to be prime minister -- federal Tory leader Robert Stanfield, once premier of Nova Scotia and memorialized by Red Tories as "the best prime minister Canada never had," and former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna, to just name two.

As an aside, as McKenna proved and Manitoba New Democrat Gary Doer confirmed, being a former provincial premier is no barrier to being appointed Canadian Ambassador to Washington -- even if the appointment doesn't benefit the prime minister's grand scheme to create a regional block of sympathetic premiers in one part of the country.

So who is the exception that supposedly makes this rule? Well, that would be Sir Charles Tupper, who as merely the Hon. Charles Tupper was not-so-famously the premier of Nova Scotia from 1864 to 1867, when he led his province into the Canadian Confederation.

Nova Scotia became part of Canada on July 1, 1867, and Premier Tupper, a Conservative, turned over the reins of the premiership on July 4 of the same year to Hiram Blanchard. So, really, it has to be said that Sir Charles was premier of a Canadian province for only three days -- which, it is noted here, is about the right length of time for a Conservative to hold office.

Later, in 1896 at the age of 74, Sir Charles was sworn in as prime minister on May 1 at the start of an election campaign and managed to hang onto that office for only 68 days until the election on July 24, which was clearly won by the Liberal Wilfrid Laurier.

Notwithstanding a brief attempt to hang onto power -- which was met with steely lack of co-operation by the Governor General, the Earl of Aberdeen -- Sir Charles would go down in history as one of the few prime ministers never to sit in the House of Commons while holding the top job. This unhappy precedent was followed more recently by Tory Kim Campbell and Liberal John Turner.

It's possible, of course, that a Canadian prime minister may yet come to office who has been a premier for more than three days, but it seems unlikely for the reasons set out above, that she (or he) will be much more successful than was Sir Charles.

So if you're looking for an Alberta Conservative who could replace Harper, in the unlikely event other Canadians are willing to consider an Albertan in that job after he's finished with the place, don't expect that person to be Alison Redford, even if she does manage to schedule a meeting with Mulcair.

A more likely candidate would be Gary Mar, which come to think of it, you also heard here first!

NOTE: The tempest in a teapot late yesterday over the mildly racy poster that appeared briefly on Jon Lord's Facebook page is just that. It’s said here the former Calgary alderman and one-term MLA won't win the Conservative Party of Canada nomination in the Calgary Centre riding because he is not a particularly strong candidate, and because there are more appealing candidates officially in the race, not because of the poster, whoever posted it.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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