I happened to be leaving the Edmonton EXPO Centre at the same moment as Alison Redford in the wee hours of the morning she was declared the winner of the race to lead the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, Oct. 2, 2011.
It’s hard to believe that a decade — 10 tumultuous years in Alberta politics — has passed since that moment.
It was after two a.m. by the time Redford got to give her victory speech, it having taken all evening and into the night for the recounts needed to persuade the Tory Old Boys who had opposed her to admit that Alison Merilla Redford, then 46, was their leader, and Gary Mar, their preferred choice to replace premier Ed Stelmach, was not.
Redford, who less than a week later would be sworn in as Premier Redford, was being escorted past me by a gaggle of Alberta Sheriffs Branch security officers, all full Secret Service in their earplugs, pistol bulges, and darting eyeballs.
Still, even they couldn’t stop smiling at finding themselves part of history at a moment it had taken an unexpected turn.
Redford couldn’t suppress her grin. At the same time, she had a look that, to me anyway, said, “What the hell are we going to do now?”
A great question, as it turned out.
She smiled at me, full of delight, as if I were in on the joke, before her security team whisked her into the back seat of a huge black General Motors SUV, which roared off into the night.
Mar, who was supposed to win, was still back in the convention hall, commiserating with his supporters and wondering what the hell had happened to what was supposed to have been the crowning moment of his political career.
For her part, Redford could thank good luck, a good resume, good management by her campaign team, and the fact that, sometimes, the stars and planets all just line up the right way to turn a long-shot campaign into a victory run.
I thanked my lucky stars I’d had the good fortune to be there when history was made. I’d been a sport and attended an Octoberfest fundraiser for another talented woman in Alberta politics, a New Democrat MLA named Rachel Notley. No one who ever would be, or could be, premier, I imagined at the time, but someone I liked and admired.
My route home took me past the EXPO Centre, inconveniently located in a rough and tumble district on Edmonton’s east side not far from the soon-to-be-replaced hockey rink where Wayne Gretzky brought back the Oilers’ Stanley Cups. As I drove past, I could see the lights were still burning, and the parking lot still packed, and decided to drop in to see what was going on.
By the time Redford finally got to make her victory speech, she told the crowd that had hung in to the end that, “Today Alberta voted for change.”
Those were still the days, remember, when Alberta politicians didn’t really see much difference between Progressive Conservative Party members and Alberta voters generally. “Make no mistake,” she went on. “We are going to do things differently.”
That was certainly true. There were many blunders to come that made Redford seem, for a spell, like a pretty awful premier. She formally resigned on March 23, 2014, after being effectively pushed out by her own caucus.
Until 2019, that is.
Premier Redford’s progressive pitch won a comfortable majority for the PCs in 2012 — to the great disappointment of mainstream Alberta media that had carried water for the farther-right Wildrose Party and its leader, Danielle Smith.
Notwithstanding a number of scandals that seem small beer in the present circumstances — expensive travel to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral, false passenger bookings on the government plane so the premier could travel in privacy, and a plan to build an apartment for the premier atop an Edmonton government building, the notorious Sky Palace — the government she ran looks positively exemplary compared to the current deadly gong show in the Alberta Legislature.
Indeed, many of us, looking back at the Redford government feel almost nostalgic for the day-to-day competence with which it ran the business of the province, even if we had problems with Redford’s obvious sense of entitlement and some of her not-so-progressive legislation.
Health care was in crisis then, too, you could argue. But despite the hyperbole, it was never on the verge of collapse.
The next premier to be elected in a general election was the highly competent Rachel Notley of the NDP, now the leader of the Opposition in the Legislature. After Notley came the catastrophic Jason Kenney and his so-called United Conservative Party, and with it chaos, COVID mismanagement and culture wars.
We’ll save comment on them for another night.
Let’s just say that Oct. 2, 2011, was the moment at which Alberta politics — which under 44 years of the PC Dynasty founded by Peter Lougheed had become the longest running bore in the land — became truly interesting.
They have stayed that way. Since 2019, though, they’ve been interesting in the sense of the proverbial Chinese curse.