Rarely have Albertans been infused with as much hope, and as much uncertainty, as we are in the wake of Alison Redford’s gritty victory on Sunday.
The hope is that Alberta’s 14th premier — as newly elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party — has the tenacity to stick by her early agenda as she prepares her party for an election next year.
The uncertainty is whether she can juggle all the ideological balls that Albertans want in the air at once. The fear is that the fallout will be devastating if she can’t.
And can her government be democratically accountable? It has long been the missing ingredient in Alberta politics.
By virtue of her narrow win over Gary Mar on the weekend, Redford is in charge of what MLA Lindsay Blackett calls “a big tent party.” The Redford Progressive Conservatives now broadly cover Albertans who want inclusive, progressive social programs and those who demand a conservative fiscal approach.
And they are looking to Redford to be the ringmaster who can ensure it all happens.
It is a challenge that few people would be willing to face. It will require craft, tenacity and the kind of leadership we haven’t seen regularly since Peter Lougheed left office.
If she missteps over the next several months, the Liberals and the NDP on the left, and the Wildrose Party on the right will gather support — and probably more than a few members of her caucus.
And instead of having a centrist party that draws the majority of Albertans to it, we will have the makings of a polarized political landscape.
She is going to have to gather disparate Tories and alienated voters of all stripes, and make them believe again that their government can be responsive, inclusive and enduring.
Albertans, after years of disappointment and festering disaffection, looked at the campaign to replace Ed Stelmach as leader as an opportunity for change and rebirth.
But after the 40-year dynastic rule of the PCs, the presence of longtime PCs Gary Mar, Ted Morton and Rick Orman in the leadership race suggested the party wasn’t quite ready to seek the new path that Albertans want and need.
Redford’s victory, in the face of daunting odds, suggests the party — just barely — figured it out. She was the distinctive choice in a campaign otherwise dominated by the old guard.
In the best of worlds, Albertans want prudent spending and expansive, inclusive critical programs.
It’s a notion that Ralph Klein couldn’t grasp. In his world, you were either a fiscal hawk or an irresponsible socialist.
Ed Stelmach tried to be all things to all people, but he lacked the vision, leadership and internal party support to pull off the juggling act. And his priorities kept changing.
Redford says she will run a government that is “fiscally disciplined.” But she also intends to immediately return $107 million to school boards that Stelmach cut.
Most Albertans will embrace a government that makes education and health care the cornerstones of public service, particularly when she also intends to immediately examine MLA salaries and perks.
The former human rights lawyer also talks about running a government that is transparent.
Promising an independent, judicial inquiry into allegations that doctors have been gagged is a good place to start.
Pledging to halt and review all land-use and power-line legislation is a tremendous second step.
Redford is bright, decisive and committed.
But much hard work awaits before we can say for sure that she is also a gifted leader.
“I want to ensure that we have a throne speech and a budget, a legislative session; we will set an agenda and then we’ll go to the polls and ask for Albertans to trust us again,” she told a press conference on Sunday.
It’s a heady agenda for the next 12 months, but if Redford can turn Albertans’ hope and uncertainty into trust and expectation, then the Progressive Conservatives have made an inspired choice.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.