There could be worse people for Alberta premier-designate Alison Redford to turn to for advice in the coming weeks than her B.C. counterpart, Christy Clark.
The two women, after all, have a lot in common. They both ran for the leadership of their party as the “change” candidate, which helped them defeat high-profile men who were the preferred choice of the party establishment. They both had broad appeal among female voters and were both good at signing up large numbers of new members.
Both women campaigned against notable policies of the government they would inherit. Ideologically, both are perceived to be on the left wing of their party. And both are dealing with legitimate threats from right-wing political institutions benefiting from fresh leadership themselves.
Ms. Clark had only one member of the B.C. Liberal caucus supporting her leadership bid. And Ms. Redford had only one Conservative caucus member backing her campaign when she first jumped into the race. Ms. Redford is 46; Ms. Clark turns 46 at the end of the month.
In office nearly seven months, Ms. Clark has crossed some of the bridges Ms. Redford will soon be approaching, such as picking a cabinet. For the most part, Ms. Clark made all the right moves in putting together her executive council, finding prominent roles for her main challengers. Kevin Falcon, who narrowly lost to Ms. Clark on the third ballot, was appointed Finance Minister and Deputy Premier. Third-place finisher George Abbott, as capable a politician as there is, was given the challenging education portfolio.
Those, in many ways, were the easy decisions. Much tougher was the difficult calculation of whom to leave out. And Ms. Redford will have a hard time on this front as well. For instance, Ms. Clark left long-time cabinet minister Colin Hansen off her cabinet list because he was the finance minister associated with the HST – and, consequently, a reminder of much-loathed former Liberal premier Gordon Campbell, someone Ms. Clark is desperate to have voters forget.
While Ed Stelmach may not have been despised, he certainly did not connect with Albertans in the same way Conservative Party leaders have in the past. At times, his government was deeply unpopular. Ms. Redford would be advised to jettison those ministers (former health minister Ron Liepert, perhaps) mostly likely to invoke unpleasant memories of the old regime.
One error Ms. Clark made in assembling her cabinet was giving a spot to the lone caucus member who had supported her leadership bid. It did not go well, and the Premier had to demote him.
Ms. Redford will have a similar choice to make regarding Art Johnston. Is he up to the task, or would Ms. Redford merely be rewarding his loyalty? Putting people in jobs they aren’t cut out for isn’t doing them any favours, as Ms. Clark discovered.
Ms. Clark and her closest advisers have learned a few other things that Ms. Redford may want to note. Don’t stress over leading a group of people who didn’t support your campaign. A caucus will unite around its new leader. Sure, some members will have a harder time than others in letting go of their resentment, but eventually they do.
The best way to get your rivals onside is to give them plenty of responsibility and lots of room to make decisions. That’s what Ms. Clark has done with some of her key campaign opponents, a refreshing change from the micro-managing ways of Mr. Campbell.
Decide early on your government’s themes and hammer them home in every speech you give. For Ms. Clark, those themes are jobs, families and open government. Come election time, there should be no confusion in voters’ minds about the priority of her issues.
The stale, often depressing air that hangs heavy inside the political cocoon that’s a provincial capital isn’t good for a premier. To find out how you’re really doing, get out and talk to the public. And when things get really ugly, buy yourself some fresh flowers. It will remind you that not everything about the job stinks.