Alberta’s first female premier recalls ‘horrible’ sexism, racism and homophobia in government she served

EDMONTON—Alberta’s first female premier has denounced “just horrible” sexism, racism and homophobia inside the government she was with until 2014, while also criticizing the current provincial government for being an old boys’ club.

Alison Redford ruled the province from 2011 until 2014 when she resigned, ending a scandal-plagued tenure marked by infighting and division within her now-defunct Progressive Conservative party.

On Monday, she was a guest on a podcast titled From Here to Queer, produced by the Edmonton Queer History Project, and gave a frank assessment of her fight to push forward a progressive social agenda in a historically conservative province.

She described first entering government as justice minister under then-premier Ed Stelmach in 2008. It was a cabinet meeting about a “take your kid hunting day,” said Redford on the podcast, released Monday but recorded before Premier Jason Kenney announced in May that he’d be resigning.

Redford watched “all of these old white guys just turn and look at me” because she was one of the few women in cabinet. “The way they would go off was just horrible — sexist, racist, you know, homophobic,” she said of some of the men around the table then.

“I don’t think anybody who’s looking at the government today would think the old guard is gone,” she added. “I was naïve to think that I was making as much progress as I thought I was.”

Redford seldom weighs in on politics, or discusses her time as premier. In the podcast she offered to peek into some of the most dramatic moments in Alberta’s political history.

Inevitably, the discussion included the 2012 provincial election best remembered in the province by three words: “lake of fire.” Wildrose Party candidate Allan Hunsperger sparked a furor with a blog post, written before the election, stating that gay people would burn in that biblical lake in hell.

Danielle Smith then led Wildrose, and now hopes to win the governing United Conservative Party’s leadership to become premier on Oct. 6.

Amid promising polls during the 2012 campaign, leading some to think Smith could win power, she did not turf Hunsperger as a candidate despite the controversy. Asked whether she expected Smith to drop him, Redford said she did n’t “to the extent that I knew her de ella” but she was still surprised she did n’t ax him, in the end.

“If she dumps this guy, it could change things — and she didn’t.”

That election became focused on Hunsperger’s statements and Smith’s reluctance to boot him, and the PCs went on to win a majority government. “I kind of get goosebumps about that,” said Redford.

“That wasn’t about a party campaign or whatever I said. That was like, a visceral reaction from Albertans, like, ‘we don’t want Alberta to be like this anymore.’”

Sexism in her early political days was at times blatant, said Redford — men would comment on the appearance of women they’d seen at a party the night before a cabinet meeting. Homophobia in the halls of power was more of a dismissive attitude, she said.

Redford recalled one instance where the Treasury Board president “was given policy advice to change insurance benefits for same-sex couples in the public service and he refused to do it.

“So I had to sit there as a lawyer, going to cabinet, and saying, ‘Look, I don’t actually care what you think. This is illegal and we’re going to follow the Constitution,’” said Redford.

“And there was a lot of that. And they didn’t like that, and those guys never liked me.”

Redford was Alberta’s first sitting premier to march in a Pride parade and made waves when she raised the rainbow flag over the legislature during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. As premier, she invited LGBTQ community representatives to meet and talk with her about policy changes — changes she began pushing for, including altering the province’s legal definition of marriage to be more inclusive of same-sex couples.

She offered advice on the podcast for the current government: “Actually listen to Albertans,” she said, “because the Alberta that they think they’re governing is not Alberta.”

Redford offered a message for the LGBTQ community after saying how social conservatives “never let anything go” — pointing to how Roe vs. Wade was before the US Supreme Court again (the abortion-rights decision was overturned last week).

“Don’t stop fighting,” Redford said. “They’re never going to stop pushing back, so don’t stop fighting.”


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