A few weeks ago, Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives appeared the least likely party to select a female leader.

Gary Mar’s first ballot lead and growing caucus support appeared insurmountable.

Now a woman is the premier-designate of Alberta. 

 This unprecedented win resonates for a number of reasons. Alison Redford is a relative newcomer and something of an outsider. Her candidacy was initially supported by only one of her caucus colleagues, and many predicted her campaign’s demise when she took positions that risked alienation from her caucus, like calling for a judicial inquiry into allegations of healthcare queue jumping. 

Lori Williams is an Associate Professor of Policy Studies at Mount Royal University. Williams’ areas of expertise include women in politics, political philosophy and ideology.

Photo by: Derek Mange.

Most MLAs supported candidates associated with Tory tradition – an ‘old boys’ network.’ Clearly Alison Redford is not one of the ‘old boys.’

Indeed her victory suggests something very new. Those who voted for her did so based on her policies, vision, leadership and character – not, as she has noted, her gender.

Nevertheless it is significant that this province is about to swear in its first female premier.

Why is this important?

Perhaps most notably, her election as leader provides evidence that gender doesn’t exclude women from influencing Alberta politics at the highest level.

Not even in a party that is the epitome of ‘the establishment’ – for forty years. This will provide a powerful example and inspiration for those who previously saw themselves as outsiders. Indeed, many of her supporters are people who have never before been politically engaged.

Women’s political participation has led to observations about their tendency to approach politics differently, though novel approaches are not unique to women.

Some of these differences are already apparent. While some have compared Premier-designate Redford’s tenacity to Margaret Thatcher, whose style was more traditional, she has also demonstrated some of the differences identified in studies.

She has signaled a desire to improve how government works, and a commitment to a collaborative, consultative approach to leadership. She has vowed to include the entire caucus in decision-making, and has invited her former rivals to join her in finding solutions to the challenges they all face.

To their credit, each of the leadership candidates has committed to support such collaboration. Ms. Redford’s pledge to finding common ground in resolving problems has also been extended outside the party, and the province. Alison Redford personifies the changing face of Alberta politics. 

Photo by: Steve Waldner.

Another of the strengths observed by analysts is that women politicians show a pragmatic willingness to reach across ideological divisions. Redford has described herself as more concerned with helping Albertans solve problems than whether an issue is left or right-wing.

She is concerned about fiscal responsibility, but also interested in creative approaches to public funding or provision of services. She has defended equal access to healthcare while proposing initiatives that could rein in costs.

Her leadership in crime reduction strategies through Alberta′s Safe Communities Secretariat has balanced policing and prosecution of offenders with crime prevention, targeting causes of crime, like mental illness and addiction. 

Of course leadership changes cannot by themselves solve complex problems. But they can help to generate creative responses, and the political will to implement them. The party faithful are hoping premier-designate Redford will renew the party, but many who weren’t even following the race are now interested in the direction this new government will take.

Overnight, politically inattentive Albertans have become intrigued.