Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fall From Grace

It was an incredibly gracious speech, the kind you expect a leader to deliver. The level of calm composure was remarkable, given the circumstances.

We were watching together as it live-streamed on my laptop, right from the rotunda in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta into our home. The kid and I were curled up in the same armchair, wrapped around each other, as we watched events unfold in a setting where we have both walked and reveled in the history and magnificence of the building.

She came down the stairs to applause, and when she began the kid looked at me and said, "Do you think she will resign?"

"I don't know," I said. And the kid looked at the screen and then said, before the words had left our Premier's lips, "Yes, she will - look at her eyes, her face, her body language. She is going to quit."

And so she did, last night in front of the watching eyes of the nation, the province, and a mom and daughter who sat snuggled together in an armchair. And as we sat there I know we were both thinking about how we had such high hopes and dreams just under three years ago when our Premier was elected, the first woman premier in our province's history.

I met Alison Redford when she visited Fort McMurray during the leadership debates. Even then she impressed me deeply, her sharp intelligence and keen intellect on full display. She had strength and resiliency, and I believed that she would make a wonderful leader, one right for a new era in our province. She attracted the right people too, I thought, two local individuals who I believed would be strong representatives for our region, and so when the time came I worked on the campaign for one of those individuals, throwing myself behind him and Alison Redford. And so too did the Intrepid Junior Blogger, the kid who spent her spring break in a campaign office and delivering flyers. She loved the idea of a woman premier, someone to look up to and a role model displaying all the qualities she admires. It was, in fact, a glorious time for her, to be part of seeing our MLA elected and Redford become the Premier. It was the best of times.

And then, recently, it became the worst of times. When the $45,000 trip to Nelson Mandela's funeral became an issue I believed it was still salvageable. Just pay it back with a contrite apology, and it would most likely go away. But the refusal to pay it back right away - her decision or bad advice from someone else I do not know - showed an inability to read the mood of the people. And then when the bad news kept piling on, more outrageously expensive trips, more details of government flights of dubious value to the taxpayer, more rumours and allegations (unproven and potentially unfounded, but still swirling) who was there to defend her?

Well, nobody. There are people who blame partisan politics for this downfall, and there are people who lay all the blame on Redford, but I think it is most likely a combination of those things, and includes the fact that she failed to build a strong team. While she was "building Alberta" she failed to build strength in her team, and it showed. The stories of backbenchers who waited not days, not weeks, not even months but years to meet face to face with their leader - their boss. Ever had a boss you would go to war for, take a bullet for? I have been fortunate to have some of those, but those bosses are the ones who have shown you the leadership to build your loyalty and respect. Those are the bosses who showed you loyalty and respect. I wish Redford was one of those, but it seems she was not.

When her dark days came who would stand in front of her and take the bullet? Christine Cusanelli, who got booted out of cabinet for an expense scandal very similar to the premier's own? Steve Young who one day about to be sworn into cabinet and the next day unceremoniously dumped? Doug Griffiths or Thomas Lukaszuk, who both got demotions in cabinet posts? The MLAs who never got to know Redford as a person or leader but only as an aloof individual who didn't seem to connect with them?

There was no one willing to take the bullet, and those who rose to her defense did so in the most tepid manner. I like Redford - I always will and I will always respect her intelligence and her resiliency, but she failed to understand that part of leadership is building a team and engendering loyalty and respect in them. She ended with a divided caucus, and the caucus infighting she suggested she could no longer handle and that led to her resignation rested squarely with her in the end. She failed to build the strong team she needed behind her in the dark days, and so it ended last night, not with a bang but a whimper. She lost touch with her team, with the people of this province and with the very people who worked to see her in office, people like a young 14-year old girl and I. She lost our faith, and with it she lost her right to govern as Premier, and so she did the right thing. She stepped down.

I do respect that decision tremendously, and I respect some of the other things she accomplished. Thanks to our MLAs, who have advocated for us with power and impact, she agreed to commit to the twinning of Highway 63. We have seen new schools built, new schools promised and infrastructure improvements to our local roads. I will always be grateful that she was responsive to the needs of this region, the economic engine of our province, and I will always be personally thankful that she took the time to speak with me - and with my daughter. I do not wish her any harm - in fact it is quite the opposite, as I wish her well as she moves into another phase and hope she exhibits the same strength and resiliency that I have always admired.

And now we move on.

We need a new Premier, one who can rebuild the team, connect the caucus and keep this government and province moving forward. We have a chance now to put the swirling controversies to rest and get on with the business of the province, changing our focus from expense scandals to seeing our province prosper. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of all this has been the loss of focus, the fact that it became all about the Premier and spending habits and entitlement and a lost connection with the people when it needs to be about the province, the people and the business at hand. There are challenges ahead to be sure - and opportunities, too.

Last night by the time it was over I was in tears. Call me what you will, over emotional perhaps, but I was deeply affected by seeing Redford resign, a sad end to such high hopes and dreams and beliefs. I was filled with a maelstrom of emotions and it all came spilling out at the end, with tears rolling down my face.

The Intrepid Junior Blogger hugged me and said "It will be ok, Mom."

And so she is right, and it will be okay. My kid, at 14, has the strength and resiliency and intelligence to be a leader - and now she has seen how leadership can go wrong, and how hopes and dreams can end. A few days ago I was bitter about that, but now I see it differently. Now I see that this was a lesson she will value and which one day may stand in her good stead as she looks around her and realizes she needs to build a team.  She saw a fall from grace acknowledged with the most gracious speech. She saw a moment in history she will never forget, and she saw an ending she will never want to emulate. And so, at the end of the day, a chapter closes in the life of our province and in the life of my daughter, and a new one begins, brimming once again with hope, belief, dreams, and yes, optimism for the future of Alberta and young Albertans. Young Albertans, in fact, just like the one who cuddled me last night in an armchair as we watched someone we have both admired deliver an impossible speech with grace and dignity. Last night was an ending, and today is a beginning - and I suppose in the end I am truly grateful that my daughter has been a witness to it all, because perhaps it is the hardest experiences that truly build the future leaders. Sometimes, perhaps, it is the examples of leadership gone wrong that are the most valuable examples of all.

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