Parsing the Alison Redford interview

Who’s the audience for Redford’s astonishing interview? Not the people of Alberta, writes Colby Cosh
Alberta Premier Alison Redford leaves with members of her caucus after a meeting in Edmonton, Alberta on Monday March 17, 2014. The RCMP say there won’t be any charges against former Alberta premier Alison Redford over her spending while she held the province’s top job. JASON FRANSON/CP
Jason Franson/CP
Jason Franson/CP archives

What is the right way to read Gary Mason’s extraordinary interview with Alison Redford, the former Alberta premier who has spent a year in “deep introspection” thinking about various things that were responsible for her downfall that are not Alison Redford? The audience for the article, I think, is not Albertans.

Redford is still defending the many trips she took on government planes with her daughter, for which there may be some justification, even if the auditor general didn’t think they were such a hot idea. There is, however, no discernible mention (in the record of a three-hour conversation) of her staff’s use of fraudulent block bookings of aircraft seats to make sure she could travel alone. Nor does she defend the occasions on which she used the now-sold-off government airplane fleet to travel for purely partisan fundraising purposes, later lying about this to the Legislature. Nor does she explain how the privilege of travelling with her daughter might extend, as it sometimes did, to her daughter’s school friends. They just didn’t get around to that stuff in their chat, I guess.

She was asked about the secret premier’s residence that the government attempted to build on an upper floor of the federal building in downtown Edmonton. Her answer is the most astonishing moment in a post-retirement discussion that would shock even Michael Ignatieff with its cluelessness:

“I became aware at some point of a discussion about making it more into living space, and I also know my staff told infrastructure to stop that and that was all I ever knew,” she said, contradicting reports that she personally ordered the penthouse. “There was one discussion when someone said to me: ‘You’re going to be the premier when this is done; what colour paint do you want on the walls?’ and stuff like that. That was it.”

Albertans remember, from freedom-of-information filings on the “Sky Palace,” that Redford’s executive assistant asked the architects to make sure it included “sleeping and grooming quarters . . . for an adult and one teenager.” (Thanks for the reminder, though!) That seems a little more specific than “What colour paint do you want?” Indeed, the awkward customization of the secret premier’s residence by Redford’s people is one of the underappeciated objections to it, once you get past the whole “they tried to build a friggin’ secret premier’s residence and got shirty with the city of Edmonton when its staff brought up the topic of residential permits” thing.

The hint at the true purpose of this interview comes late in Gary Mason’s text, when he observes that, “There have not been any job offers or board invitations [for Redford], likely as a result of the way she exited from office.” Albertans just have too much detail about her behaviour memorized. This interview provides a convenient overview of her struggles, in which there is talk about double standards for women, nasty rumours about Redford’s personal life, and inherent difficulties she faced with an entrenched Conservative caucus that did not support her leadership bid.

It all seems very sympathetic and sad, if you don’t look too closely and you didn’t actually live through her tenure as premier of Alberta and you overlooked the way caucus colleagues fell suspiciously silent when she began to be accused of isolation, irascibility and irresponsibility. She can paper-clip the article right onto her resumé and hope that sub-Ivy universities and international NGOs don’t do too much follow-up Googling. Certainly, nobody in Alberta will object to her earning a living somewhere sufficiently far away.