Premier of Alberta • October 2011 to March 2014
When Alison Redford is asked about what it was like being Alberta’s first female premier, she responds with a laugh and two profound words: ‘grey suits.’
”When you look in my closet, you can see the clothes I wore when I was premier. Grey suits, button down shirts with French cuffs, loafers. If I wore a dress, it was attached to a suit. Without even realizing it, the message I was sending and the message that was received was, ‘Yeah, she’s a woman. But look at her! She looks like a man. She dresses like a man.’ ”
Like most experiences of women in politics, there’s heightened pressure to prove one’s worthiness of the job, regardless of how long that list of degrees and achievements is.
Redford was born in British Columbia but grew up in Calgary, Alberta. She completed a law degree at the University of Saskatchewan, and worked on constitutional and legal reform cases both in Canada and internationally. She was appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as one of only four commissioners to administer Afghanistan’s first parliamentary election. She served as an advisor to the Privy Council Office and worked on assignments in Serbia, Namibia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, the Philippines and Vietnam. She also worked as an advisor to two Canadian Prime Ministers, Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney.
She entered into politics in 2008, winning a seat in the provincial riding of Calgary-Elbow. She was appointed to cabinet as the minister of justice and attorney general. After Premier Ed Stelmach announced plans to retire, Redford sought the leadership. While not a frontrunner, she won, making her the first female premier of Alberta. In 2012, she led the party to a majority victory. Redford served until March 2014, when she resigned from politics.
Redford reflects on the expectations often faced by women in political leadership roles, expectations that aren’t typically enforced the same way for men.
”Men are not held to the same standards to succeed in politics. Women in public life, especially to get to a leadership role, you’ve got to be everything. The mother. The wife. The Premier. The lawyer. You’ve got to be perfect and you’ve got one chance.”