Did sexism play a role in Alison Redford’s downfall?

CALGARY- Alison Redford served as premier for just 898 days after she became Alberta’s first woman premier on October 7, 2011.  She now has the dubious distinction of being the third shortest-serving premier in the province’s history.

In the days leading up to her resignation, Redford was accused of entitlement stemming from her use of government planes and bringing her daughter and friends on government trips.

Then she was accused of being a bully and “not a nice lady” by Calgary Foothills MLA Len Webber as he quit the PC Party caucus.

This led to many questioning whether Redford was being treated differently because she was a woman.

Those questions continued on social media after her resignation with many wondering if gender politics and the “old boys club” may have contributed to her political demise.

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Experts on gender politics say while sexism in politics may be less overt  these days, it still exists.

“I think people who claim that gender no longer matters don’t understand how politics works,” says Brenda O’Neill, a political science professor at the University of Calgary. “It’s not explicit, people aren’t explicitly sexist in the way they treat politicians nowadays.”

“That doesn’t mean there isn’t hidden sexism in the way parties treat their female leaders, and female cabinet ministers and female MLAs.”

Political analyst Duane Bratt doesn’t believe sexism played a part in Redford’s political troubles.

“I do not buy into the narrative advanced by some that Redford was deposed by her own party because it is an “old boys club” and she was a woman. It had to do more with her own expenses and the public/caucus/party sense of her entitlement, poor communication skills with her caucus and destroying the electoral coalition that she had built in the 2012 election.”

But O’Neill argues women leaders can be held to different standards than men and receive less support.

“I think there still is a double standard that’s applied to women versus men in terms of how they lead, the degree of support they are given and the degree to which is extended to them when they make mistakes.”

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Currently, four provinces are led by women:  Kathleen Wynne in Ontario, B.C.’s Christy Clark, Newfoundland’s Kathy Dunderdale , and Quebec’s Pauline Marois.

O’Neill says the numbers are stacked against women premiers in Canada.

“No woman has won two consecutive terms as premier in our country’s history and gender may be part of that.”

At least one woman, Diana McQueen, Minister of Energy is rumoured to be considering a run at the Tory leadership. She said it was too early to discuss a possible bid when asked Friday.

With Redford’s resignation, the Wildrose’s Danielle Smith is now the only woman leader of a main political party in Alberta.

-with files from Gary Bobrovitz

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