McGill’s Shortest Course: Premiers 101

Canadian premiers are like janitors: you’re not always sure how they got into the building, or how long exactly they will stay. Yet unlike janitors, our provincial leaders get six-figure salaries and don’t always leave the place clean. In Canada’s federal system they wield a fair amount of power, and some of them serve chunks of land bigger than a whole host of countries. The least we can do is know who they are. So here, in as much time as it takes to read a column, is all you need to know about every provincial premier. Kind of. 

Ontario’s up first because of its sway in national politics, but more importantly because Toronto will be annoyed if another province starts first. Their stalwart Liberal man-in-charge is doing his job for the third time around, although voters have cautioned against complacency through recently giving the province its first minority government in decades. Dalton McGuinty is the archetypal Canuck Liberal in that he’s socially progressive and fiscally either/or, depending on the situation. 

Next up, we swing across the country and the political spectrum to introduce one of Canada’s four female premiers: Alberta’s Progressive Conservative, Alison Redford.  As Eastern Canada continues its perpetual preparation for a neo-con zombie invasion of homophobic cowboys from Alberta, it might be healthy to notice that their leader is defying gender roles. Her province’s largest city, Calgary, is also, oil business ‘n all, one of Canada’s greenest. 

To the right of Alberta (this little lecture comes with geography, too!) lies the Land of Living Skies, which is monopolized by Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party. Mr. Wall leads a province that was disillusioned with its far left, so its centre-left had a baby with its centre-right which is called left-right. To avoid confusion, their Manitoban neighbours to the (geographical) right have continued with their just-plain-left party for more than a decade,  Greg Selinger ably taking the helm in 2009. That same year Selinger’s New Democratic Party colleague Darrell Dexter took power in Nova Scotia. They are the only two just-plain-left party leaders in the country.

We’ll keep the superhero vibe alive here as we move from Darrell Dexter to Christy Clark, who is a feisty premier for a province—British Columbia—that is often stereotyped for its laid-back scene. This so-called  ‘champion for families’ joins Newfoundland and Labrador’s Kathy Dunderdale and Nunavut’s Eva Aariak to round out the female premiers. In a nustshell, the former has battled to maintain the popularity of her predecessor while the latter has continued to fight her territory’s startling high rate of suicides. 

Like Saskachewan, the Yukon has its own party. And like Saskachewan, political creativity ran a wee bit thin during the naming process; Darrell Pasloski leads the Yukon Party. He is trained as a pharmacist and is almost never seen without a goatee. His partner in northern governing is premier of the Northwest Territories Bob McLeod, who has served on hockey league boards and—just in case anyone is tempted to stereotype all northern activities as involving snow or ice—is president of a golf club. It’s not clear to southern Canadians where they play. 

The premier of New Brunswick was born and studied in the U.S.A., but chances are David Alward speaks French since his province is our only constitutionally bilingual one. His maritime neighbour Robert Ghiz governs Canada’s province of long bridges, and red-haired heroines, Prince Edward Island. 

That leaves us with Quebec’s own Jean Charest. This man’s CV includes time in a national Conservative cabinet, as well as defeating a Parti Quebecois government while leading a Liberal party. He is both the longest currently-serving premier in Canada and the first Quebec leader to usher in a minority government—in 2007—in over a century. 

There you have it, folks. The people who attempt to put the provincial houses in order day in and day out, laboring in the shadows as international news dominates headlines, plowing ahead despite the world’s cruel indifference. I’m kidding; read the Globe and Mail or watch CBC and you’ll meet our heroes all the time. But now you’ll recognize them.

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