Seven stumbles and a funeral: Why Alberta’s Premier Alison Redford had to quit

Josh Wingrove

The Globe and Mail


Last updated

There was no one thing. Alison Redford, so frequently a premier on borrowed time, succumbed Wednesday when she resigned her leadership of Alberta’s dynasty PC party. But there were signposts along the road as she gradually lost the support of the public and her party.

1. The outsider

Ms. Redford was an outsider from the start, with only one MLA supporting her leadership bid. She made the second ballot largely by signing up outsiders with a string of campaign promises – chiefly to reverse a $107-million education cut, which wooed teachers but angered many in the party. She beat the caucus’s preferred candidate, Gary Mar, with the same outsider support and, six months later, won an election in which the Wildrose Party made serious errors in the final week. She struggled to satisfy both the centrist, non-partisan coalition that handed her power, and the party she led.

2. Trouble on the left, unrest on the right

A pair of anti-union bills passed in December sparked protests and led union leaders, who earlier were favourable, to dismiss her as a fraud. Earlier in the year, her government also changed the way it budgeted, separating out capital spending. The move was explained as being more in line with common accounting principles, but fiscal hawks said it amounted to cooking the books.

3. The Mandela funeral

The catalyst for much of the furor is a $45,000 trip to South Africa for Ms. Redford and an aide to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral. The costs were high because she took a government plane to meet up with Stephen Harper’s own plane, flew her aide separately and then flew back early, rather than travelling with Mr. Harper. A week ago, she apologized and said she paid back the $45,000.

4. Expenses and ethics under scrutiny

Ms. Redford had introduced what she billed as the country’s most robust expense disclosure rules. But her own expenses came under greater scrutiny after the South Africa trip. She was slammed for booking first-class flights and luxurious hotels. She flew her daughter and her daughter’s friend on the government plane, which was also used for trips timed closely to party events – and to pick Ms. Redford up in California before Ralph Klein’s funeral. Ms. Redford was also critized when a lucrative tobacco lawsuit contract went to the law-firm of her ex-husband.

5. An uprising in caucus

Last Thursday, MLA Len Webber broke publicly with his leader, resigning from caucus and telling a news conference she was a bully and that anybody would be better as leader. Ms. Redford’s allies attacked, saying he was “a very sad man” who should “go back to being an electrician.” That further divided caucus. One well-regarded MLA, former energy executive Donna Kennedy-Glans, followed suit Monday, resigning from caucus and cabinet. Other MLAs were openly discussing doing the same.

6. The isolated leader

Ms. Redford struggled to establish a personal connection with voters and even most members of her own caucus. When Ms. Kennedy-Glans left, she said she had spoken one-on-one with the premier just once since being elected, even though the two are from the same party, their ridings are both in Calgary and Ms. Kennedy-Glans held a junior cabinet post. There were other signs: Ms. Redford replaced government sedans with black SUVs and brought in top staff from Ontario or from outside politics. Seen to be freezing out caucus, she had few friends when things went sour.

7. No rescue party

In the last election, Ms. Redford fought off a challenge from the nascent Wildrose Party but the polls showed support flowing back to the opposition. In the election, business interests – or money, at least – rallied to the PCs. But as Redford’s troubles accumulated there was little support from leaders in the oil patch, out of the oil patch. As Jeff Jones reports, industry leaders shrugged at her crisis because they see little difference in how either the PCs or Wildrose would affect them

8. Polling problems and the knife at the throat

After months of decline, public opinion poll numbers placed Ms. Redford and her Tories at terrifying depths, with a personal approval rating of 18 per cent and party support of just 19 per cent, versus 46 per cent for Wildrose. With the party’s 43-year dynasty at risk, riding association presidents were preparing non-confidence motions in meetings set for Wednesday night, which were pre-empted by Ms. Redford’s departure.