Last Wednesday, Alison Redford calmly walked down a flight of marble stairs, looked Alberta in the eye and said: I’m done.
It was as graceful an exit as possible considering the circumstances. Redford’s approval ratings were subterranean thanks to her inability to keep travel expenses to a comprehensible level. Her jet-setting receipts turned her into a living caricature of the much-hated “entitled elitist.”
For weeks the ruling PCs had been hemorrhaging credibility as the sober managers of Alberta’s money. MLAs were abandoning ship to save their political hides. With the Wildrose jackals stalking their staggering herd, the Conservative government was taking no chances and leaned on Redford with all their panicky weight. They needed a sacrifice, so the PCs sent their leader to the guillotine—again.
I voted for Redford after she promised in her campaign (in the 2011 leadership race triggered by Ed Stelmach’s surprise resignation amid plunging approval ratings … sound familiar?) to raise Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped payments by a sorely needed $400. I remember being impressed that she highlighted AISH, which had been mocked by Ralph Klein a decade earlier, then promptly followed through on the promise after she was elected.
Redford was, and even now still is, widely regarded as brilliant. The worldly and whip-smart lawyer skewed the party left and courted nurses, teachers and unions to save the Conservatives from the far-right Wildrose dragon.
So what happened? Some, like the Calgary Herald, argued Alberta’s first female premier was a victim of misogyny. Klein, that colourful scoundrel, racked up $250 000 in government jet expenses and abuses so flippantly blatant they made Redford’s sloppily-executed $45 000 visit to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral seem trifling. Klein used government jets for fishing trips, to shuttle around MLAs’ wives, and also because he couldn’t smoke onboard commercial flights. On 87 trips he was the only passenger on the plane. He was never asked to refund a penny.
But it’s much more likely that she was undone not by sexism but by burned bridges. Redford systematically destroyed the good will she’d banked during the campaigns. She argued for the value of education then slashed post-secondary funding; she promised to save Alberta’s health care from the legacy of ’90s-era austerity then started phasing out nursing jobs from major hospitals; then she emphasized the progressive in the Progressive Conservatives to sway unions only to try to demolish the AUPE’s right to binding arbitration.
The PCs want you to believe these neck-breaking about-faces were all Redford’s fault and not a symptom of their wheezy, rusty old party. But either way, they look sallow, weak and confused—and likely won’t survive another election. Whether Alberta has the stomach to let the Wildrose fill the void or vote in someone from another party remains to be seen.