A year out from her impressive majority victory in the last provincial election, Alberta Premier Alison Redford finds herself in unusual circumstances: answering questions about possibly being dumped from her job.
Hurt by a string of controversies, Ms. Redford’s recent polling numbers are not flattering. The deficit budget she brought in earlier this year angered small-c conservatives in the party who find that kind of fiscal stewardship unacceptable. It hasn’t helped that the former lawyer who once worked alongside Nelson Mandela is seen as aloof and allergic to the kind of retail politics most successful leaders thrive on.
When that’s the knock against you, there’s only one thing to do, of course: Organize a camping trip. And tell members of your cabinet and caucus that they’re coming with you.
Ms. Redford announced in May that she will be roasting hot dogs around the province this summer as part of a 10-weekend tour aimed at hearing Albertans out. The move has been widely interpreted as a marketing exercise aimed at mending fences within her party and helping the Premier shed her reputation for being remote and unfriendly.
The backdrop to Alison Redford’s Excellent Camping Adventures is the mandatory leadership review she is facing in November. There has been serious commentary in the Alberta media suggesting that she could face a challenge or even be fired by a membership alarmed by her low standing in the polls and her government’s handling of several files.
For her part, Ms. Redford seems unfazed by all the speculation. “It’s politics,” she said over coffee recently at a downtown hotel. “I’m not surprised.”
Ms. Redford said that as long as she’s been in the party, there’s always been “this chatter, chatter, chatter,” ahead of conventions when the leader’s performance is under review. She believes it’s a matter that occupies the minds of pundits and the political class more than rank-and-file party members. On that score, she may be right.
Still, her tour does say something. As does the policy conference that the party just held, where the Premier appeared to give members unprecedented power to influence government policy. Both moves seem designed to assuage the concerns, although she insists they are not connected.
“These cabinet tours are something that Peter Lougheed used to do,” she said. “It’s really about taking time to go out and engage with people and find out what’s going on. We’re doing 10 weekends and I’m going to half of them. I’m really excited. It’s going to be fun.”
Let the record show that Ms. Redford did not wince or grimace in any way when she said that the tour will be fun, so we must take her at her word. That said, she strikes me as someone more at home at a summer jamboree organized by Bill Gates where guests are housed in rustic but gloriously appointed cabins and convene around a roaring fire to wrestle with pressing public policy questions of the day. Now that I could see Alison Redford truly getting fired up about.
As long as the Premier doesn’t accidentally set her tent on fire, she’s likely to benefit from her summer sojourn. The influence she appears to have given members over policy is also a good idea. When you have a party in power as long as the Alberta Progressive Conservatives have been, there is a risk that members will begin feeling alienated and cut off from decision-making.
My guess is that Ms. Redford survives her party’s review without much difficulty. Saner heads will conclude that she deserves time to work through whatever issues she and her government faces. She’s earned it.