When Alison Redford faces the Progressive Conservative party board this weekend, the Alberta Premier can expect a frank, and likely uncomfortable, discussion that centres around her troubled leadership.
Unburdened by concerns that Tory MLAs might have about criticizing someone who controls their political destiny, the 52-member PC board of directors is made up mostly of volunteers. This is the group that has the best intelligence of how the travel-expense scandal that has dogged Ms. Redford in recent weeks is affecting the Progressive Conservatives at the grassroots level. All reports suggest Albertans taking up seats in coffee shops across the province are furious with their government.
Ms. Redford’s roots in Alberta’s governing party do not run deep. She won the leadership in 2011 as somewhat of an outsider, using campaign smarts to outmanoeuvre party establishment candidates such as Gary Mar and Doug Horner. Consequently, there is not the kind of hardened support at the party level that an Alberta Tory leader typically has.
Many attending this weekend’s board meeting in Calgary arrive with deep concerns about the financial health of the party, its abysmally low standing in the polls and the decision by MLA Len Webber to leave the PC caucus this week to sit as an Independent because of profound concerns he holds about Ms. Redford.
“She is going to get an earful, I suspect,” said one senior-ranking member of the party. “People are furious about the travel thing and her high-flying ways. Albertans don’t like that. Beyond that, she has a provincial party that is pretty much in tatters. There’s no money.… There’s a strong sentiment to see her gone.
“The only thing holding people back at the moment, I think, is there is not a natural successor out there to take over.”
Ms. Redford’s caucus met Thursday to discuss the lingering fallout from Ms. Redford’s decision to bill taxpayers $45,000 for a trip she and an aide made to South Africa to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral. A provincial counterpart from the Maritimes made the same trip, on his own, for $1,000. After initially defending the bill as the cost of doing government business, the Premier this week dug into her own pocket to reimburse the Treasury for the entire cost of the trip.
That wasn’t enough to satisfy Mr. Webber, who exited caucus on Thursday, saying the only reason Ms. Redford coughed up the money was to stave off a revolt among her MLAs. He also accused the Premier of abusive and bullying behaviour, charges that were denied by various members of the Tory caucus.
It remains to be seen if any other MLAs will join Mr. Webber to sit as Independents. There is a sense that the Premier’s repayment gesture has bought her some time to further quell a nascent rebellion. One caucus source estimated there was a “99-per-cent chance” she survives the upcoming week. There is no question that while she may have a group of detractors in caucus, she has supporters too.
This leaves those who dream of dumping Alison Redford as leader with a problem: She clearly has no intention of going anywhere. She will stay and she will fight even if a group of MLAs large enough to topple the government decides to leave to sit as Independents. A snap election is the last thing the Tories want or need.
Alberta’s electoral history shows that once in power, a party can stay there for a long time. At this moment, Wildrose sits poised to be that party. Those who believe Ms. Redford is leading the Tories off a cliff can only hope for one thing: that a consensus candidate emerges who would take over from Ms. Redford and spend the next couple of years mending fences and making things right with the public.
You hear names such as Gary Mar and Jim Dinning thrown around to play that role, but both of them come with baggage unlikely to make everyone happy. Nonetheless, if Ms. Redford finds herself trying to explain more outrageous travel bills that only feed the perception that she preferred to be Queen rather than Premier, then even her supporters will not be able to defend her any longer.
“One more screw-up and she’s gone,” said the Tory member. “People will not allow her to bring the party down with her. Not a chance.”
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