Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s turmoil has deepened as an associate cabinet minister resigned her portfolio and left the Progressive Conservative caucus.
Donna Kennedy-Glans announced she would sit as an independent during an uneasy caucus meeting in Edmonton on Monday where Ms. Redford tried to sell PC MLAs on her “work plan” – which many are referring to as a probationary period for the embattled Premier. Ms. Redford’s political future hangs in the balance, as some MLAs are calling for party unity and support the Premier, while a group of 10 or more continues to debate sitting as independents. MLAs are musing about a quick leadership vote should she suddenly not be in the picture.
Since the beginning of the year, Ms. Redford has been under near-constant public criticism for her use of government planes and travel expenses, including last year’s $45,000 trip to South Africa to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral that the Premier was pressed into paying back last week. Some caucus members have also complained of being treated in an aloof or high-handed manner by the Premier or her inner circle.
Ms. Kennedy-Glans – an energy lawyer and executive before entering politics – had acted as associate minister for electricity and renewable energy for three months, but was seen by many as destined for a more influential cabinet post. She is the second PC MLA to bolt within a matter of days, after Calgary’s Len Webber.
In an interview, Ms. Kennedy-Glans said she and Ms. Redford have never been close – in fact, the two women have had only one private conversation, and it lasted 10 minutes. The MLA for Calgary-Varsity stayed away from any personal criticism of the Premier, but said she left the long-governing party because of its air of entitlement, what she says is a dearth of fiscal conservatism, and a failure to listen to voters.
“I don’t intend to lead anyone across the aisle. I’m not working in concert with other MLAs,” Ms. Kennedy-Glans said.
“I look at our party, and I look at our caucus, and we’ve got really good people … we just don’t seem to be able to do change very well. And we have to.”
Ms. Redford didn’t directly comment on the departure of Ms. Kennedy-Glans, but in Question Period was asked by NDP Leader Brian Mason whether she had enough support to keep governing.
The PC caucus gave the Premier a standing ovation in her support, and was mockingly joined by the Official Opposition Wildrose Party MLAs, many of whom believe their best chance of beating the Tories is with Ms. Redford staying on as leader.
The second party departure came the same day as an Angus Reid Global poll, published in the Edmonton Journal, that shows twice as many voters would back the Wildrose Party as would back Ms. Redford’s PCs if an election were held today. In response to another question, just 15 per cent said the PCs deserve re-election.
While the poll suggests the Wildrose is firmly in majority territory, the poll has a small sample size and an election is two years away. Many polls in the 2012 provincial campaign showed Ms. Redford’s PC party on pace to lose, but she ended up winning a commanding majority.
A Saturday PC board meeting also attended by Ms. Redford and MLAs ended with a pledge to develop a “work plan” with specific goals and deadlines, which a source called “probation points for the Premier.”
If Ms. Redford doesn’t meet the goals, some Tories expect the next step would be a snap meeting of the party to call another confidence vote. Ms. Redford faced such a vote in the fall, earning 77-per-cent support.
At the caucus meeting on Monday, the Premier listened to concerns from MLAs, but the “work plan” hasn’t quelled all further unrest.
At least 10 PC MLAs met Sunday evening to discuss their concerns. One of those MLAs, Edmonton-South West MLA Matt Jeneroux, said Monday he will likely wait until the legislature breaks next week so he can speak directly with his constituents about whether to stay in the PC caucus.
“It’s going to be a lot of wait and see,” Mr. Jeneroux said. “It’s a pretty big decision to go and make.”
Another member of the group is MLA Steve Young, the former whip who has been among those to speak out against Ms. Redford. He said the mood of constituents in his Edmonton riding is critical of the government.
Asked whether he was considering leaving the caucus, he replied: “There’s no secret, those are options for any MLA … right now, I’m just waiting and seeing what all those options are.”
The Monday caucus meeting follows a tumultuous few days since the legislature last sat on Thursday, when Mr. Webber left caucus and said Ms. Redford was a bully who was unfit to lead the party. Ms. Redford’s allies then fired back – deputy premier Dave Hancock called Mr. Webber a “very sad man” while cabinet minister Sandra Jansen said he should “go back to being an electrician,” which was seen as an insult of him and the trade. That exacerbated the divide between those who are restless, like Mr. Webber was, and those who are loyal to the Premier.