Alberta Premier Alison Redford announced Wednesday that she will resign, effective Sunday, after weeks of expense controversies and questions about her leadership, marking a dramatic and abrupt end to her premiership of Canada’s economic powerhouse.
The resignation, which comes two years after she led the Progressive Conservatives to a commanding majority over the right-leaning Wildrose Party, caps a brutal seven weeks for the Premier. Ms. Redford, 49, sat at a 20-per-cent approval rating in the polls after two members of her caucus departed with accusations that she engaged in bullying and intimidation. Her party’s board of directors last weekend put her on a “work plan” – an ambiguous probation period.
Her departure ends a dramatic descent from October, 2011, when she won the leadership of the PC party and was riding high as the province’s first female Premier, and a force to assert Alberta’s importance on the national and international stage.
“I am announcing today, that with profound optimism for Alberta’s future, I am resigning as Premier of Alberta effective this Sunday evening,” she said in the rotunda of Alberta’s legislature in Edmonton. Ending her short speech without taking questions, she said: “Thank you. Good night.”
The Premier, who will stay on as an MLA, was once viewed as someone who could smash through the old boys’ club of the dynastic Tory party. Her resignation raises significant questions about the unity and viability of the party, which has governed the province for 43 years. The PCs now face their second leadership race in the span of slightly more than two years.
While intensely focused on building bridges to other provinces and international markets for Alberta’s oil, Ms. Redford stumbled in the polls and lost control of her caucus. Even Alberta’s strong economy, low jobless rate and balanced operating budget wasn’t enough to keep the lid on critics of her travel budget.
On Wednesday, Ms. Redford said she is not prepared to let caucus and party infighting to get in the way of governing.
“Too much time has been spent over the last few weeks on questions of loyalty, allegiances and character. Too many people have been distracted from the important work that the people of Alberta sent us here to do. And as leader of this government and this party, that has weighed heavily on my mind,” she said.
“I love Alberta. I’m honoured to represent Alberta as your Premier. And I’ve given my heart and my soul to this province every single minute of the day the last two and ½ years,” she said to broad applause.
The Premier teared up as she thanked her Calgary-Elbow constituents, and her volunteers. She said she is looking forward to spending time with her 12-year-old daughter, Sarah, and husband, Glen. “They have been a rock through all of this.”
Before she resigned, Ms. Redford listed her government’s accomplishments. She said she would never be sorry she spent so much time travelling to open new markets for Alberta’s oil, or lobbying for new pipelines to get product to market. “I will never apologize for aggressively selling Alberta to the world.”
After former Tory premier Ed Stelmach resigned under a cloud of poor polling numbers and challenges from the right wing of his party, Ms. Redford was a dark-horse candidate in the PC party’s 2011 leadership race. Originally supported by only one MLA, she still managed to eke out a win against the supposed front-runner in the party’s complicated voting system. Even though polls predicted a Wildrose Party victory in the April, 2012, election, her party won a strong majority.
But her trip to South Africa in December to attend memorial services for African leader Nelson Mandela, with whom she worked in the mid-1990s, enraged her critics and one-time supporters. Last week, the Premier agreed to pay back the $45,000 cost to provincial coffers.
Even that didn't calm her critics. On Wednesday evening, more than 50 PC riding presidents from the Calgary and Edmonton regions were preparing to vote on no-confidence motions on Ms. Redford’s leadership before she resigned.
Official Opposition Leader Danielle Smith targeted her comments at Mr. Redford’s party, rather than her flaws.
“What we’ve witnessed during her short 29 months as premier is the clearest indication yet that the PC Party simply can’t be fixed,” the Wildrose Leader told reporters after Ms. Redford stepped down.