Alberta Premier Redford to resign, effective Sunday

CALGARY — The Globe and Mail

Alberta Premier Alison Redford announces her resignation in Edmonton, Alberta on Wednesday March 19, 2014. Redford has been struggling to deal with unrest in her Progressive Conservative caucus over her leadership style and questionable expenses.

(Jason Franson/CP)

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.

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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.

“The problems with their party and their government run far too deep for one leader to change, no matter how noble their intentions are or how deeply they are committed to them.”

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the premier had made “errors in judgment” but that she loved Alberta and had made personal sacrifices.

“It’s the story about a system that takes someone like that, chews them up, and spits them out,” Mr. Nenshi said.

He criticized the party politics that allow decisions about leadership to be made long after voters have spoken. “How did we end up in a place where party and caucus – a bunch of unelected people who meet only behind closed doors – make decisions about the future of this province?”

In a news release late Wednesday, the PC Party said its constitution requires a leadership selection be held when the position of leader becomes vacant – a process that must go ahead in no less than four months, and no more than six months.

“Tonight, Alison Redford has put Albertans, Alberta and her party first. We thank her for her time as leader of the party and government,” party president Jim McCormick said in a news release.

Other recent revelations had fallen like hammer blows against Ms. Redford: She used government planes for a vacation; to fly her daughter and her daughter’s friends around; to go to a family funeral in Vancouver.

Newly released salary details showed six-figure salaries for Ms. Redford’s inner circle, including $316,000 for her chief of staff, Farouk Adatia. By comparison, U.S. President Barack Obama’s chief of staff makes $172,000.

Last week, things went from bad to worse when Ms. Redford’s character came into question.

Calgary backbencher Len Webber quit the Tory caucus, saying he could not longer stomach Redford’s temper tantrums and abuse of subordinates. She wasn’t a “nice lady,” he said.

On Sunday, 10 government members met to debate whether to leave caucus and sit as Independents.

On Monday, Donna Kennedy-Glans, the associate minister for electricity, quit saying the promised reforms by Ms. Redford were dying on the vine.Wednesday evening, more than 50 PC riding presidents from the Calgary and Edmonton regions were scheduled to gather to discuss the growing crisis in government. It was anticipated that non-confidence motions in Ms. Redford’s leadership would be tabled at meetings in both cities and would have had a legitimate chance of passing if she had not resigned first.

Scott Saxberg, chief executive at Calgary's Crescent Point Energy Corp., said Ms. Redford's party shares the blame for her problems and resignation.

Decades of PC rule is part of the problem, he said.

"Obviously it's a difficult situation, and she was in a tough spot, but at the end of the day, it's a negative reflection of the state of the Conservative party," he said in an e-mail. "I think there is equal blame on the party and how it functions, a lot which stems from the fact we have been a singular party province for too long and we are in need of change."

B.C. Premier Christy Clark issued the following statement on Ms. Redford's resignation:

"I want to thank Premier Alison Redford for her contributions to Alberta and all of Canada.

"Working with Premier Redford at Council of the Federation, New West Partnership, and Western Premiers' Conference, we accomplished a lot.


"We also made significant progress in bilateral relations between our provinces, helping to secure our shared economic and environmental future. 

"Whatever challenge she chooses to take on next, I wish Alison the very best."

New Brunswick Premier David Alward has worked closely with Ms. Redford, pushing for a west to east pipeline. The pipeline will bring Alberta oil to the Irving refinery in Saint John, NB. It’s an important economic development piece for New Brunswick.

He has not yet been in touch with Ms. Redford – but is planning to be.

“It’s really hard to believe and comprehend. We had built had an excellent working relationship and she was a breath of fresh air around the premiers’ table. I felt that she was a nation builder. I really believe that not only for Alberta and New Brunswick but all of Canada has a lost an outstanding leader.”

Premier Alward hopes her resignation will not affect the progress of the proposed west to east pipeline.

He visited Alberta twice – the last time just before Christmas. He also addressed the Alberta legislature. He says he was received “with open arms” by Premier Redford, her team and “the people of Alberta.”

Ms. Redford also came to New Brunswick last year. He said he hasn’t followed closely the events that led to her resignation. But he said that it “certainly speaks to the dynamics of politics and leadership.”

He said she demonstrated and ensured that “politics doesn’t become the focus and … the development work that she has begun will continue to move forward.”

Former Alberta Premier Don Getty, 80, said he was disappointed to see Ms. Redford go.

"Alberta is the strongest and best place to live in Canada in my opinion. I think the PC party and leaders, including Alison Redford, are people who made it that way. So I’m sorry for her and that decision, and I would have tried to talk her out of it. But I don’t actually have a relationship with her," he said, adding Ms. Redford fell victim to a "narrow attack" that clouded an otherwise good performance by government.

“I think she had an unbelievable series of attacks from every direction, which was I think terrible, and wish she had stayed and proved them wrong. However, she’s made that decision. I like her. I don’t know her as well as I would like to. And I think she’s going to be missed," he said.

Rod Love, a long-time friend and spokesman for late Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, said a poll Wednesday showing a further drop in popularity was the final straw.

“That poll that came out today, it collapsed the government," he said, adding: “The political ecosystem in Alberta right now is vibrating, because all bets on everything are off. And the supporters and donors, fundraisers, strategists and consultants are asking who’s in, who’s out, what’s up, what’s down.”

Asked about the looming leadership race, Mr. Love said he expects countless people in the party to consider running. "Whether they can turn it around is the million-dollar question.”

Ms. Redford's Justice Minister and Solicitor General, Jonathan Denis, said he was shocked by her announcement.

"Obviously there were a lot of divisions created by her expenses," he said, adding politicians always need to, by rule, watch how they spend tax dollars.

"I would like to thank her for her service to this province," he said, later adding: "Moving forward, I think the Progressive Conservative movement is on a positive track... I do think there are a lot of positive things going on with the government."

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who got along well with Ms. Redford said she was "sorry" the Alberta Premier resigned.

"I was very sorry to hear of Alison Redford's resignation and lose her from Canada's Premiers' table," Ms. Wynne said in a statement. "I appreciate the foundation we built together that strengthened the relationship between Ontario and Alberta and I know this work will continue."

Ms. Wynne and Ms. Redford disagreed on some policy issues. On a visit to Calgary last fall, for instance, Ms. Wynne failed to persuade her Alberta counterpart to join Ontario's push for national pension reform.

But both wanted to influence national policy.

Ms. Redford was one of the first leaders Ms. Wynne met with after winning her party's leadership race last year. A photograph of them high-fiving in the Queen's Park library that day hangs on the wall of Ms. Wynne's office.

The two met three more times after that, at premiers' conferences in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Toronto, and in Calgary last fall.

"I thank her for her public service to Alberta and to Canada. She is an insightful politician and I wish her and her family the very best as she pursues new challenges," Ms. Wynne said.

 

With files from Josh Wingrove, Ian Bailey, Carrie Tait, Jeffrey Jones, Jane Taber, Adrian Morrow, and The Canadian Press

 

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