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Premier Alison Redford's office is counting the departure of 20 per cent of her caucus before the next election as a positive development for her leadership. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
Premier Alison Redford's office is counting the departure of 20 per cent of her caucus before the next election as a positive development for her leadership. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Departure of Alberta MLAs is good news for Redford - and a payday for them Add to ...

At last count about 20 per cent of Alberta government MLAs won’t be running for re-election next spring and perhaps surprisingly, the Premier’s office is pretty pleased with the sweeping housecleaning.

Perhaps even more surprising: The experts agree.

It gives Alison Redford, who was selected in October as the Progressive Conservative Leader and in turn became Alberta’s Premier, a chance to put her fingerprints on the party.

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“It’s a good renewal under a new leader,” said Stephen Carter, Ms. Redford’s chief of staff, “I know that we’re looking at it as a positive.”

“Not that we’re wishing that anybody not run,” Mr. Carter continued. “But, you know, this is a signal that under new leadership, new direction, are [members]comfortable with that?”

In recent weeks, a veritable stampede of Tories have either announced their plans to retire or been forced into early retirement after losing their riding nominations.

The list features big names: former premier Ed Stelmach, former finance minister Iris Evans, current Finance Minister Ron Liepert, former president of the Treasury Board Lloyd Snelgrove, former agriculture minister George Groeneveld, former minister of children’s services Janice Tarchuk and current Speaker Ken Kowalski.

It also includes smaller ones: Ken Allred, Broyce Jacobs, Art Johnson, Richard Marz and Barry McFarland.

(Veteran Tories aren’t the only ones planning to leave the legislature. Liberal stalwarts Hugh MacDonald and former leader Kevin Taft won’t be back, and neither will former Liberal turned Alberta Party member Dave Taylor.)

Doreen Barrie, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, agreed with Mr. Carter’s analysis and characterized the departures as good news for the Tories.

“Redford must be happy. It’s a clean slate. She can bring in a lot of new blood,” Prof. Barrie said.

“The more people that leave, the better for her. I don’t think it’s going to hurt her, it’s only going to help.”

Chaldeans Mensah, political scientist at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, said the departures will make the next election more competitive and more interesting.

“This heralds a change in political landscape in Alberta,” he said.

Ms. Redford, he added, represents the first expression of a generational change now under way.

“She is putting her stamp on the party. She’s moved the party to its progressive wing. This, therefore, is a signal to some old-timers that maybe it’s time to move on,” Prof. Mensah said.

But all this talk of retirement has some folks in Alberta fuming. From the taxpayer watchdogs to the opposition parties to radio call-in shows.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has calculated the “transition allowances” the outgoing MLAs will collect – about three months pay for every year of service.

Mr. Kowalski, first elected in 1979 and who once said he would die in office, will pocket $1,271,600, while Mr. Stelmach is in line for more than $1-million and little-known Mr. McFarland, first elected in 1992, will receive a severance worth about $709,500.

Check out the full list at http://taxpayer.com/blog/09-12-2011/alberta-mla-transition-allowance-calculations.

Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith sees the departures not so much as a statement about Ms. Redford’s leadership or the direction of the Tories but as a simple chance to cash in.

“I imagine some are just tallying up the dollars and trying to get out while the gettin’s good to be able to get hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of payouts,” Ms. Smith said.

That’s because a review of MLA compensation is now under way.

This month, Mr. Kowalski announced that former Supreme Court of Canada Justice John Major will handle the job and look, among other things, at the transition allowance, which was brought in by former premier Ralph Klein to replace an old pension plan.

Meanwhile, Ms. Smith doesn’t think the departure payouts will go over well with voters, who have given the Tories the job of governing since 1971.

“It really shines the light on just how much these guys have been feathering their own nests, how much of taxpayer dollars they have been abusing to help themselves out,” Ms. Smith said.

“I think that is the bigger message,” she added,” “You’ve got a lot of veterans who are going to be walking away with a lot of a taxpayer dollars.”

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