Alberta Premier Alison Redford will develop a “work plan” with restless party faithful as she enters a crucial stretch at the helm of the province’s Progressive Conservative dynasty, after surviving weeks of caucus turmoil, the departure of a disgruntled MLA and a hours-long grilling by her party’s board.
The province’s MLAs return to the legislature Monday, two days after Ms. Redford met with the board to field questions in a meeting that led to the unspecified, hastily announced work plan for her embattled leadership.
It’s unclear what that will include, but Ms. Redford faces various calls to rein in her travel spending, change senior staff and work more collegially with her caucus and party. “There are issues from both the party perspective and the Premier’s perspective to deal with as we develop a work plan to position us for re-election,” a source close to Ms. Redford said.
One MLA, Len Webber, has already crossed the floor, and others have been considering following his lead. On Friday, the party’s executive director, Kelley Charlebois, was understood to have been forced out, only to receive a vote of confidence by the board and then later reaffirmed in his role.
It’s all the latest in a bizarre stretch in Alberta politics – there’s open dissent in Ms. Redford’s party, which has been in power since 1971 but is cash-strapped, slumping in the polls and restless but without an heir apparent. Meanwhile, some in the rival Wildrose Party quietly hope Ms. Redford will stay on, because they think they can beat her in an election that’s two years away.
All signs indicate Ms. Redford intends to do so. She emerged from the Saturday board meeting presenting a united face with PC party president Jim McCormick.
“The Premier did an excellent job. She didn’t back away from any of the rather hard-hitting questions that she was asked. And she was very frank with us as we were very frank with her,” he told reporters after the closed-door meeting, which he said ended in a standing ovation. Sources said the Premier was grilled for hours by directors who say they’re losing volunteers and struggling to raise money.
The Premier said she is hoping to put the unrest behind her.
“I think it’s time for us to try to move on and start to talk about what matters to Albertans, which is the future of the province,” she said after the meeting.
That may prove difficult. Caucus remains restless, and it was caucus strife that forced out her predecessor, Ed Stelmach. “Now it’s all up to what the MLAs do,” one veteran party source said. “... She will not go willingly. She will hang on.”
One MLA, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Ms. Redford can hold on with “significant changes,” including replacing certain key staff.
There are other, more cryptic grumblings. A cabinet minister, Doug Griffiths, posted a series of messages on Twitter recently, including one that read: “Never push a loyal person to the point where they no longer give a damn.”
Asked about the situation with the Premier, PC MLA Cathy Olesen, representing the riding of Sherwood Park, said only: “All I can say is that I continue to listen to Albertans.”
Last week, Mr. Webber left caucus, calling Ms. Redford a bully and saying “anybody” would be better as party leader. One minister, Sandra Jansen, responded by saying Mr. Webber should “go back to being an electrician,” seen as an insult of the trade.
That further divided caucus. Cabinet minister Thomas Lukaszuk sided with Mr. Webber, saying “he will always be my friend and I was proud to serve with him. ... He should not be attacked personally.”
Ms. Redford acknowledged the unusual series of events only tangentially after Saturday’s board meeting. “I would say, quite frankly, this has not been a highlight of a week for behaviour or very mature conversation on a lot of levels,” she said.
Ms. Redford is not without supporters. Finance Minister Doug Horner continues to back her – and ran against her in the 2011 leadership race. His support then largely cemented her victory.
“I’m 100 per cent behind the Premier. She’s the leader of our party. We had a leadership review [last fall]. She received 77 per cent. She’s our Premier,” Mr. Horner said in an interview, playing down the infighting. “Like any family, we have issues. We need to deal with those issues and move on.”
And Deputy Premier Dave Hancock said Sunday he continues to fully support the Premier. Others in cabinet preferred to stay tight-lipped.
Mr. Horner said recent weeks have been a distraction. “We’re tackling some pretty big issues. It’s unfortunate that this seems to be the thing that’s taking over all of that,” he said.
Ms. Redford, who won a majority in 2012, pledged to continue to “bring people together” as Premier. “Whether that means that everyone is going to have an opinion of me that is the same, I can’t comment on that. We don’t all agree on absolutely everything, but I do my best every day.”
With a report from The Canadian Press