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In the end, Alison Redford knew that all the strength she could summon to fight on as Alberta's premier would be outmatched by the growing will to see her leave.

And so, rather than delay the inevitable and endure weeks and maybe months of questions about the flickering support she had inside both her caucus and party, Ms. Redford announced Wednesday evening she is resigning effective Sunday.

Though many were expecting the move – eventually, anyway – it came as a shock. Ms. Redford arrived as the province's first female premier just two years and five short months ago: a smart, worldly lawyer who had made her mark in government and wrested rule of the party away from male stalwarts who had controlled it for decades. She instantly gave the Tories a progressive glint – and seemed like the ideal choice to lead the province, and the often stuffy political institution she represented, into a new era.

Like many politicians, Ms. Redford could be personable and engaging up close. She knew how to enjoy a beer. She liked a good joke. But that was a side the public, and many in government, rarely saw. Instead, the Alison Redford whom voters got to know seemed enamoured with the perks of the job: the first-class air travel, the five-star hotels, the government air fleet as personal taxi service. Your carriage awaits, her critics charged.

The articulate and cultured alternative to some of her more rough-hewn predecessors seemed unable to make a personal connection with voters and even most members of her own caucus. She seemed to forget a couple of key rules that her political hero and party icon Peter Lougheed never forgot: a) you work for the taxpayer, not the other way around b) always keep your caucus engaged. Bad things happen when you don't.

Now, she is gone.

Few were aware the stunning announcement was coming. Even the party executive was not told about the decision, which perhaps isn't surprising given how infrequently she consulted the party leadership, about anything. It found out along with the rest of the province when she stepped before a microphone at 6 p.m. in the Alberta legislature to deliver an often emotional address.

What prompted the move is what many will want to know. Ms. Redford did not take questions after reading her resignation letter. But two things may have triggered her decision.

More than 50 PC riding presidents from the Calgary and Edmonton regions were scheduled to gather Wednesday night to discuss the growing crisis surrounding the premier's leadership. It was anticipated that non-confidence motions would be tabled at both meetings and both would easily pass.

If held and approved, those motions would have had no binding effect on Ms. Redford's position, but would almost certainly be used by her detractors to show she had lost the confidence of the party and needed to go.

Secondly, a fresh poll showing Ms. Redford's popularity with voters had sunk to historic lows was sure to embolden the forces inside her caucus and party who were agitating for her departure.

A poll released Wednesday by ThinkHQ Public Affairs showed the premier's personal approval numbers dropping to just 18 per cent – the first time that number has fallen below the 20-per-cent barrier since she assumed her party's leadership in 2011. Meantime, her party got the support of just 19 per cent of those polled, compared to 46 per cent for Wildrose.

In other words, an election held tomorrow would mean the annihilation of the province's long-time governing institution.

While an election is still two years away, there were a diminishing number of provincial Tory members who believed the party could win. In fact, there were many senior members of the party imagining a scenario in which Ms. Redford hung on, leading the PCs to electoral ruin and eventually their complete disintegration – much like what happened to the Social Credit party in Alberta in the 1970s and in B.C. in the 1990s.

Caucus will now have to choose an interim leader. A leadership convention can't be held for at least four months from the date of her resignation.

Alberta politics is now as unpredictable as any provincial jurisdiction in the country.

Follow me on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

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