Alison Redford's chief of staff Farouk Adatia is quiet and contemplative. He's rarely photographed. He doesn't speak to reporters, even on background. Yet he was a key figure as the Alberta premier tried to work her way out of her a political predicament that, Wednesday night, cost her her job.
Ms. Redford was at about 20 per cent support in the polls before she resigned, and her party's board of directors last weekend had put her on a "work plan," an ambiguous probation period for the premier. She had been hit by expense controversy after controversy over the past seven weeks, and she saw two members of her caucus depart – with a couple more MLAs publicly musing about following. Even with Alberta's strong economy and a balanced operating budget, she had been criticized for a domineering leadership style.
Since a key part of any chief of staff's job is spotting trouble for the premier before it comes calling, some Alberta Progressive Conservative politicos didn't think Mr. Adatia was up to the task.
Some say he is unflappable, focused, and a brilliant mind that is focused on the big picture and the public sector is lucky to have him. The Queen's University-educated corporate lawyer has impeccable Tory credentials as a former partner from the politically connected Calgary law firm Bennett Jones. Mr. Adatia had been keenly focused on the premier's busy list of policy priorities, including getting new pipelines built and more of Alberta's bitumen to world markets. An insider said the premier "just thinks the world of him." Earlier this year, Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid called him "the virtually anonymous but effective chief of staff." And up until recently, that's about all anyone said about him.
However, some now believe he was a part of the problem in Ms. Redford's office.
He came to Alberta's legislature with little experience in the day-to-day operations of a political administration. His style is to focus on big issues and not to deal with every whim or issue from backbench MLAs. But Ms. Redford's problems weren't in regards to policy, but internal party politics and personalities. Some party members say it would have been better if the chief of staff were someone more caucus-friendly, and returned more calls and e-mails.
One key Tory source said "significant changes" to the ranks of the premier's inner circle, noting Mr. Adatia, could have gone a long way in helping soothe the relationship between Ms. Redford and her MLAs – and stopping the bleeding from the caucus benches.
Several political sources say that Donna Kennedy-Glans – the associate minister who announced Monday she was leaving both her portfolio and the caucus in part because of what she described as a sense of entitlement within the Progressive Conservative government – got a stern talking to from Mr. Adatia after she raised concerns about the spending issues that have dogged Ms. Redford. It's unclear whether this played a part in her departure. While Mr. Adatia wasn't available for comment, the people who know him say such a tongue-lashing would be out of character.
There is a strong loyalty between Mr. Adatia and Ms. Redford. He was with her when she was the dark horse in the Progressive Conservative leadership contest in 2011 – where she had the support of only one fellow MLA for most of the race – acting as her chief financial officer. Then there was his failed nomination race in one Calgary constituency, and in the 2012 election, a loss to a Wildrose candidate in another Calgary riding. Immediately following the election, he was installed as the premier's chief of staff. Since then, he has had no public profile whatsoever until it came to light earlier this year that his salary is $316,000, which compares to $172,000 annual pay for the chief of staff to U.S. President Barack Obama.
Both Ms. Redford and Mr. Adatia won their posts – she as leader of the party, he as her chief of staff – while not fully integrating themselves or building relationships with the party supporters, caucus or political staff in the PC party's broad political tent of true-blue conservatives and uneasy former Liberals. In some cases the relationships and personal history, and the casual talks between party members, are missing.
But one legislature insider believes Mr. Adatia is not more communicative because of problems stemming from the premier's leadership style, and numerous last-minute changes in direction.
"He is in an impossible situation so he's just lying low," said the source, who said he's surprised the adept Mr. Adatia hadn't already departed for greener pastures in the private sector.
Ms. Redford's government faced a challenge other Progressive Conservative governments have not – the well-organized, well-funded splinter party of conservatives across the aisle. Although an election is two years away, poll results show the Progressive Conservative government would be wiped out and replaced by the Wildrose if an election were held today.
As late as Tuesday, a day before the Premier announced her resignation, her inner circle said they believed it was only a small group of MLAs who were disgruntled. But it's now clear the slights from her office, real and perceived, had helped start a campaign against her go past the point of her control.
Update: Mr. Adatia and other members of Ms. Redford's staff are being let go as of midnight Thursday, according to the premier's director of communications.
Kelly Cryderman is a reporter in the Calgary bureau.