Alison Redford resigned as Alberta premier in part to shield her family from a smear campaign initiated by members of the Progressive Conservative party and her own caucus.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Redford's former communications director said the internecine campaign to remove the Premier from office – she officially steps down on Sunday – was as nasty and vindictive as he's ever witnessed in politics.
The former staffer, Stefan Baranski, said he is confident that people inside the caucus and party were responsible for an array of rumours about Ms. Redford that began spreading in the last couple of months. They were propagated by people who, from Day 1, never accepted Alberta's first female premier and worked to undermine her leadership, he said.
"You know, you heard the rumours. Literally every media outlet, reporters from each one, were all coming over to me the last little while saying, 'You know we heard there was an incident …'," Mr. Baranski said of persistent tales about her personal life and a nagging story that she'd abused a staff member. "It was absolute horseshit. But that's what the premier was facing."
The Globe spoke to the person alleged to have been abused by Ms. Redford and she denied any such incident occurred.
According to Mr. Baranski, Ms. Redford was unable to stop the vengeful gossip from spreading. There were rumblings Ms. Redford resigned because of an ugly revelation about to be made public. This came from sources inside the Tory party, he said.
"It's just nonsense. I've been hearing literally that same narrative for the last two months: 'Wait till tomorrow, there's something else coming.' It's absolute nonsense. They can't criticize her on policy … so they resorted to absolute character assassination, and you've seen some gender politics at play and a whole bunch of other pretty sad rumours and smears coming out almost daily now."
Progressive Conservative Party president Jim McCormick said Ms. Redford was the subject of many rumours, many of which he heard himself.
"I was just hearing them from so-and-so and then you talk to so-and-so and they say they heard it from that person, and you talk to that person and they say they heard it from someone else," Mr. McCormick said in an interview. "I could never run any of them [the rumours] to the ground."
The president said he personally "investigated" many of the stories and could not substantiate a single one. He said that many of them "continue to persist." He never spoke to Ms. Redford about them, he said.
The impact of the rumours, most of which came from within the party itself, also raises questions about party-unity prospects and what kind of organization the next leader will face.
Responding to whether the rumours had any impact on Ms. Redford's decision to resign, Dave Hancock – who will become the interim Alberta Premier on Sunday – said politics has taken a turn for the worse in the past few years, in part as a result of social media platforms such as Twitter, he believes.
"In my ideal, we talk policy," Mr. Hancock said. "But there are elements that want to attack people personally, to make derogatory comments, to start rumours, and that has a worrying and wearing effect."
In announcing her decision to her staff, Ms. Redford indicated she wasn't willing to ask her family to further endure the political maelstrom that erupted around her leadership, Mr. Baranski said.
"She said, 'Look, it's been a distraction and I need to put my family first and put myself first.' And her own dignity and respect first," Mr. Baranski said.
Despite everything she was going through, everything she was enduring as she hung on to her leadership, Mr. Baranski said he and others in the premier's office were caught off guard by Ms. Redford's decision. She is a political fighter, he said, and as tough as they come. But ultimately, she was not prepared to battle people in her own caucus and party who seemed prepared to go to any lengths to get her evicted from the job.
"I think she just looked at the environment and said: 'I have elements in my own party actively working against me. I have elements of my own caucus actively working against me. We have a fairly hostile media environment here …. How can we possibly go forward if my own party and caucus don't support what we want to do and what we were elected to do?' And that's the sad part."