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Rookie backbenchers openly challenging Redford will not be disciplined – for now

Premier Alison Redford scrums with the media following a meeting of the provincial PC Party executive in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, March 15, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Alberta Premier Alison Redford's House Leader says two rookie backbench MLAs openly challenging her will be left alone for now.

"Those two members will make their decisions [on whether to quit Ms. Redford's caucus] in a timely fashion, and I'll respect those decisions," Robin Campbell told reporters Tuesday.

Mr. Campbell said while he would prefer critical comments from dissidents such as Steve Young and Matt Jeneroux be kept in-house in caucus, they all respect free speech.

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"Everybody has opinions, and the great thing about our caucus is that there is a diverse group of people around the table," he said. "We all represent our ridings and our constituencies [and] we all have different ideas about how government should function."

Mr. Campbell said conflicting views are common to all governments. "There are always members that aren't happy with the Premier. There's always members that have different views, and that's just part of caucus."

Should other MLAs now feel free to be openly critical of Ms. Redford? "I wouldn't," Mr. Campbell said.

But can they? "It's a free country," he replied.

Ms. Redford has been struggling in recent days to quell a caucus revolt stemming from her lavish travel spending and accusations she is an angry, abusive boss. In the last week, Tory MLAs Len Webber and Donna Kennedy-Glans have quit the caucus, citing Ms. Redford's leadership as the main concern.

At least 10 more Progressive Conservative MLAs have met to discuss whether they, too, should cross the floor. That's a figure that would put Ms. Redford's majority in the legislature dangerously close to a minority. The 10 include Mr. Jeneroux and Mr. Young, both Edmonton MLAs.

Mr. Young was appointed to cabinet by Ms. Redford in December, then was turfed before he could even be sworn in over decade-old concerns of an internal investigation into his work as an Edmonton police officer. Last month, he criticized Ms. Redford for spending $45,000 to attend Nelson Mandela's funeral.

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He said he is still talking to constituents and advisers about whether to sit as an independent. When asked if leaving caucus is a real option, he said, "The Magna Carta tells us that leaving caucus is always an option."

Mr. Jeneroux said he is going to take the upcoming two-week constituency break to touch base with his constituents to decide his best course of action.

"Any decision I make really has to reflect what's best for Edmonton South West and my 50,000 constituents out there," Mr. Jeneroux said. "To me, that's more important than my personal thoughts. My personal thoughts obviously weigh into it, but that's how I'm feeling right now."

The allegations against Ms. Redford have translated into low poll numbers, with PC MLAs criticizing not just her but each other on Twitter.

On the weekend, party officials met with Ms. Redford behind closed doors in Calgary to discuss the problems. They emerged to say the party would deliver to Ms. Redford a new "work plan" to quell concerns about her leadership. Neither party president Jim McCormick nor Ms. Redford have divulged details of the work plan. In Calgary, Mr. McCormick told reporters it is still a work in progress, but said it would include a blueprint for better communication.

"From the party's perspective, we're not looking at a capital-W, capital-P work plan. It's a work plan that's really a summary of a lot of different things that we'll be discussing with the leader," Mr. McCormick said Tuesday. He said he would be meeting with Ms. Redford sometime this week to hash things out further.

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Opposition critics have pounced on the plan, saying it shows Ms. Redford is now beholden not to Albertans but to the secret agenda of the PC party. They have also gleefully labelled Ms. Redford Canada's only premier in need of "adult supervision."

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