A veteran MP from central Calgary has resigned to work in the office of Alberta Premier Alison Redford, saying the province is at a pivotal moment in its history.
Lee Richardson, a centrist Tory and backbencher, will work in the senior role of principal secretary in Ms. Redford's Edmonton office, reporting to her chief of staff. The Premier and Mr. Richardson are friends with deep ties in Calgary politics. He was her MP, she's his MLA.
Mr. Richardson said he was excited by Alberta's burgeoning role on the national stage, which reminds him of the era of former premier Peter Lougheed, a supporter of Ms. Redford for whom Mr. Richardson served as chief of staff.
"Peter said to me 30 years ago, 'this is the eye of the hurricane, this is where it's going to be.' There really is no place in the world that has the economic potential, in the next 10 years, of Alberta. And I was a young man thrilled and excited to be with Peter Lougheed through that... and I'm kind of excited to do it again," Mr. Richardson told The Globe and Mail. "And I really like Alison. I think she's just really bright, and putting a good team together, so I'm quite excited about the prospect."
Mr. Richardson also served as deputy chief of staff in the office of former prime minister Brian Mulroney. "I think I just bring that institutional memory, and experience, and maybe a little grey hair to a relatively young crew," he said. He's also a former Progressive Conservative in a federal Conservative caucus dominated by those further to the right, including former Reform Party supporters, but brushed aside questions of whether his decision was driven by ideology.
"I'm always a bring-people-together kind of guy," he said, later adding: "The Prime Minister has been very gracious, and is happy for me, and thinks this is a good thing for relations between the province and Ottawa."
Ms. Redford told reporters Mr. Richardson was a "very good friend" who had been looking for a new job. "When we saw the possibility of him perhaps thinking that he wanted to make more of a contribution back in Alberta, we started to talk about this possibility. I'm so pleased it has come about. I think it really signals some pretty optimistic perspectives on the future of what we can do in Alberta,' Ms. Redford told reporters.
The move comes as Ms. Redford continues to bring in a new team after winning a majority government last month. She replaced her former chief of staff with Farouk Adatia, a Calgary lawyer who failed in his bid to win a seat.
Ms. Redford, 47, and Mr. Richardson, 64, are both so-called red Tories, but she downplayed the significance of losing his voice in the federal Conservative caucus. "All it does is strengthen our ability to build relationships and communicate with our federal colleagues in Ottawa," Ms. Redford said Wednesday.
Mr. Richardson was first elected in 1988 as a PC, before his defeat in 1993. He ran again in 2004 as a Conservative, and has won easy victories since. When former Alberta premier Ed Stelmach stepped down last year, Mr. Richardson was urged by many to seek the party leadership and premier's chair. He demurred before eventually deciding not to run.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office issued a statement congratulating Mr. Richardson. "Lee has been a strong advocate for Alberta and a valued voice within our caucus," it said.
A source ruled out the notion that Mr. Richardson was being brought on board to become Alberta's ambassador to Ottawa, after the province announced it will open an office in the capital. He will work in the Premier's legislature office.
The move will trigger a by-election in the safe Conservative seat of Calgary-Centre, and jockeying had already begun Wednesday afternoon as Conservatives raised names to succeed Mr. Richardson as the nominee. Mr. Richardson, though, said he hasn't decided who he'll support amid what could be a wide field. "I'm sure there'll be lots," he said.