Once viewed as an uncompromising reformer destined to take her party and the province in a new direction, the resignation last week of Premier Alison Redford cut short that vision and opened widening questions about the future of Alberta’s four-decade PC dynasty.
After only a mere two-and-a-half years in office, questionable expense practices and heavy criticism of her leadership style from within her own party prompted Redford to throw in the towel.
“We knew she was under pressure, and been getting heat from a lot of different sources, including her own caucus, the party leadership itself, and Albertans in general,” said Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Gary Bikman. “The polls do sometimes mean something, and I think she made the right decision for her as a person.”
As of Monday, the premiership has officially passed to former Deputy Premier Dave Hancock, making him Alberta’s 15th premier.
“I am honoured and humbled to have been asked by caucus to serve as Premier of Alberta,” said Hancock in a short media statement last week. “It’s a role that I accept with optimism and great confidence in the ongoing work and vision of this government.”
Party infighting and rumours surrounding Redford’s role as premier had been making headlines across the province for weeks prior to her announcement, adding fuel to a party fire that was already on the verge of burning out of control.
The recent departure of PC MLA Len Webber amid allegations of Redford’s heavy-handed leadership tactics appeared to be a watershed moment, prompting 10 more government MLAs to consider leaving the party to sit as independents just days before her resignation.
“Anyone that is prepared to put themselves out there and work for what they hope will be a better Alberta should be thanked for having the courage to do that.” said Bikman. “She came to her own decision that her vision for Alberta, and the vision of Albertans didn’t actually end up matching. She made some promises that she was either unable to keep, or perhaps wasn’t allowed to keep — maybe never intended to keep, hopefully not the latter.”
First elected in 2008 representing the riding of Calgary-Elbow, Redford served as justice minister before securing the PC party leadership in 2011 on the heels of the resignation of Premier Ed Stelmach.
Appealing to the more progressive elements of the PC party, Redford had been considered something of a dark horse candidate at the time of the party leadership race, vaulting past more popular candidates due in part to unusual party voting practices.
She would go on to lead the party to an unexpected landslide election victory in 2012, stealing the fury from the Wildrose Party’s seemingly irresistible campaign that had many pollsters predicting the end of the PC party’s reign at the commanding heights of Alberta’s government.
“I think people had a higher expectation based upon what was promised and what was said during the campaign,” said Bikman. “I think they were challenging her to keep her promises, and she wasn’t able to. Obviously the last straw for them was the $45,000 trip to South Africa. Big dollars that just kind of overwhelmed the average person.”
The third premier to make a departure in the last eight years, Redford’s resignation should be viewed as an admission of failure on the part of the party itself, according to Bikman.
“I think it’s proof of what we’ve been saying, that the premier isn’t the problem. The problem wasn’t Alison Redford. She was the face of the problem, the problem is the party itself — it’s been in for too long, having been in power and ruling for 43 years, the lines have been blurred between the party and the government, and between the needs of the people and the right to govern the people.The party that Premier Lougheed started was a bottom up party, more grassroots, more like what the Wildrose is. And he said what makes us different and special, and able to accomplish so much is because the cabinet and the premier take our directions from the caucus, and the caucus takes their direction from the people they represent. That’s what made that party great, but over the years they’ve steered away from that, and a deep sense of entitlement now clouds their judgement.”
Bikman suggested the PCs have been on a declining path for a number of years, a spiral downwards that cannot exclusively be blamed on the current incarnation of the party.
“They always say they’ve been listening to Albertans, but the evidence is obviously contrary to that. They may have been listening to Albertans, but they haven’t been hearing what we’re saying. There’s an awful lot of Albertans who feel like their rights have been trampled on, that their tax dollars are being wasted, and they feel like they’ve been let down. That wasn’t just by this premier, or this current group of sitting MLAs, it pervades the party to its roots. It’s a malady that happens when you’ve been in power too long.”
Redford ‘misread’ the intentions and desires of Albertans throughout her tenure as premier, continuing to foster a growing sense of alienation felt by many former long-time PC supporters, concluded Bikman.
“I was a PC all my life, until I saw them doing things that just couldn’t be explained in a business sense, or even in a common sense way. They just got out of touch with what I was hearing people say, not just in our riding, but all across the province. We needed to take the party in a different direction, but we needed to take in a direction that hearkened back to what made the party great, and what made Alberta great. I think the premier, because of her own background, and probably because of some part of her brain trust, I think they misread the sentiments and the true needs and wishes of Albertans. They though they needed to emphasize the ‘progressive’ side, as opposed to going back to the conservative roots that made the party great.”