Alison Redford’s Alberta legacy: uniting Progressive Conservatives against her
Watch above: Has Calgary-Elbow MLA Alison Redford taken her political scandal with her after resigning from provincial politics? Gary Bobrovitz takes a look.
A politician embroiled in scandal quits abruptly, forces a leadership race and leaves the party’s future in doubt.
Everyone says the party’s done. Finished. No way they can bounce back.
And then the Liberals win a majority in Ontario.
With Alison Redford’s resignation Wednesday amid allegations of lavish spending and an impending provincial auditor general’s report, the question remains: How much will her legacy impact the future of Alberta’s ruling Progressive Conservatives?
Experts agree: A lot.
Whether that makes a difference in future elections remains to be seen.
WATCH: Alison Redford resignation: online reaction
“If we’ve seen anything, people have very short political memories,” says Nelson Wiseman, director of the Canadian studies program at the University of Toronto.
“It has a big impact on the party because it’s shaken things up, but who knows what it will be like in an election?”
Following the gas plants scandal in Ontario, former premier Dalton McGuinty resigned and forced a leadership race for his replacement.
But concerted makeover efforts and an uninspiring opposition gave the Liberals a majority in June.
“When that [gas plant] issue broke, people said the Liberals were dead,” Wiseman says. “Okay, well look what happened.”
Wiseman also questioned whether Redford made explicit decisions to carry so-called “ghost passengers” on government flights – or whether it was her staff who made the final call.
Regardless, Alberta’s interim premier Dave Hancock said Wednesday he wants to refer a leaked auditor general’s report on Redford’s travel expenses (which technically won’t be public until Thursday) to the RCMP.
What Redford’s resignation has done is unique, says Alberta political scientist Duane Bratt: She’s managed to unite her own party – including its three leadership candidates – against her.
“What’s remarkable about this is the party itself is pushing all the blame all on Redford. And that was not the case in Ontario, where they were defending the McGuinty government,” says Bratt, chair of policy studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary.
“All of the leadership candidates have basically run against Alison Redford and they have tried to pin everything all on her and her entourage to try to protect the party.”
And for a party that’s been in power for more than four decades, it just might work.
All three candidates have slammed Redford’s alleged misuse of taxpayer money, while praising her decision to leave politics.
Leadership candidate Jim Prentice said Redford did “the right and honourable thing” by resigning, while cabinet minister Ric McIver said she “made a difficult but necessary decision.”
Former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who is also running for leadership, called it “a new chapter for Alberta.”
Bratt said Redford never had the support of her party’s caucus, clinching the leadership in 2011 by signing up non-traditional conservatives and going on to win an unexpected majority government in 2012.
“It’s less about the spending – although that’s a significant part of it – but the lack of support within the caucus that Alison Redford had,” he said.
He said the leadership race, which has its first vote next month, will revolve around candidates differentiating themselves from Redford – with outsider, and former federal Conservative Jim Prentice, set to benefit the most.
But the opposition won’t let the PCs off the hook.
Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle said the problem goes far beyond Redford.
“The PCs will undoubtedly attempt to convince Albertans that all of their problems were her fault and hers alone,” Towle said. “Miss Redford might make for a convenient scapegoat for the PCs, now desperately trying to cling to power. But the fact is, not a single one of them had the guts or integrity to stand up to her.”
As for Redford, in an editorial published Wednesday she said she recognizes “mistakes were made along the way,” and accepts responsibility for all her decisions.
“Although I will no longer be in elected office, I still believe in my heart that public service matters,” she wrote.
“The ideals that brought me to public life in the first place have not changed.”
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