A very Albertan coup: Alison Redford fell victim to her own hubris, as well as that of her Progressive Conservative Party

Posted on March 20, 2014, 12:16 am
7 mins

Alison Redford announces her resignation moments after 6 p.m. yesterday while Deputy Premier Dave Hancock looks on grimly in the background. Below: Mr. Hancock, the man thought most likely to become the PC Party’s interim leader and premier, as the crisis played out last week.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford, who resigned moments after 6 p.m. yesterday, fell victim to her own hubris and that of the party she led.

In the next few days and weeks, we are certain to hear two competing narratives emerge to explain what happened to Ms. Redford’s short, unhappy premiership, which began when she was sworn in on Oct. 7, 2011, and ended suddenly yesterday evening in the palace coup, dignified resignation or whatever it was that happened.

The first narrative will be that Ms. Redford was an arrogant and headstrong leader, chosen almost by accident through the maneuverings of a Machiavellian political operator, and that she was principally the victim of her own excess.

The second will be that that Ms. Redford was the victim of the structural flaws of a party that is a generation beyond its best-before date and the scheming of that party’s network of “old boys,” and thus the entire party must be swept away to fix the problems Albertans now see their province as facing.

The first benefits Ms. Redford’s Progressive Conservative Party, as it tries to find a way to reinvent itself yet again, when it thought it had managed to do just that with the selection of Ms. Redford as party leader in October 2011 and the general election that followed on April 2012.

The second benefits the Opposition parties, and in particular the Wildrose Party led by Danielle Smith, which hoped and still hopes the conditions are finally in place for the replacement of the Progressive Conservatives, who have now ruled Alberta for 43 years.

In truth, there are elements of truth to both stories, and it is nonsense to believe one to the complete exclusion of the other.

Ms. Redford was an arrogant and inconsistent leader, perpetually persuaded she was the smartest person in the room, harsh in her treatment of subordinates, certain she deserved to travel first class, convinced she could casually betray people on the left and the right with whom she had built alliances without consequences for herself or her government.

Who now doubts that either a smooth old charmer like Gary Mar, the seemingly practical Doug Horner or even an ideological zealot like Ted Morton, the other front-runners in the 2011 leadership race, couldn’t have done a better job keeping the PC Party together, wooing back disgruntled defectors to the Wildrose and reinventing the Tory party so that it could survive yet another electoral test and last a half a century?

But it is also true that the party is truly past its prime, a coalition of self-interested individuals like the governments of other one-party states that stayed too long in power and forgot why they exist. I rule, therefore I am.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we can see now that Ms. Redford was exactly the wrong leader to take up the reins of a party that assumed it ruled by divine right, and which otherwise had forgotten what it was there to do.

It is a party, moreover, that had already split in two with the defection of the more ideological Wildrose faction, and which threatened to split in two again when the controversy over Ms. Redford’s high-handed and entitled style refused to go away.

What is clear is that the rebels were plentiful enough, and their threats believable enough, that Ms. Redford bowed to the inevitable and departed gracefully.

When the end came yesterday, it was sudden. My local paper turned up in my mailbox yesterday afternoon bearing a story that declared, “Premier Alison Redford isn’t going anywhere and is committed to changing her leadership style for the better.” Within a couple of hours my smartphone was carolling the hour of her news conference.

Attention will now turn to what the PC party will try to do to remain in power, and whom it will choose to lead it out of the wilderness it has found itself in, however it got there.

Elected Tory representatives and party officials were tight-lipped yesterday about who will take over as premier when Ms. Redford formally steps aside on Sunday, but the prevailing wisdom – with which I concur – is that Deputy Premier Dave Hancock will be chosen as interim leader while the party holds a leadership contest it can ill afford.

Mr. Hancock is the most likely interim premier simply because he is the least likely to want to stick around in that role, and hence will be agreeable to most.

After that, certainly some former candidates will take a serious look at taking another run at the leadership – others may conclude it’s now too late to aspire to being captain of what’s been revealed as a leaky and quite possibly sinking vessel.

Aspirants may include Mr. Mar and Dr. Morton, as well as former Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk and former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel. There may be some surprises too. Very possibly the quality of the field will be a weathervane for the party’s chances of survival.

Today is the first day of another season, both in politics and the calendar. That is the only certainty.

Alison, we hardly knew ye! But I guess we knew ye well enough.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

9 Comments to: A very Albertan coup: Alison Redford fell victim to her own hubris, as well as that of her Progressive Conservative Party

  1. jerrymacgp

    March 20th, 2014

    Her unpopularity with Alberta voters and with her caucus colleagues had disparate roots. With voters, she was criticized for campaigning as a progressive but governing as a regressive. Many of the bad decisions made on her watch as Premier and PC Party leader may have originated in the grey matter of some of her ministers, like Horner, Horne and Lukaszuk, but as head of the government she has to take accountability for those decisions.

    As for the caucus, the departure of Ms Kennedy-Glans (an unfortunate surname, but I digress) was telling, since the essential message explaining her departure was that she did not feel that the PC Party of Alberta was sufficiently beholden to the big oil sector (her former employer) that was paying its bills. In other words, the dinosaurs in the PC caucus didn’t think Ms Redford was saurian enough.

  2. Richard Long

    March 20th, 2014

    Dave. One thing PC MLAs fail to realize is that this party has got decades of baggage and an entrenched culture of bullying, secrecy and top down leadership style. The next leader will go the same way as the previous ones. Most Albertan families are disenchanted. The only way it will survive is if a new humble moderate insider is truly willing to get rid of most of the people in the PC party who contribute to this dysfunctional culture. The PC party must make amends and reconcile with all those that it has wronged. Unless that happens the next leader will be too bogged down by party baggage (Kurruption). At the very best they can hope for a minority and at worst they lose to a WR minority govt.

  3. CuJoYYC

    March 20th, 2014

    As they say, if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

  4. Olav Rokne

    March 20th, 2014

    I appreciate the reference to Chris Mullin’s excellent 1982 novel.

  5. Sassy

    March 20th, 2014

    I’m sure Redford will end up in a cushy position at some international agency like the WTO or IMF. Meanwhile we’re hearing all about her accomplishments (in her own farewell speech and from mainstream news). It would be nice if her destructive and harmful legislation and policies were listed so none will forget. For me, the top of that list would be moving environment protection regulators from government control to an industry-funded agency. We all know who will benefit and who will suffer with this despicable arrangement.

  6. Chris

    March 20th, 2014

    Those two narratives you present are not competing at all. They are both true and accurate, they both proceeded independently of each other, and recently both have come together in an unprecedented and historic way.

    Redford truly was excessive, tone-deaf, and only came to power by deceiving certain progressive voter groups (with an assist from a few knuckle-draggers).

    The PC Party has been a flawed old-boys club for quite some time.

    The two narratives met when her excesses could no longer be ignored and their old-boy tactics were apparently the only solution they could think of. (Seriously: probation? Seriously: waiting to pay back expenses until you are at gunpoint? Hell, why not get your highly-paid chief-of-staff to Wright a cheque for your unethical expenses (ahem)?)
    The PCs are headed for a historic defeat and almost certain extinction. Maybe in a few years they can start up a chain of agricultural supply stores.

  7. ronmac

    March 22nd, 2014

    In many ways it’s like having a car that’s been running rough. And now it’s broken down, leaving you stranded by the side of the road. We fear the dreaded phone call from the garage, saying you need a new this or a new that. But the engine has to come out and its thousands of dollars. You might as well junk the whole thing.

    Or it could be nothing at all. A wire has come loose underneath and now it’s back on. It’s good as new. I’ve personally had that pleasant experience. Maybe the PC’s will get lucky that way. A quick change in the leader and they’re back on the road.

    Allison was premier for 898 days. If she could have hung on for another few months she could had been in office for a very “Kennedyesque 1,000 days.” Before being cut down in her prime by ides of March assassins.

  8. K. Larsen

    March 22nd, 2014

    My question is: was Allison Redford the Queen of bait and switch, or was she ultimately the victim of it? I would prefer to think the latter, but it strikes me we only have evidence of the former.


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