EDMONTON – After taking time to list off her accomplishments in her 2 1/2 years as Alberta premier, Alison Redford stood with a grim smile Wednesday and announced her resignation.
Redford has been struggling to deal with unrest in her Progressive Conservative caucus over her leadership style and questionable expenses.
Her resignation will be effective Sunday, although she will continue to sit as a member of the legislature. The party said it will meet Monday to decide what steps it will take next.
“Quite simply, I am not prepared to allow party and caucus infighting to get in the way,” Redford told supporters gathered in the legislature rotunda. “I’ve given my heart and soul to this province, every minute for the last 2 1/2 years.”
She barely paused her quickly delivered statement, even as a lone supporter in the distance chanted “Al-i-son, Al-i-son!” but the stiff facade finally crumbled and her voice wavered as she thanked the volunteers who had helped get her elected, as well as her constituents.
Redford could not weather weeks of revelations of lavish spending by herself and her government.
It began when it surfaced that she had spent $45,000 on first-class air tickets and a government plane to go to Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa.
Other revelations fell like hammer blows: Redford using government planes for a vacation; to fly her daughter and her daughter’s friends around; to go to a family funeral in Vancouver.
Newly released salary details showed six-figure salaries for Redford’s inner circle, including $316,000 for her chief of staff, Farouk Adatia. By comparison, U.S. President Barack Obama’s chief of staff makes $172,000.
There were calls for Redford to repay the money for the South Africa trip. She only did so after tensions within her caucus spilled into the public realm.
Last week, things went from bad to worse when Redford’s character came into question.
Calgary backbencher Len Webber quit the Tory caucus, saying he could no longer stomach Redford’s temper tantrums and abuse of subordinates. She wasn’t a “nice lady,” he said.
On the weekend, Redford was taken to task by Progressive Conservative party executives in a closed-door meeting. They emerged to say Redford would be given an unspecified “work plan” to follow.
The turmoil continued.
On Sunday, 10 government members met to debate whether to leave caucus and sit as Independents.
On Monday, Donna Kennedy-Glans, the associate minister for electricity, quit — saying the promised reforms by Redford were dying on the vine.
Earlier Wednesday, it was reported that riding association presidents in Calgary would meet in the evening to call for her resignation.
Even Redford admitted the revelations were detracting from the work of government.
She had been named party leader in the fall of 2011 and won government in her own right on a platform of progressivisim. She promised to eradicate poverty, boost social spending and invest in education.
A coalition of unions and progressives helped her party to victory in the 2012 provincial election over the more right-of-centre Wildrose.
But once elected, Redford moved her party to the right.
She cut spending to below the levels of inflation plus population, and strong-armed teachers and doctors into taking wage freezes.
When the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees refused to accept a freeze, she passed a law forcing it on them.
Despite the move, she angered fiscal conservatives, taking Alberta back into long-term debt expected to reach $21 billion by 2017 to pay for new schools and health clinics.
Redford is the second Tory premier to resign after holding the job for less than five years. Her predecessor, Ed Stelmach, resigned after only four years as he faced a caucus revolt of his own over his budget.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a succinct tweet as his official response to Redford’s departure: “We thank Premier Redford for her years of service and her commitment to the people of Alberta and to Canada, and we wish her the best in whatever comes next.”
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith told a news conference that Redford’s move was probably prompted by the series of polls demonstrating her plummeting popularity, as well as the internal caucus discussion and public musing about her grip on her party.
“A leader has to have control of that and be able to quell that kind of internal criticism or they have to go,” Smith said. “It’s clear she made the decision that she would not be able to quell that kind of internal criticism.
“Let’s be frank — I just can’t imagine that there is any leader who is going to be able to fix all the problems of the PC party or this PC government … the issues are too deep, the sense of entitlement go too deep, the level of difficulty in the managing of virtually every department is too deep.”
Justice Minister Jonathan Denis noted that in his 14 years as a Conservative, this will be the third leadership race.
“When the dust settles a little, I think we’ll continue moving forward as a government.”
But Steve Young, one of the two backbenchers who this week openly mused about joining the caucus defectors, suggested Redford’s departure doesn’t solve all the problems.
“It’s like a three-legged stool: you have where we’re going, the strategy, but you also have your caucus and Albertans. So we’re certainly challenged on a couple of those legs of the stool. We certainly made some great progress in policy and directions and the other parts may not have come together as well as we’d like.”
Young said that without doubt, Redford did the right thing.
“When that trust was lost, you can change people, you can change processes, you can even adjust strategies, but it takes a lot to build that trust.”
Within moments of Redford’s announcement on Wednesday, Twitter exploded as pundits, politicians and the public weighed in on her departure.
One supporter named Duncan Wojtaszek tweeted his thanks to Redford for her public service: “I wish you happy trails and joy.”
Others, such as Jeff Woodward, weren’t as impressed: “None of this changes the fact that #ab is governed by a corrupt entitled party that is entirely out of touch with its citizens.”
Others had more fun.
Shelley Wallis of the Calgary Herald suggested she saw “lasers firing out of her eyeballs,” and added the hashtag: “@Premier_Redford taking her marbles and going home.”
The CBC’s “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” joked that: “Alison Redford resigns in wake of expense scandal, explaining she couldn’t reach Nigel Wright.”
And Robyn Urback was just one of many sneaking in a couple of sharp transportation jabs: “Is it in poor taste to ask whether Redford is leaving on a jet plane?”