A nasty history lesson for Alberta’s PC leader Alison Redford

What the embattled premier might have learned from Ralph Klein

A nasty history lesson

Jeff McIntosh/CP

Political campaigns aren’t what they used to be in Alberta. In 2012, the press is raising hell because the Wildrose party, which has a stranglehold on the polls halfway through the election race, has occasionally been rebutting individual newspaper columnists by means of terse little press releases. Not cricket, say the media old-timers. Yet most of these people are old enough to remember the unpredictable premier Ralph Klein and his consigliere Rod Love, whose interactions with critics were sometimes more like headbuttals than rebuttals.

Take one famous scene that preceded the 1993 provincial election, when the Conservative government of Alberta was in the deepest doo-doo it has known until now. An upstart lobby group, the Association of Alberta Taxpayers (AAT), was successfully spreading word of the crazy defined-benefit pensions MLAs had voted themselves—plans which, after repeated increases, often gave members twice the value of what they had kicked in. With dozens of caucus members jumping ship, Klein had stood behind the pensions, saying it would be “immoral” to change them. But the voters were in a lynching mood, and Klein’s campaign bagmen were freaking out.

With the election about four weeks away, the AAT held an impromptu afternoon press conference under the dome in Edmonton. The group had just unveiled a 30,000-word petition calling for reform of the odious pension plan. Unexpectedly, Klein tottered into view on his way back from lunch. Seeing the AAT’s man, the premier charged like a buffalo and, with the legislature bureau looking on in horror, began to berate the AAT at top volume over its direct-marketing tactics. The group was “robbing” feeble seniors, bellowed a crimson-faced Klein. (This was a rare failure of Kleinian instinct; AAT contributors mostly just loved its newsletter full of baroque tales of government waste.)

The AAT’s spokesman kept his cool and stayed polite as Klein’s off-topic tirade gradually trailed off. That scene might have destroyed some governments, but it was serendipitous for the PCs; a humiliated Klein was left with no choice but to turn viciously against his own clueless caucus and crack down on the pensions. The AAT, for a while, acquired a near-veto over Alberta legislation, gaining a voice in the spending cuts that were to follow Klein’s re-election. The group was the ancestor of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and Jason Kenney, the irksome 24-year-old whose appearance had so infuriated the premier, was launched on his own political trajectory.

It’s a funny story—one with a neglected warning. Today’s Alberta PCs went into the 2012 campaign bearing their own explosive package planted by the CTF. On Mar. 9 the organization gave one of its “Teddy” awards to the 21 members of the Alberta assembly’s standing committee on privileges and elections. Private members sitting on the committee had been receiving allowances of $1,000 a month for being available for duty, even though the committee has not met since Nov. 17, 2008. And members had adjourned knowing they wouldn’t be back soon: chairman Ray Prins has specifically told them the next meeting “could be 20 years from now.”

MLAs from all parties took “no-meet committee” cash, but when Wildrose and Liberal members announced plans to return their allowances, PC Premier Alison Redford called it a “stunt” and accused them of “grandstanding.” The immediate feedback in Prins’s riding of Lacombe-Ponoka was so ferocious that he announced his retirement from politics on March 21, mere days after giving expansive, playful interviews about his plans to run again. When the election became official on April 5 and other PC candidates started door-knocking, they quickly found that the anger wasn’t local.

Within a few days Redford had to admit she should have “acted faster and gone further.” By that time, she could offer no more than a promise of action. MLAs who do not return all the post-2008 cash, she says, will “not be welcome” in her caucus. But it’s not the best time for her to ask the Alberta public for a leap of faith, considering how she fudged promises made during her leadership campaign—her “fixed election date” law, for example, ended up providing only for an “election window” covering most of the spring.

Meanwhile, she didn’t consult her caucus on the payback, or give them much time to absorb it. Virtually all PC MLAs had supported other leadership candidates, and as the Redford campaign stumbles, nasty anonymous quotes are beginning to blossom in the newspapers. The Alberta Conservative machine has a proven ability to rally from behind, but its people have to want to win with the leader they’ve got. Shockingly low PC morale makes the miracle look less likely every day.




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A nasty history lesson for Alberta’s PC leader Alison Redford

  1. Appropriate how the PCs use orange as one of their campaign colors.  They’re like the NDP.

    •  So Alberta has had an NDP govt for 40 years and never noticed?

      Interesting.

      • No, we’ve had a Lib government for a couple years and an NDP/Lib government for a few months. But that’s all changing in 10 days.

        •  LOL or it could just be that govts change with changing times….and some Albertans aren’t ready to modernize yet.

          • Yes this government “changed with the times”.  It became increasingly controlling….it centralized healthcare in Edmonton under a superboard so that the health minister and premier could keep personal control over all information being disseminated.  When the junior health minister said something contrary to the popular message, they called him “insane”, tried to get his medical licence revoked and tossed him out of caucas.  When doctors complained they had been intimidated and fired for advocating for patient safety, they called them liars…until the doctors produced threatening letters sent by Alberta Health Services administrators.  Ms. Redford promised if made premier she would have an inquiry into physician intimidation…she was made premier and even though there was proof of intimidation…she refused to have an inquiry.  Then there was the money for committees no one attended, the kickbacks and election contributions from taxpayer institutions to the PC’s….and it goes on.  If this is what is “modernization”, I guess alot of Albertans just “aren’t ready” for it.

          •  What…she’s been premier for 6 months already, and she hasn’t fixed everything??

          • It’s not that she hasn’t fixed everything – she’s fixed nothing and made quite a few things worse.

          • @57fc79f8528c0aa6c4b4330d53700334:disqus

            Well the PCs have been in there for 40 years, and for at least 20 of them the ROC has been telling you the place needs a clean-out….there is bound to be closets full of stuff by now.

            Seems a bit much to expect her to clean it all up in just 6 months….especially while gearing up for an election.

            Smith will have the same problem.

          • @OriginalEmily1:disqus 

            Emily, it is not about people expecting Redford to “clean it all up in just 6 months”, it is about Redford keeping the promises that got elected as Premier when she KNEW she would be gearing up for an election.
            All she had to do was clamp down on the no-meet committee members, insist on open investigations into allegations of corruption AND set up date for the healthcare inquiry. 
            You say the ROC told us to get rid of this government 20 years ago….some people may not have appreciated some of the Ralph Klein years but when Alberta was deficit free, alot of people were very happy.
            Now as a “big fan” of our province, I can see how you might want to give us Albertans some advice but I think I will stick with Dr. Phil….”past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior”.  Chances are these corrupt bullies aren’t going to change their behavior anytime soon.  Go Wildrose.

          •  @57fc79f8528c0aa6c4b4330d53700334:disqus

            And a few months from now you’ll be complaining about Smith. LOL

            You people don’t clean house often enough, and then you wonder why the place smells.

          • OE- “What…she’s been premier for 6 months already, and she hasn’t fixed everything??”

            Read the post one time. She hasn’t fixed ANYTHING and made a lot of things worse. Sheesh, really, it’s simple reading comprehension.

          • No, no…that’s not it. The PC’s left Albertans, it’s not Albertans that left the PC’s. 

          •  40 years….and they just up and left eh?

          • Rete, not true that “The PC’s left Albertans”. The PC party was taken over by the usual suspects of rent-seekers and social engineers. To some, that’s a good thing. I think we know who those people are.

          •  @GreatWallsofFire:disqus

            Well, 6 months compared to what….nada on Smith’s part.

            I’m sure Smith will be an improvement.

          • A useful approach – compare the respective records as premier of two people, one of whom has never been.

          •  @GreatWallsofFire:disqus

            Well neither has really, since 6 months isn’t anything.

          • Well let’s see…6 months was long enough for Ms. Redford to ruin her own credibility.  She kept complete arrogant jerks like Liepert & Morton in her caucas.  She promised an inquiry into healthcare and then when it looked like it might bury some top brass, she cancelled it.  Her party is rampant with corruption and she isn’t interested in playing hardball to squash it.  Unfortunately, she showed alot about herself in the last 6 months….none of it gives Albertans any confidence that she has the will or the backbone to clean house.

      • Thank you once again for your ignorant commentary.  

        The PCs have transformed their party’s policies to a far-left progressive ideology in recent years, and is HOPING we don’t notice.  Too late for them, we have; it won’t work.

        •  ’Far left progressive’????

          Not even close….you guys are inhaling too much sour gas.

  2. I’ll assume you prepped this before last night’s debate – although Redford performed adequately, I can’t imagine she boosted the “shockingly low” morale.  That she credibly responded to the tripartite avalanche of attack wasn’t of relevance – it was that she was under such relentless attack in the first place.  Redford did try to break out by launching a few attacks of her own, but she clearly doesn’t have the stomach for it, inconsistent as hurly-burly politics is with her own preference for the “ “getting to yes” model of the world” (whatever the heck that is).

    I suspect the debate will entrench Wildrose’s 10 to 12% lead and Redford can safely start planning her post-Premiership (and quite possibly post-MLA) life.  

    • Huh, a failure in a democracy, she’s a shoe-in to get her old UN post back.

  3. Interesting article, especially about Jason Kenney. Does that mean he’s willing to give up his gold plated MP defined benefit pension, which members can collect after only serving a few years, to which taxpayers contribute the lion’s share.  Is he? Didn’t think so, the Conservatives would rather cut the Old age security for old people who are often on low incomes already. 

    • Petr,

      You ask a great question.  Why isn’t Bob Rae, Tommie Malcare, or Lizzie asking the same question?  If they did we’d get a real measure of JK’s pension intention.

      •  well maybe because they’re not the party in power right now, that just passed a budget that among other things took away two years of old age security income for a lot of people. So they could have gained a lot more credibility and perhaps my vote if they started cleaning up at home. All the while they are willing to piss away billions for new prisons at a time when crime is at a 30year low in the Western world, along with fighter planes that can only shoot down MacKay’s career. 

      • Pension Intention : Regardless of what the other MP’s say about the pension.. The key point here -that you miss by trying to deflect the question- is that it demonstrates the height of hypocrisy by Jason Kenney.  While he was head of the taxpayers federation he complained about golden pensions for politicians,  now that he is one of them – not a peep.

  4. Well now she can plan return to South Africa. Wasn’t that her first choice anyway with Alberta a poor second?

    •  That alone should make you stop and think.

      • So… despite living outside Canada for 34 years (and primarily serving himself) Ignatieff got a pass from you, but for living in South Africa for six years (helping to establish democratic institutions there) Redford is a traitor? If you’re going to be a xenophobe, at least be consistent. 

        • Don’t make shit up. You know better than to pull this kind of nonsense with me.

          • Oooooor, what?

          •  Howdy

            You must be the new Spring Temp…..you guys always start out belligerent until you learn how to talk.

            Of course some of you never do.  In which case, I don’t respond.

  5. Luckily for Albertans, Redford won’t get a chance to repay the big unions that were responsible for her being elected leader of the PC’s.

    The 3.5 billion dollar bribes she’s promised so far will be tossed out along with the bulk of the Red Tories hiding behind the PC banner.

  6. I heard her on the Current last night. She sounded like an angry school teacher devoid of ideas.

    •  Ahhh there’s the ‘school teacher’ line…next up is ‘shrill’.

      • aaaaaaand, she’s shrill.

        •  I have a bet on with a friend as to whether a columnist, pundit etc will actually use the words ‘cat fight’ at some point.

  7. On a recent visit to Calgary, I read the Herald everyday and was pretty astonished about the ‘no-meet’ committee story.  They interviewed Ray Prins, the new Prins-of-Thieves, who was the chairman of this committee and therefore paid $1500 per month, instead of the paltry $1000 per month the other members collected.

    In the 14 minutes when they met back in 2008, he did ask for permission to approve the minutes of the current meeting because “they may not meet for another 20 years”.

    Then in another Herald story, when questioned about returning the money …

    After the premier urged MLAs to return the money, suggesting they’d be
    judged at the polls if they don’t, committee chairman Ray Prins said: “I
    have done nothing wrong. Why would I give the money back?”

    He’s retired now.  At least he figured one thing out correctly last month.I hope he leaves his brain to science so they can measure how thick his skull is.

  8. Redford needed to clean her own house (after the PC party mess), before calling the election and inviting us in to inspect her performance.  She had time, but she under estimated the Alberta voter. She clearly understood last nite during the debate the dodo her party is in.  Funny how healthcare, education and so much didn’t matter in the last how many years in power or the recent budget…until she faced upset voters.   Inexperience maybe the best thing for Alberta versus corruptions, bullying and intimidation that we have come to know with an experienced PC government.  

    Predicting “fresh air” in the provincial building soon…      

  9. I understand the Wildrose is moving their party headquarters to Drumheller. Not so much to gain the rural vote, they just want to be closer to the rest of the dinosaurs.  You know………the ones the old reformers used to hang out with when was that anyway? 6000 years ago or so???

    Word is that Smith is also very worried that one big support group may not show up on election day.
    There is some concern they may be late getting back from the crusades

    • So I take it that you’re convinced that the Wildrose Party isn’t planning to do any privatization of the healthcare or education sectors?

  10. Let’s blow them out. Vote anybody but PC. If you are left, vote Liberal or NDP. If you are right, vote Wild Rose. We have to end this dynasty of corruption and entitlement. Why continue to reward this pathetic performance with your votes?

  11. Hats off to Alison Redford for ending the PC dynasty! Long live Wild Rose! Alison was the most progressive of all the PC leadership candidates. She(like Stelmach) wanted to bring the PC’s under the control of the Red Tory accomodationist wing. She turned her back on the conservative legacy of Ralph Klein. Why vote for Redford’s PC when you can a Liberal to push the same policies? Redford and the Liberals both oppose rights of conscience for medical personnel and have an issue with “old white guys”.  The times are a changing just not in the way the Canadian left wants. We have a real Conservative Party running the federal government(not a watered down Red Tory style Joe Clark or Brian Mulroney government). We have Alberta about to elect its most conservative government since 1971. We have a true conservative party rising in BC(for the first time since 1991) to unite the center-right. We also have solid Conservative governments with big majorities in New Brunswick, New Foundland, and Saskatchewan(also Yukon). The Conservatives only recent failures have been in Ontario and Manitoba where milquetoast middle of the roaders ran the provincial PC parties.There are two major changes going on in the nation.  One, is that the Canadian conservative movement keeps gaining momentum at the same time that it rids itself of Red Tory apologists. The second is that the decline of the Liberals is speeding up. The replacement of the BC Liberals by the Conservative Party will reduce the Liberals to third party status in all the western provinces. The Liberal label is about to get slammed in the Quebec provincial election. They poll well behind the PC’s in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Also, behind the NDP in Nova Scotia.  The only provinces they will control at the end of 2012 are PEI and Ontario(due to Hudak’s weak performance).So, we are moving generally two party dominant system. One is an unabashed Conservative Party that actually governs to the right(instead of the relatively centrist Red Tory dominated federal PC’s). The other is the NDP which is trying its footing somewhere right of the old NDP and left of the Martin Liberals.

  12. One of the many problems that Redford has is that she is more concerned about making her caucus happy instead do right by Albertans. Stephen Carter is her Chief of Staff, her CHIEF OF STAFF! She  doesn’t know how to lead, terrible strategy from the beginning.

  13. Alberta voters seem to be smarter than voters in most of the rest of the country.

    • You have no idea how hilarious most Canadians find that statement!

      To the ROC it’s a choice between a Stegosaurus and a Triceratops

      • Did I mention that Alberta voters seem to be smarter than voters in the ROC?

        •  LOL repeating it doesn’t make it true.

          It’s cute though, that you all are excited over a provincial
          election….first time in 40 years there’s actually been a question.

          • Who is “you all”?

          • OE speaks for herself and the mind-hive that is “liberal” Canada, so, about 3% of the population.

          •  Actually 60% of us didn’t vote for Harper, so I’d say most of us are ‘liberal’….. and since Albertans have had the same party in power for over 40 years, and seem about to go to an even stricter version of the same old thing…..you shouldn’t be using words like ‘mind-hive’ ….it just makes you look silly.

          • Well you do know that everything we do is for your entertainment.

          •  Oh that we know.

            Take the least qualified candidate, and run like hell…..backwards.

      • Emily, I can’t say how flattered us Albertans are with the inordinate amount of attention you, a superior, southern-Ontarian are paying our little provincial election.  It is truly amazing, especially given the well-known and documented contempt you have for our backward and plebian province.  Perhaps if you are feeling in a generous mood, at some point you would condescend to share the secrets for why your own province of Ontario is so financially successful and well-loved by the rest of our great country. In the meantme, we unworthly rednecks will wait with baited breath for your always enlightening quips.

        •  Well seeing as you Albertans are always telling us how to vote, and how to run our province, I thought it was only fair I return the favour

          Our province is successful, and has a large population because it’s a diverse economy. If one sector gets hit, we have others to fall back on.

          PS  Never bait your breath

          • “Our province is successful.”  Are you referring to Ontario’s massive debt?!  That began with Bob Rae and is being sustained by McQuinty?  I’m originally from Northern Ontario that relies on tourism since the province shut down the majority of it’s industry.  Recently I travelled the 401 from Windsor to Ottawa and the deterioration was extremely noticable since moving from Mississauga to Calgary in 1990.

          •  Debt goes up, debt goes down, and no it didn’t start with Rae.

            So does growth….which is how you get past debt.

            Ontario supplies 40% of Canada’s GDP….Alberta supplies 16%

            We’re doing fine.

            PS Northern Ont has mining which employs a few hundred thousand people.

  14. Raj moving away from that monstrosity the Health Authority is an exciting concept and very
    meaningful!

    Did you know this health authority can sell any hospital without checking with the legislature or
    getting further approval?

    Probably not. However, they told me while it is true they simply would not do that! I
    maintain we pay this monstrosity more in severance packages that we paid to all
    the regional health authorities.

    As a one time member of a hospital board I have seen a lot of strange things!
    The point is the Health Authorities own outright the hospitals. They were owned by the hospital
    boards prior to this.

    The door is open, the stage is set to sell off our hospitals to private industry for any price
    they choose. They answer to no one!

    If you vote in either the WRP or the Cons you are putting yourself on a very slippery slope!

    I continue to support the Liberal party; for very good reason!

  15. This is really entertaining stuff, this election.  There’s nothing like watching a stuck-up elitist progressive posing as a conservative getting her ass whupped by a real conservative party.  This election is a classic.

    I’ll bet the Libs and NDP in Alberta have been thinking that some day the PCs will lose. But I’m sure they assumed one of them would benefit. What a laugh.

    •  So Lougheed is a ‘stuck-up elitist progressive’?

      • Yes

  16. It’s good to live in Alberta…The Wildrose Party is going to show us how good. Maybe we should become Separatists.

    •  I thought you already were.

  17. The Alberta election is just one more sign of a noticeable shift to the right in Canada. From 1935-2006, the “progressive” left dominated this country. Their strong push leftward was countered by a failed organization called the Progressive Conservatives. The Progressive Conservatives were  a moderate party run by Red Tories(Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney, Bill Davis, Stansfield, etc.) who over time gave into the left on virtually every issue. They were a feckless opposition who accepted the Liberal Party’s attempts to make Canada the Sweden of North America. However, since 2006, the country has been ruled by a Conservative Party that is starting to push back. Harper is probably the most conservative prime minister in 70 years.He has gradually moved the country rightward(cuts in GST, end of long gun registry, end of Canadian Wheat Board, etc.). As time goes on, his Conservative Party slowly keeps winning elections with higher vote totals and more seats accumulated(2006 =124 seats, 2008=143 seats, 2011+166 seats). At the same time, the party keeps increasing its percentage of the vote. He has also disrupted the opposing camp. The Liberal Party has collapsed at the federal level. Its provincial cousins have largely collapsed in the west, Quebec, and New Brunswick. The Bloc has crashed at the federal level. At the provincial level, the Quebecois is only ahead because of the pitiful state of the Quebec Liberals. A provincial federalist party equivalent to the NDP would probably prove more popular. Finally, the NDP has been strengthened by the decline of the Liberals. At the same time, the party’s main leaders realize that it has to move significantly more to the center to pick up many Liberal votes. Mulclair and Horwath(Ontario NDP) leader are now promoting the party as business friendly supportive of fiscal restraint, , and accepting of capitalism. 
    This new shift to the right is now largely reflected in provincial politics too. The Alberta election will be won by the libertarian oriented right-leaning Wildrose Alliance(most right-wing governing party there since Social Credit). In BC, the reconstituted Conservative Party is becoming the dominant party of the center-right. The NDP homeland is held by the center-right Saskatchewan Party which has a 49 to 9 legislative seat advantage.  In New Brunswick and New Foundland, the PC’s heavily outnumber the opposition parties in the provincial legislatures. In Ontario, the Liberals and NDP are moving to adopt sharp spending cuts in order to head off an election that would favor the provincial PC’s. The truth is that the left has been forced to fight on a changed battlefield. The NDP now has to move to the right of the pre-Chretrien Liberals. Meanwhile, the governing Conservative Party increasingly moves in the direction of the Reform Party.
    This together with the growth of conservative Canadian talk radio and Sun News means that the voice of a different Canada is gaining ground. One that is economically conservative(pro-capitalist, pro-free trade, low taxes, limited government), socially moderate(pro-gun owners rights and capital punishment but tolerant on lifestyle), and proud of our Canadian heritage(pro-armed forces and pro-monarchy). We don’t want to be a socialist Sweden. Heck, even Sweden is running away from socialism(government share of GDP down from 83% in early 1980′s to 54% now). Their current finance minister is a libertarian who has implemented large corporate and income tax cuts. We are also not quite as religious as the Americans. We are far more supportive of gay marriage and opposed to public school prayer. The average Canadian is in reality a mix of  a patriotic libertarian with a traditional law and order North American type.

  18. Any serious conservative voter who would vote for Redford is nuts. She is destroying that party the same way David Cameron is ruining Britain’s Conservatives. They are both elitist snobs who think that you have to adopt your opponent’s agenda to win. Cameron took a great party(while under Thatcher) and made it little different than New Labour. Thatcher’s party was far to the right of Canada’s PC’s and yet won four elections in a row. Now, the party runs behind Labour(run by a man from the party’s left-wing) while the UKIP(disgruntled former Thatcher supporters) keeps draining more and more support from them. Redford is no different. She would blur the lines between the provincial PC’s and Liberals.You would have a PC government pushing Liberal Party legislation. The PC’s could have picked someone more to the right(like Ted Morton) and probably kept going another 20 years. Now however, they are paying the price for flipping the finger at their conservative base.

    Take heed provincial conservative leaders. The most successful conservatives are those that stick to their guns.  In Australia, the governing Labor Party is expected to be crushed(roughly 57%-43%) within the next year by Tony Abbott. He is an both economic conservative and a pro-life social conservative from the center-right Liberal Party’s conservative government. Just in the last year, the Liberals have exterminated Labor in the New South Wales(69 to 21 seats) and Queensland(74 to 7 seats) state elections. In New Zealand, the governing center-right National Party easily won reelection over the Labour Party. In the U.S., while the presidential election may be in doubt, an increasingly right-leaning Republican Party is winning practically everything else. The party is running significantly to the right of 2008. Polls show the Republicans holding the U.S. House of Representatives and gaining the U.S. Senate. The Republican candidates are polling ahead in the Senate races for North Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Wisconsin, Montana, and Virginia(all Demcorat held seats). They are neck and neck for Democrat held seats in Florida, New Mexico, Connecticut, and possibly Michigan. A Democrat leaning Independent is leading in the race for a Maine senate seat that been held by a retiring Republican. Also, the polls show a neck-and-neck race for Republican Scott Brown’s Massachusetts. Otherwise, the Republicans lead in all their currently held seats.  So figure, 51-57 Republican seats out of 100 total(also a 5-8 seat gain in the Senate pro-life vote). There are 11 governorships up for reelection(8 Democrat, 3 Republican). The Republicans are leading in 7-8 of them. This will give the Republicans a lead of 33-34 governors versus 15-16 Democrat one(RI governor is Independent). Finally, the Republicans control 62 of 99 state legislative bodies(2 tied). They are expected to still have a large majority of state legislative bodies after the election. The point is that conservatives win when they stick to their guns. Conservatives lose when they  sell out to the opposition.

  19. If you think the PC’s are bad, just wait till the weird rose and their control freak leader (hopefully not) ever get to form the government. D. Smith makes Attila the Hun look like Goldilocks!!

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