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Can the Redford Government Survive Until 2016?

Image by Luanne Climenhaga

With tip of the ushanka to Andrei Amalrik, we have to ask: Can the Redford Government survive until 2016?

A week is a long time in politics, of course, and a lot can happen between now and the next election to save Alberta Premier Alison Redford's political bacon once again, but, gee whiz, the signs sure don't look promising right now! Some days it doesn't even sound like a sure thing the government can hang in till then.

The spring of 2016, of course, is the time Redford chose for her silly "fixed election period" law, which must have seemed like a good idea in 2011 when the Legislature passed it. Now, maybe not so much.

Readers who are both alert and relatively aged, like your blogger, will recall that Amalrik was the author of the 1969 essay that posed the question, which seemed preposterous at the time, "Will the Soviet Union Survive until 1984?"

Maybe Amalrik got the bit about the war with China wrong, and in the event the Soviet Union managed to hang in until 1991, but, still, it made him look good to history. Alas, he didn't live to see his prediction come true, dying in a suspicious car accident in Spain in 1980.

Historical note: The one-party Soviet Union lasted 69 years. The Alberta Progressive Conservative one-party state will have lasted 43 years this August, but if you count the Social Credit era as part of the dynasty, it's been around 79 years now!

Thus endeth the history lesson.

Now, back to Alberta, where daily new rumours swirl and reports emerge about bitter divisions in the Tory caucus and the premier's personal staff, dubious travel practices by the premier and her privileged entourage, and private polls that show disillusionment with the Progressive Conservative government deepening throughout the province.

But how much is real and how much is wishful thinking by the PCs' various political opponents is unclear. This much we know:

The premier's penchant for high-priced travel, which first gained public recognition with the revelation about the $45,000 South African travel bill she racked up in December when she and an aide attended Nelson Mandela's funeral, are now stuck in the imagination of the public as surely as was federal minister Bev Oda's $16 glass of OJ.

Trouble is, Redford's the boss, so she's unlikely to fire herself as Prime Minister Stephen Harper pushed Oda out the door.

The issue is not going away, moreover, especially now that the story about her flight back from Palm Springs, Calif., for Ralph Klein's funeral with her daughter and two bodyguards has surfaced -- what's with this woman and funerals, and why does she need bodyguards in California?

While the trouble in the caucus has mostly played out behind closed doors, some of it leaked after the rebellious public comments made by Edmonton Riverside MLA Steve Young, who rapped the premier’s knuckles in the media for her South Africa trip and got away with it. He faced no discipline because he enjoyed considerable support in caucus.

But what about those persistent rumours a substantial number MLA are fomenting outright rebellion against Redford's leadership -- and the suggestion by some who claim insider knowledge that the premier's riposte has been to threaten a snap election that would take everyone down with the ship? This would be the political equivalent of Mutually Assured Destruction, a sort of Alberta political doomsday machine.

Whether or not there's anything to this, the province is abuzz with such talk. Not to mention speculation Gary Mar will take another run at premier's job if Redford falters. The former leadership front-runner and caucus favourite ended up exiled as Alberta's Hong-Kong-based trade representative when Redford came from behind to win the Tory leadership race in October 2011.

Then there's the Redford Government's continuing troubles with the unions and the courts over collective bargaining and pensions. Who talked them in to taking on this needless fight?

Bill 46 -- which was supposed to be the government's labour relations nuclear bomb -- can't be enacted to force a contract on the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees as long as there’s an injunction against its use imposed by a superior court. Normal collective bargaining with the union representing 22,000 civil servants fell apart last week -- with the union publishing a Top Ten List of reasons it rejected the government's dubious sales pitch.

So while the heavy handed new law can't be enacted, the old law applies -- and AUPE has applied for the binding arbitration Bill 46 was supposed to keep from happening. Dates are scheduled for August. Since no arbitrator would give the union the deal the government's staked its reputation on imposing, insiders must be worried despite their bluster.

What's it going to do if they courts won't overturn Justice Denny Thomas's injunction? Just ignore them, as previous Alberta governments have tried to do?

Even the Catholic Church has waded into the fray. A column in the Western Catholic Reporter by the Associate Director of the Edmonton Roman Catholic Archdiocese's Office of Social Justice chided the government and advised Albertans that "Catholic social teaching on human work … will mean little if it is left in isolation as a day on a liturgical calendar or even in an inspiring icon in our church sanctuary."

"Each of us needs to bring this message into our homes, communities, workplaces and legislatures," wrote Bob McKeon. (Ah-hem! Emphasis added.)

Later today, despite a forecast of temperatures around minus-33 with the wind chill, public sector union members are planning to gather outside in Edmonton's Sir Winston Churchill Square to give Redford an "Academy Award" for the acting job she did when she persuaded progressive voters in 2012 she could be trusted.

I'd suggest the willingness to go outside and protest on a day that cold tells a story all of its own about how deep the dissatisfaction with the Redford Government is becoming -- if not just how masochistic union members can be.

And those polls? Rumours abound, but published results are few and far between. One recent poll done in Lethbridge, in the province's far south, suggests that if an election were held there tomorrow, PC cabinet minister Greg Weadick would fall to third place in Lethbridge West after NDP candidate Shannon Phillips and whoever the Wildrose Party chooses to bear its standard.

The poll by the Citizen Society Research Lab at Lethbridge College also shows Liberal turncoat Bridget Pastoor, who crossed the floor before the 2012 election to jump on Redford's coattails, is in trouble in Lethbridge East.

In other words, the façade is cracking. Whether it breaks remains to be seen.

One thing's for sure, though. For the next two years, there's never been a time in Alberta history that’s called for such strict message discipline on the part of the province's opposition parties!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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