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Tales from the Alberta Tory crypt: Apres Alison le deluge

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Jim Dinning

If we were to speak for former Alberta premier Alison Redford today, here is what we would say: "Apres moi le deluge!"

There is plenty of fight left in the Alberta PC Party. The trouble is, it is all directed inwardly, at other Tories.

On everything except the policies that must be changed to save the party, Alberta's crumbling 43-year-old Progressive Conservatives dynasty is disunited, playing out its increasingly bitter rivalries in public.

Given that, who could be found in possession of both an ounce of sense and $50,000 in spare change to step forward to be the party's saviour? Count on it, the list of leadership contenders that actually joins the race will be both shorter and less impressive than the catalogue of candidates now being touted by pundits and the media. The numbers of ten- and even two-minute Tories persuaded to sign up and vote for them will hit historic lows as well.

Every day the list of promising leadership prospects no longer interested in the job gets longer.

The Opposition Wildrose Party -- really just another faction of the same "conservative" family -- is truly a "government in waiting now," impatiently tapping its metaphorical toes and drumming its metaphorical fingers as it awaits the opportunity to beat the hapless Tories like the family mule and install Danielle Smith as premier.

Consider what the voices from the Tory crypt now making themselves heard are saying.

Yesterday in Regina, former premier Ed Stelmach, the one whose underachieving leadership now looks stellar compared with that of the catastrophic Redford, told an audience of Junior Achievers that "now's a time for a leader with modesty (and) humility."

Well, as the Bard said and Stelmach went a way to proving while in office, "nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility."

Stelmach told the young Achievers that, in his opinion, it wasn't Redford's policies that got her in trouble, "it was just poor judgment." Well, yeah, but it's possible, isn't it, that one flowed from the other?

Later today, presumably, interim Tory leader and Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock will be in the news lambasting Stelmach and taking the rest of Shakespeare's advice: "…but when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard-favor'd rage."

Yesterday, as it happens, Hancock was busy responding to another former leadership contender who has been telling tales from the crypt: Jim Dinning, the front-runner in the 2006 contest who unexpectedly lost to the aforementioned Stelmach, who in turn became Alberta's unlucky Premier No. 13.

Dinning had taken to the pages of the Calgary Herald on Wednesday, saying that any new PC leader would have to deal with a dysfunctional and entitled party -- and advising everyone that he wasn't going to be the one who saved the unsalvageable Tories. His message in a nutshell: "This party needs someone like me. Too bad it can't have me!"

Whoever leads the party, Dinning said, needs to be an outsider. He went on to take a hard shot at Finance Minister Doug Horner, who is probably the most credible candidate still remaining inside the battered PC caucus and cabinet.

"Let's return to the simple and clear accounting rules used to get our government back in the black," Dinning said, a reference to Horner's confusing new-math accounting that appears to have been invented to conjure up a desperate pre-election budget "surplus."

He went on: "The budget is one of the most important things the government does, because it drives almost everything else. Albertans sacrificed a lot to have a debt-free future. We don't want that hard work put at risk, and we should be able to understand the government’s books."

By the end of the day, this had Premier Hancock on the defensive, sniffing that Dinning, a former finance minister under Ralph Klein, is entitled to his opinion, but that Horner's scheme is a "very good and simple accounting process."

"I sure don't like that word entitlement," Premier Hancock huffed. "I do not know anybody on any side of the house in any party who ran for personal gain and is there for personal gain." (Eye rolls all 'round.)

With the Herald now the go-to site for disgruntled former would-be Tory leaders, the previous Monday its pages were graced by another former finance minister and sometime leadership front-runner, Ted Morton, who is still the worst premier Alberta never had.

The PCs' former chief party ideologue and separatist Firewall Manifesto signatory is now working as a teacher in the University of Calgary’s cult-like School of Public Policy. He was considerably harsher and more explicit in his judgments of the current PC leadership as he too ruled himself out of joining the 2014 lemming run.

Morton, who hails from California and Wyoming, ripped the latest former PC premier for relying on political advisors from Ontario as her political brain trust.

And he hammered Redford and Horner alike for the new accounting rules that Dinning also assailed. "You can't say that you've balanced the budget when you are borrowing billions and only saving millions," he complained. "The math doesn't work."

"For many PC faithful -- I was one -- this was our hallmark, the PC brand," Morton went on. "We may agree to disagree on social issues, but when it comes to paying our way and telling Albertans the truth about how much we are spending, and how much, if any, we owe the banks -- that's untouchable."

Redford and Horner, he grumbled, "threw that brand overboard."

Morton's pitch, in turn, can be summed up as: "You were stupid not to choose me, so nuts to you." Nevertheless, it will resonate with the many former PCs who are now making their way to the Wildrose Party.

Gary Mar, the front-runner from 2011, had earlier ruled himself out of the race too, although with considerably more grace. Likely, though, Mar is thinking many of the same things as he wonders where his career will take him when he leaves his lavish exile in Hong Kong, which is bound to happen soon.

But this is only the beginning of what is certain to be long series of denunciations of the Redford-Hancock-Whoever Government.

Even unmemorable leadership aspirants entrusted with minor cabinet portfolios by Redford are turning on her, grasping for an ethical fig leaf by reciting insincere samokritika about the need "to re-earn the moral authority to govern" and the like. Sheesh!

Alison Redford opened the can and let loose the first wave of snakes. It's only going to go downhill from here as the decision on who will lead the final PC government in Alberta history nears. The end is nigh.

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

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