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Miraculously, no one trampled as Tory MLAs race for Alberta Legislature's exits

It must have seemed a little like the panic scene in post-war Japanese monster movie at the Alberta Legislature yesterday. Only in this flick, the shadow cast by Godzilla looked suspiciously like that of Alison Redford.

Fortunately, no one seems to have been seriously injured in the rush for the exits.

After two years with Redford at the helm, who can't empathize a little with the 58 Progressive Conservative MLAs who were still hangin' in there yesterday in their fervent desire to pull the plug on a painful session and get the hell outta Dodge?

Who cares if we have to listen to voters complaining about how the Legislature barely meets, they must have thought, anything is better than Question Period!

Of course we understand why the Tory MLAs just wanted the agony to end -- although our sympathy is naturally tinged with a healthy dose of schadenfreude.

Two years ago their party picked Redford, who was supposed to be the answer to all their electoral problems -- young, smart, articulate and modern.

Many in her caucus had their doubts, but plenty of ordinary Alberta voters swallowed the Kool-Aid and assumed Redford possessed the nurturing qualities we associate with women and the truly progressive attitudes she claimed on the stump to believe in.

And it worked. The PCs squeezed out an unexpected reelection victory over the Wildrose Party with a comfortable majority. It sure looked as if they could extend their dynasty out toward half a century and beyond. Self-satisfied Tory MLAs parked themselves on the government benches and went back to sleep.

Then the craziness began.

Never mind that the Opposition was doing a pretty good job. That had happened before. But as premier, Redford turned out to be arrogant, entitled and mean.

She hired top-dollar political advisors from Ontario who just didn't get Alberta -- and who had apparently concluded from their former perch at Queen's Park that because many Albertans were conservative that meant they were also mean-spirited hillbillies with totalitarian tendencies.

She declared war on her own public employees and pushed legislation that was openly unconstitutional. Her government's attacks on the free-speech rights of all Albertans worried even some of the public-service-union haters in her party's ranks.

Every day Redford was in power, both former premier Ed Stelmach, a man of modest stillness and humility, and Opposition Leader Danielle Smith, a young woman with dangerous market-fundamentalist views but a pleasingly upbeat demeanour, looked better and better.

The Redford era culminated in March 2014 with the public insanity of her $45,000 trip to South Africa with an inexperienced political aide and a series of outrageous revelations about the use of government aircraft. Rumours there was more swirled around the province.

The PC caucus rebelled that month and canned her, replacing her temporarily with steady old Dave Hancock, who has been around Alberta as long as there's been dust in the wind. Hancock began immediately to try to back away from his predecessor's most egregious policies while sounding as if he wasn't. A leadership race haltingly got under way.

But Redford kept cropping up like the proverbial bad penny.

The Sky Palace story broke, wherein it turned out the premier's staff had been having a secret luxury residence built for her atop a government office building in Edmonton, apparently in defiance of city bylaws. Redford went missing from the Legislature, supposedly with legitimate cause, but was spotted by a posse of irascible voters will cell phone cameras in Palm Springs.

The Opposition seemed to get better every day in Question Period while caucus insiders hit on outsider Jim Prentice, a banker and former federal cabinet minister, as the latest answer to all the PC Party's problems. Potential leaders, apparently reluctant to risk a $50,000 nomination fee for what was seen as a sure thing for another candidate, fiddled while Prentice waffled.

As the government whipped its tiny non-agenda through the final days of the session, it signed a humiliating negotiated agreement with the civil service union it had planned under Redford to crush with legislation that was inconveniently blocked by the courts.

Hancock quickly also backed away from another fight picked by his predecessor -- dropping the attack on public employees' pensions like a scalding potato. His finance minister, Doug Horner, appeared on the same podium as the civil service union leader on Wednesday, by which time the government could finally mercifully pull the plug and put the session out of its misery -- and theirs.

For the Tories, the past two years have been a disaster and 2014 has been a catastrophe.

Government MLAs are now hunkered down in their ridings, trying to stay out of the way of voters until their party can find another Moses to lead it out of a wilderness of its own creation. We'll see how that works out.

By the time the year ends, the Tories will have had three leaders and the province will have had three premiers -- which sounds like something Nostradamus might have predicted.

After that, le deluge may feel like an improvement!

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

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