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Five years ago today, Alison Redford was sworn in as premier of Alberta and the wheels fell off the Tory bus

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Alison Redford

Today is the fifth anniversary of the day the wheels fell off the Tory bus.

That is to say, today is the fifth anniversary of the day Alison Redford was sworn into office as Alberta’s 14th premier, the leader who was supposed to renew the Progressive Conservative Party one more time -- as Ed Stelmach, Ralph Klein and Don Getty before her had all been meant to do in their time.

Jim Prentice was supposed to play the same role too, but by then, notwithstanding his own blunders, it may have been too late.

 So all this means that yesterday was the last day steady old Eddie, Unlucky Premier No. 13, was at the wheel of Alberta's PC bus, and while it may have needed a coat of paint and a new set of spark plugs, it was still a perfectly serviceable vehicle.

Once in office, Redford was sui generis -- a phenomenon with no equal in Alberta political history, not even the quasi-revolutionary William Aberhart, who founded the Social Credit dynasty that the first PC premier, Peter Lougheed, managed to topple in 1971.

Redford turned out to be the political equivalent of a hurricane. Indeed, it's hard to credit that it all even happened -- the flights, the fights, the travel scout, the Skypalace -- and that it wasn't just a made-for-TV drama, or maybe a weird dream.

With Redford at the helm of the four-decade-plus Tory dynasty, the waters rose -- literally and figuratively -- and in the end the levees couldn’t hold, setting the stage for the election in May 2015 of a majority NDP government led by Rachel Notley in a vote the Tories thought they owned. You wouldn't think anyone could make this stuff up!

The irony is that when Stelmach made his considered decision to leave, the Tory brain trust had a plan in place to replace him with Gary Mar, a former Klein Era minister and a schmoozer par excellence. In retrospect, that doesn't look like such a bad plan.

But Mar unwisely rolled the dice and flapped his gums about big changes to public health care. I suppose he imagined that if he won, which then seemed likely, it would give him more scope to actually implement an unpopular role for private health care. It was a blunder, helping to vault Redford into power -- power she lacked the character to manage.

The big question that the future would answer, which I wrote on this date five years ago, was "if Premier Redford can sustain the toughness and focus, not to mention hang onto the good luck, that marked her leadership campaign?" We know the answer now.

Beyond that, there wasn't much of substance to report about the ceremony at the Alberta Legislature.

"Redford's swearing-in was cheerful, upbeat and mercifully warm -- taking place, as it did, in the crowded confines of the Legislative rotunda. Security was tight, but not overwhelming. The speeches contained enough references to the Almighty to sound suspiciously like an American political event,” I wrote in October 2011.

"Someone sang O Canada, pleasantly if a little off key and pitched too low for even determined public singers to yodel along. There was a bagpiper. Everyone who was there seemed to have a fine time, even quite a few of Redford's political opponents, a genus that may include several members of her caucus. There were chocolate-chip cookies, which were really quite good by Legislative standards.” 

It was all downhill from there, though. It ended on the evening of March 23, 2014, four days after a very Albertan coup in which Redford was effectively sent packing by her own legislative caucus.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we can see it was already likely too late. We can also see Redford, who seemed so right when she was chosen, was exactly the wrong leader to take up the reins of a party that assumed it ruled by divine right, and which otherwise had forgotten what it was there to do. 

Chosen with so much hope, she had turned out to be an arrogant and inconsistent leader, perpetually persuaded she was the smartest person in the room, harsh in her treatment of subordinates, certain she deserved to travel first class, convinced she could casually betray people with whom she had built alliances without consequences for herself or her government. 

Who can doubt a smooth old charmer like Mar, the practical Doug Horner or even a right-wing ideological zealot like Ted Morton, the other front-runners in the Tories' 2011 leadership race, wouldn't have done a better job reinventing the party so that it could survive yet another electoral test and last a half a century?

But give her this: Redford may not have intended to, but she smashed the mould. Alberta politics will never be the same again. And it all started five years ago today.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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