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Where's the helicopter when you need it? Tory political liability drives into sunset ... unbreathalized

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Edmonton East Independent MP Peter Goldring

If it's true it doesn't matter what you say about a politician as long as you spell his name right, Peter Goldring's timing was impeccable.

That said, it just doesn't seem like things are going to play out well for Goldring, who until Monday was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Edmonton East.

Just as the Alberta provincial Legislature was debating Premier Alison Redford's tough new drinking and driving law, and Alberta's bar and restaurant owners were working themselves into a swivet about what it was going to do to their profits, Goldring got up on his hind legs at his annual constituency fundraising dinner (roast beef, spud pierogies and fermented liquids) to complain that the law was intrusive and certain to be challenged in court.

That in itself was no big deal. The Edmonton MP has complained before about Alberta's old approach to drinking and driving, once calling for an end to seasonal check-stops on the grounds they're intrusive too. Fair enough, it's still a democracy out here, after a fashion, and citizens are entitled to their opinions. (Whether or not citizens are entitled to their opinions if they happen to be Conservative MPs from these parts is another matter, but you'll have to take that one up with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.)

Unfortunately for Goldring, after expressing his views on provincial Bill 26, the Traffic Safety Amendment Act, he piled into his car and headed home, driving right into the waiting arms of some Edmonton Police Service officers. The cops handed him a breathalyzer. Goldring "refused to blow." Then the proverbial stuff started to hit the proverbial fan.

Now, there's a point of view out there that Redford's inner circle is not all that unhappy about this. After all, Goldring is a federal Conservative, and the Harper neo-Cons are known to be no friends of Redford's marginally more progressive brand of Conservatism. They openly disparaged it during her leadership bid as Joe Clark Red Toryism and practically Big-L Liberalism while backing neo-Con approved candidates like Ted Morton and Rick Orman. With Redford in the driver's seat despite their best efforts, their personal sentiments now pretty obviously lean toward the far-right Wildrose Party.

What's more, there's a school of thought that the Prime Minister's Office might not be all that unhappy itself at this turn of events. After all, Goldring -- who has been hanging around Parliament since 1997, first as a Reform Party MP and later as the same thing repackaged as a Harper Conservative -- wasn't exactly a star player for the Tory team. Aside from his occasional rants about the iniquity of drinking and driving laws, Goldring was best known for his desire to have Louis Riel re-hanged as Canada's Historical Enemy No. 1 and for his campaign to annex the Turks and Caicos Islands to Canada so we could all visit the Caribbean without requiring a passport.

In other words, if he's not exactly an embarrassment, he certainly had the potential to become one -- one way or another -- on a moment's notice.

So by slipping behind the wheel in whatever kind of condition he was in, then refusing to let the police confirm it one way or another, he presented the PM with an opportunity to demonstrate to his majority caucus what happens when one steps out of line in any way -- pour encourager les autres, as they say in our other official language, the one we don't speak very often out here in Alberta -- while getting rid of a potential future electoral liability.

After all, opposition parties have several times launched aggressive attempts to unseat Goldring, who has never seemed all that interested in issues that actually matter to Edmontonians, and one of these days they just might have succeeded.

So on Monday, Goldring quickly "voluntarily withdrew" from the Conservative caucus.

Quite possibly he will serve out the rest of his Parliamentary career as an Independent, a category of politician not likely to have a long life in these reliably Conservative parts. Goldring's chances of being the Conservative standard-bearer in 2015, or whenever the next Canadian general election falls, may safely be described as exceedingly slim, no matter what the Liberal-appointed judge who deals with his case decides to do with him.

As for Premier Redford, whatever her reasons, she was determined to press ahead with Bill 26, and the bill was passed by the Legislature last night just before 10:30 p.m.

The bill had proved surprisingly controversial, but not necessarily in a way that will hurt Redford.

It was quickly identified by the Wildrose Party in particular as a law that is bound to be unpopular with their kind of cranky right-wing Albertans. But at least one member of her own caucus, Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Richard Marz, expressed his disapproval too. But the former police officer and four-term MLA won't be running again.

Other members of the Tory caucus, who no doubt have also been hearing from panic-stricken bar and restaurant owners who are thinking about tearing up their campaign contribution cheques, were presumably whipped into line before last night's vote.

Meanwhile, the "hospitality industry" was last heard pleading with the government to make municipalities run the buses all night long -- a good one, considering the way the Alberta government has been downloading costs on towns and cities for a quarter century. The bar and restaurant owners say they expect to lose a quarter or more of their annual receipts as a result of the new law.

The new law is pretty tough. Like drinking and driving laws on the books in Nordic Europe for decades, and more recently in B.C., it will essentially make it illegal for anyone to drive after having more than one drink. Indeed, it's possible that even one drink may be too many for some adults living in Alberta, if they're short and light enough to have insufficient poundage to soak up the martinis. The trouble starts when you register more than .05 on the breathalyzer you can be certain the police will be handing out with abandon the instant the law gets Royal assent.

Notwithstanding all that, it's said here that this law doesn't sound like a bad idea around most Alberta kitchen tables, where people worry about whether their kids and their spouses are going to make it safely home at night, particularly this time of year.

Which means it's a good issue for the Conservatives, and not so good an issue for the opposition parties, unless their primary objective is to get donations from unhappy publicans pondering last call for booze profits -- a strategy that is only likely to work for the Wildrose Party.

Otherwise, their opposition -- no matter how nuanced and carefully phrased -- will sound a lot to most voters like they're in favour of letting drunks drive.

As for Goldring, it's a pity that he wasn't a cabinet minister and Alberta lacks a maritime coastline. Had those two things been the case, surely there would have been a big yellow search and rescue helicopter available to whisk him safely home from his fund-raiser.

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

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