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An ill wind blows no good for Alberta PCs: Caucus member arrested on U.S. prostitution rap

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Mike Allen

The sordid arrest in St. Paul, Minn., of the Hon. Member for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo puts the government of Premier Alison Redford in an excruciatingly difficult position.

We can be certain there is nothing Redford, her cabinet and the vast majority of her Progressive Conservative caucus would like better than never to have to set eyes again on Mike Allen, who managed to get himself arrested Monday night in a police prostitution sting while on government business in Minnesota's capital city.

But nothing in politics is ever simple.

The Fort McMurray MLA, a music-store owner and former professional jazz musician, resigned from the Conservative caucus yesterday as quickly and with about as much grace as possible under such sleazy circumstances.

"I apologize to my family, my friends, my constituents, my colleagues, my staff, and to all Albertans for the embarrassment I have caused in failing to live up to the standards expected of me and the standards I expect of myself," Allen said in his letter of resignation. "I made this mistake as a result of a profound lapse in my personal judgment. It is a mistake for which there are no excuses and for which I accept full responsibility. This is deeply embarrassing moment and all I can say is that I am sorry and I humbly ask for forgiveness."

The opposition parties, however, can be expected to say that is not enough and demand Allen resign his seat.

Privately, I expect, Redford heartily agrees.

But there is presumably nothing Redford wants less right now than a by-election anywhere in Alberta, but especially in a riding previously occupied by a former Tory MLA who joined the Wildrose Party in its early days and who doubtless still enjoys a following in the northern city.

Former PC-turned-Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier could be a bit of a loose canon at times, getting himself kicked out of the PC caucus in 2009 by then-Premier Ed Stelmach for reminding voters of a broken government promise to build a long-term care facility in Fort Mac. He joined the Wildrose caucus after a year sitting as an Independent.

But while Boutilier sometimes spoke his mind a little too frankly, he most certainly never did anything as agonizingly embarrassing as Allen's escapade.

With Allen as their standard-bearer, the Tories toppled Boutilier in the 2012 provincial election, presumably because Fort Mac voters concluded they were better off with a government MLA. But Redford and her advisors surely know that if there were a by-election in Fort McMurray now, they would quite possibly lose it, and if so they would almost certainly lose it to the Wildrose Party.

Even if Boutilier decides not to run again, he will surely help his party campaign.

And if the Wildrose Party wins a by-election about now, that in turn is bound to be interpreted by the media as momentum toward a Wildrose government in 2016 -- precisely what Redford's PCs do not want just now after a creditable performance dealing with the Southern Alberta flood that had appeared to put an end to a string of corrosive embarrassments.

So this leaves the Redford Government on the horns of a dilemma.

They can choose to have Allen remain in the House -- a constant embarrassment despite being as far removed as possible from the government benches. Or they can press him to quit and thereby face a by-election they would likely lose and which would benefit the Wildrose opposition enormously.

As for Allen, his chances of making a comeback from this situation seem slim.

Others have recovered from similar disgraces, of course -- most notably former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, forced to resign after a prostitution scandal in 2008, and the onomatopoetically named former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, best known for his indiscreet Twitter pictures in 2011. Both men are now possible winners in New York City civic politics.

Even former U.S. President Bill Clinton escaped conviction by the U.S. Senate in 1998 after being impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from a peccadillo involving a young aide.

But despite having served as a special advisor to cabinet on fixing the dangerous road to Fort McMurray, Highway 63, Allen is no Clinton or Spitzer, or even a Weiner.

While he promised in his resignation letter to "work long and hard to regain the trust of the many I have let down," it seems more likely he will have to face the music -- or at least eventually return to selling it.

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

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