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Alberta's Redford Tories, forever young, now have Young forever

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Steve Young

After yesterday, it looks as if Alberta Premier Alison Redford's government can now adopt a new motto: "Forever Young." Or maybe that should actually be, "Young Forever…"

Regardless, it appears that if he wishes, Edmonton-Riverview MLA Steve Young can be part of her caucus forever -- no matter what he says or does.

And you may depend on it: Redford doesn't like it.

But what choice did Redford really have when her former party whip publicly whipped her for the shocking $45,000 cost of her infamous first-class trip to South Africa in December with her youthful executive assistant, Brad Stables, who alone accounted for $20,000 of Alberta's most well-known airline ticket?

This is especially so since a goodly portion of her caucus and cabinet, and what is surely a significant majority of the population of Alberta, heartily agreed with Young!

Anyway, since Young comes from the conservative wing of the Conservative caucus, if she’d kicked him out -- as, arguably, most Parliamentary leaders would have done under similar circumstances -- she could easily have faced the humiliation of seeing him flip immediately to the ideologically comfortable Wildrose benches, and, worse, quite possibly lead a parade of other unhappy Tory MLAs along with him.

Yet who can forget what happened to Tory MLAs Guy Boutilier and Raj Sherman back in the day when they ran afoul of Redford's predecessor in the premier's office, Ed Stelmach? Albertans will recall how the swinging door to the caucus room smacked them both on the hinder parts on the way out. Boutilier, of course, ended up for a spell on the Wildrose benches before pursuing other political opportunities; Sherman eventually became the leader of the provincial Liberals.

But that was then and this is now, something we're saying a lot in Alberta since Redford came to power. Thanks to the premier's decision to stay her hand, for the time being anyway, the dam hasn't broken yet -- and may not until the rumoured passel of pensioned-up Tory veterans fed up with her leadership resign early enough to force some by-elections to be held before the next general election.

Despite the general agreement of the public, one also has to wonder what Young was thinking when he picked up the phone call from a Calgary Herald political columnist and clearly answered the questions he was asked. Whatever had gotten into him, the former Edmonton Police sergeant broke dramatically with tradition and said exactly what was on his mind.

"The $45,000 is, I think, inconsistent with Alberta values," Young opined to Don Braid, who was presumably furiously taking notes, revealing a fissure in the Progressive Conservative caucus that everyone knew was there, but no one expected any MLA to talk about just yet. "It's certainly the topic of conversation among my colleagues. I don't know how I could say I’m happy about it."

Young went on to suggest to Braid that he didn't much like the premier either. "Liking doesn’t have anything to do with it. If I'm going for a beer, I'm not gonna go with her," he said, naming as his preferred drinking buddy Ian Donovan, the Wildrose MLA for Little Bow. As Donovan is the opposition party's agriculture critic, he probably knows where to get a good steak, as well as a nice cold beer.

Young and Redford have an unhappy recent history, since she asked him to join her cabinet in early December, and then abruptly dropped him when he was about to be sworn in because of something that happened when he was still a police officer. He'd already given up his job as whip. Some ill feelings may linger.

All this said, it's fair to speculate that the Wildrose Opposition is mildly relieved that Young remains in the Tory ranks -- that way, at least, beery and genial post-caucus-meeting discussions with Donovan can continue usefully.

Though it's not as if Young would have lacked for friends if he'd ended up in the Wildrose crowd -- either with or without a period of penance as an Independent.

For her part, Redford rather fancifully tried to spin Young's noisy public criticisms as evidence that she and he actually see eye to eye.

"I think Steve’s comments are very valid," she told the Edmonton Journal. "It's why I said what I did a couple of weeks ago. This was something that was unfortunate. I apologized for it and took responsibility. In our caucus, everyone can express their point of view."

This is what is technically known in the political science field as "a good one."

Boiled down to its essentials, what Redford said after the news of the high cost of her trip with Stables to Nelson Mandela's funeral broke was that it was all her staff's fault, and that if she'd known about the cost, she wouldn’t have gone.

Apparently it never occurred to her to travel a little less extravagantly -- as Nova Scotia's Liberal premier did when he managed to make the same trip for less than $950.

Given that, her glib and frequent apologies combined with her refusal to consider paying part of the trip herself begin to sound a little Rob-Ford-like in their apparent insincerity.

Young, it must also be noted, returned his pay from the now almost forgotten no-meet committee in 2012 on Redford's orders, so this small injustice may gripe him a little too.

At any rate, with the damage done to the premier and not to him, a completely unrepentant Young was stickin' to his story yesterday.

So, officially, once again there is peace in the Tory Valley. Don't believe it for a minute!

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

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