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The Ides of March: Alison Redford under 'friendly fire' from coup plotters in her own caucus

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Stephen Mandel

It's less than a week until the Ides of March and signs are now plentiful an attempt to topple Alberta Premier Alison Redford is under way.

By all accounts the coup plotters come from within the premier's own Progressive Conservative Party. They are said to be MLAs desperately worried about the impact of the premier's recent stumbling performance, lousy polls and flagging fund-raising efforts, and backroom men with strong ties to the PC Party of old and to past candidates for leader associated with it.

It's fair to say that Alberta’s Opposition politicians -- be they Wildrose, New Democrat or Liberal -- would do almost anything short of murder to keep the apparently unredeemably inept Redford in power until the next election, scheduled for 2016.

Opposition insiders do have something to say about all this buzz, however -- they're nervously convinced there is a concerted effort now under way to push the nearly friendless premier out by her many foes within her own party and caucus.

That something was up became obvious on the weekend, with timely leaks to well connected reporters at the Globe and Mail and Calgary Herald about a group of Tory backbenchers disillusioned with Redford's flailing performance said to be pondering quitting the party to sit in the Legislature as a bloc of independents.

On Saturday, the Globe's Alberta correspondent published a story saying "a small group" of Alberta Tory MLAs disillusioned with Alison Redford’s leadership "is discussing sitting as independents."

Yesterday, the Calgary Herald's political columnist chimed in with the same story -- based, he said, on "several sources" among the MLAs who attended the stormy Progressive Conservative caucus meeting last Thursday as fallout lingered from the lingering Redford Air Affair, or, as I prefer to call it, Propellergate.

"No MLA is ready to take action today -- and the premier’s inner circle says the unhappiness is temporary and a routine part of party politics," wrote Kelly Cryderman in the Globe. "But at least some caucus members feel they are one more controversy away from a breaking point with a leader who, according to a poll released this week, has an approval rating of just 20 percent."

"According to several sources, Redford said there will be no more damaging news," chipped in Don Braid in the Herald, adding snidely, "or at least, none that's true."

But with reporters and political opponents studying Redford's latest travel statements, poring over government reports in search of embarrassing omissions, FOIPing official records and trying to get to the bottom of the steady drumbeat of rumours about the premier's harsh management style, this sounds like a pretty bold -- or maybe desperate -- promise.

At about the same time, an online petition was being Tweeted and Facebooked around Alberta.

Allegedly from "the people of Alberta" -- but maybe from the insiders and lobbyists long associated with the campaigns of such former coruscating Tory stars as Gary Mar and Jim Dinning -- the petition seeks "the immediate and unconditional resignation of Premier Allison (sic) Redford."

"Lets keep this short and simple," the online petition says. "Premier Allison Redford, you have lost all confidence that the people of Alberta have placed in you. We the people of Alberta demand your immediate and unconditional resignation as the Premier of Alberta."

We the people indeed -- although the misspelled "Allison" is a nice touch if this really does originate with caucus plotters, old-boy insiders or other well-connected Tory types who want to disguise their connection.

Yesterday morning, chatter on an Edmonton talk-radio station's political panel was all about how retired Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel, 68, would make a great candidate to replace Redford.

Mar, the former Ralph-Klein-era cabinet minister and leadership front-runner brushed aside in October 2011 by Redford, is also mentioned frequently in this context. Dinning, the 2006 leadership front-runner defeated by Ed Stelmach, hasn't yet reared his head.

Well, if the supposed caucus rebels are going to rebel, they need to do so quickly.

They can't sit in the Legislature for weeks like obedient schoolboys and then turn on the premier without looking ridiculous.

They certainly can't support her budget and then walk out.

So it's said here they’ve got no choice but to act now or forget it.

This week ends on March 15.

As the soothsayer said: Beware the Ideas of March.

As this soothsayer says, if nothing's happened by then, Redford and the Opposition parties who are counting on her to stick around can breathe easier.

A word of caution on recent Alberta polls

Yesterday's Globe caucus-rebellion story references without naming the Leger poll released by the Calgary Herald last week, which shows Premier Redford's personal approval rating at only 20 percent, lagging her party's pathetic 25 percent approval rating.

Notwithstanding the news value of the story, it needs to be said that online polls like the Leger survey, which make use of self-selecting and therefore politically engaged panels, probably overestimate the percentage of voters who desire change.

Polling results released by Environics the day after the Leger numbers became public show Redford's government with an approval rating of 48 percent, considerably better than the approval level suggested by the Leger numbers.

That poll, which was in the field between Valentine’s Day and February 23, also shows 36 percent of decided voters leaning toward the Redford Tories.

What's interesting -- and what may provide us with a hint about who commissioned the Environics survey and why it was released when it was -- is what was missing. To wit: Premier Redford's own approval numbers.

Since the question was almost certainly asked, this omission suggests the answers were not much better than the ones provided to Leger.


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

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