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If Alison Redford won't voluntarily step aside, Alberta's Tories are likely finished

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Donna Kennedy-Glans

The departure yesterday morning of Donna Kennedy-Glans from the Alberta Progressive Conservative caucus makes it pretty obvious the message is sinking in with disaffected PC MLAs that casting Alison Redford as Premier Cruella de Vil and then putting her on double-secret probation may not have been the most astute strategy for re-election.

With a sense of timing worthy of a thespian, the associate minister of electricity and renewable energy announced at about the hour of the morning PC caucus meeting that she's pulling the plug on her cabinet portfolio and quitting the Tory benches to sit as an Independent.

The Calgary-Varsity MLA said she was doing it "with great regret but also great optimism" -- leaving to door open to a swift return after a change of leadership.

Notwithstanding that dramatic development, or the new poll that shows PC voter support plummeting, Premier Redford still appears to have enough allies in her cabinet and caucus to make a fight of it.

With the Angus Reid Global poll suggesting the Wildrose Party is in majority territory with the support of 46 per cent of committed voters and the sad-sack Redford PCs shuffling along at 23 per cent, the only way to keep the Tory Party from succumbing to a vicious civil war followed by certain electoral destruction may be for the premier to voluntarily resign.

Kennedy-Glans's departure is sure to have a bigger impact than that of MLA Len Webber last week because -- unlike Webber, a caucus nobody and would-be federal Conservative candidate -- she's a heavy hitter.

Kennedy-Glans was a star candidate recruited by the party to run in 2012. She is tied to the Calgary oilpatch oligarchy that calls the shots in Alberta. And as a member of cabinet, there’s powerful symbolism in the fact she's giving up significant income to make her point that the "dream of change that I think we all felt in 2012 … just doesn't appear to be realizable."

Her announcement came amidst the morning's buzz that a group of 10 MLAs met not-so-secretly on Sunday to try to figure out a way to get the heck out of the mess they'd just let their party executive get them into.

The 10, almost every one a nonentity, were Steve Young (Edmonton-Riverview), Moe Amery (Calgary-East), Neil Brown (Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill), Ken Lemke (Stony Plain), Jacquie Fenske (Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville), Mary Anne Jablonski (Red Deer-North), Matt Jeneroux (Edmonton-South West), Cathy Olesen (Sherwood Park), Janice Sarich (Edmonton-Decore)and David Xiao (Edmonton-McClung).

Unknown to the media, though, is who were the five or six MLAs -- not all of them nonentities -- who took part in the meeting by conference call.

The trouble for the dissident MLAs was, having failed to move decisively against the calamitous Redford when they had a little momentum last week, or even better before the party voted 77 per cent to approve her leadership in November, it will not be easy for them to take back the initiative now.

Even with Kennedy-Glans's resignation -- enough of a surprise that her official ministerial biography lingered on the Legislative Assembly's website last night -- it's unlikely the caucus can snap the rug out from under a premier just told she's on probation without looking both discombobulated and unfair.

Because that's the deal with probation, isn't it? You get a chance to prove you can do better. So the caucus can hardly fire the premier this week after the party leaders put her on "work plan" probation only last week.

But as an unnamed MLA quoted by the Journal yesterday summed up the caucus's predicament: "Do I have any hope in hell getting re-elected in 2016 under a work plan? Not really."

Yet if Redford is determined to hang on, it's now in her interests -- and those of the Queen's Park strategists with which she has surrounded herself -- to stretch out the probationary period as long as they can, and then to try to survive another election when it’s too late for caucus to dump her.

Since the next election is less than two years away, thanks to Redford's own constitutionally unneeded and politically restricting "fixed election period" law, it won't be very long at all before it really is too late to find a new leader with any hope of winning. (Stephen Mandel, c'mon down!)

Indeed, it may already be so -- a thought no doubt exploited last week by Redford loyalists in caucus like Deputy Premier Dave Hancock to stall her dismissal with the corrosive probation deal.

From the perspective of the PC party’s survival, the best thing that could happen now -- perhaps the only thing that would offer the 43-year-old PC dynasty a chance of survival -- would be for Premier Redford to voluntarily resign.

But given Redford's hard-edged personality (Webber called her a bully, subject to "fits of rage, temper tantrums"), her conviction she is always right, and the encouragement she will now be getting from those who have staked their political success on backing her in caucus and elsewhere, such an outcome still seems unlikely.

Redford supporters will of course be trotting out the reversal in the polls that saved the government in 2012, and the more dramatic one that saved B.C. Premier Christy Clark's government last year -- and they may have a point.

Heaven and B.C. New Democrats know, Western Canadian electorates are volatile enough nowadays, although this time you surely can't count on Wildrose candidates to mess up the spectacular way a couple of them did in April 2012.

Even if the Tories find a way to ease Redford out and slip in a conservative outsider with some credibility -- and that pretty well rules out everyone currently in caucus -- the Legislature will still be a very different place after the 2016 elections.

It seems probable the Wildrose Party will sweep most rural seats in Alberta no matter what the PCs do.

With Redford at the helm, it's said here Danielle Smith's party would take over in Calgary, while New Democrats, Liberals and Wildrosers fought over Edmonton, reducing the Tories to a terminal rump.

The PCs' only hope of long-term survival is to come cap in hand to the progressive alliance that saved them last time and try to salvage enough seats in the cities to survive as opposition at least, or even eke out a minority.

To do that, they will basically have to write off the countryside and become the urban party of Alberta -- an opportunity that both the Liberals and NDP have spurned by clinging to the romantic notion they can somehow miraculously scrape up enough rural votes to form a government.

Former Edmonton Mayor Mandel, who despite being old enough at 68 to know better is said to be interested, strikes me as one of the few people who could actually pull off a desperation strategy like this -- the political equivalent of pulling the goalie in the last minute of a hockey game or throwing a Hail Mary pass across the gridiron.

Given their history, it's hard to imagine it will be any easier for the Tories to swallow this idea than the Liberals or the NDP, and we'll have to suffer a generation of Wildrose economic fundamentalism as a consequence.

So, really, the survival of the Progressive Conservative dynasty in Alberta, and possibly even of half-sensible government, is now in the unreliable hands of Alison Redford.

If to save her party, she needs to agree not to lead it, readers ought not to hold their breaths awaiting that development!

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

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