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Tory caucus rebellion threatens Alberta premier? Nobody here but us chickens!

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Alison Redford

Alberta Premier Alison Redford looked so grim when she came out the door of Government House in Edmonton yesterday morning and climbed into the back of her big black security SUV that I noted down the time -- 11:32 a.m.

You know, I thought, this particular Thursday Progressive Conservative caucus meeting might just turn out to be a moment in history! I might even get to write about it in my memoirs. 

No such luck. It was sort of like Seinfeld, only without the laughs. Nothing happened. Then the big black security SUV quietly drove away.

After another half hour or so the MLAs and ministers came out of Government House. They had nothing to say either. The smart ones commented on the weather, or joked about how nice the towns are that they represent. The rest of 'em said "no comment," which always makes you like a rube -- just saying.

Then Deputy Premier Dave Hancock came out the door and spoke a stream of nothing for what felt like 20 minutes but was probably only about five. I think I caught something about "building Alberta" in all his verbiage. Maybe a couple of times.

The gist of it, as best as I could tell was that everything is just fine, Redford's still the premier, the good earth of Alberta is still saturated with oil, God's in His Heaven, and all's right with the world. Nothing to see here, folks, just move along.

Actually, Hancock strayed into saying stuff of substance for a brief moment when he dismissed Calgary-Foothills Conservative MLA Len Webber as "a very sad man" who never got over not being asked to be in cabinet by Redford.

Webber came up because earlier in the day he'd called a news conference at which he announced he planned to cross the floor of the Legislature to sit as an Independent. He put onto the record a number of not particularly complimentary things about Redford that plenty of Albertans have been gossiping about. To wit: that she can be pretty harsh when she's not getting her way.

So it was news, but it wasn't really news, when Webber said: "She's just really not a nice lady, I can be honest with you there."

According to media accounts of his news conference, Webber said he hoped a stream of MLAs would follow his example and cross the floor to sit on the opposition side as Independents.

Well, good luck with that, Mr. Webber! For the moment at least, no one seems to have taken up his challenge, no matter how loudly they shouted at each other in their caucus meeting after they’d kicked Redford out so they could say what they pleased about her travel bills, and whether or not she paid them back soon enough.

As for Webber's cranky comments, they have to be taken with the traditional grain of salt, seeing as he's planning to run for the federal Conservatives in an election that'll come a year earlier than the next Alberta vote. With Redford's approval ratings in the dumper, it's probably prudent of him to appear a little oppositional, plus the move to the west side of the House gives him more time to work on his federal campaign.

The fact no other Tory MLA appears to have followed him -- despite a day of rip-roaring media-fuelled rumours about 20 PCs ready to quit over Redford's record -- should come as no surprise.

As has been said in this space before, just because the PC backbenches are awash with angst about their occupants' futures nowadays doesn't mean the qualities of courage and principle are any more abundant among their ranks than normal. In other words, yesterday's coup talk was just that, talk.

Soon we will probably start to hear theories from the media that Redford was told by caucus to shape up or be prepared to ship out, or that she may have to quit soon anyway, or that more rebellious MLAs will quit later. All possible, I suppose, but don't bet the farm on any of them.

In fairness to the MLAs, they don't really have many practical options.

If they somehow managed to dump Redford, they'd face a leadership contest with their party $800,000 in debt from its near-death experience in the last election at a time they're having trouble raising funds, even from party stalwarts.

And if they had another leadership race, they'd get to think about how the last one turned out.

If they quit and sat as Independents, about all they could do is participate in a vote of non-confidence and either run as Independents or pray one of the opposition parties would take them in, a highly unlikely proposition, even for the right-wing Wildrose Party.

Any way you cut it, they could be pretty confident voters would turn them out on a wave of revulsion.

So, while they may not be very happy, they don't have much choice but to continue on with the devil they know -- unless, of course, they happen to be contemplating a run for the House of Commons in Ottawa.

That's presumably why almost all of them were back in their places in the Legislature for Question Period yesterday afternoon, their sunshiny faces turned toward the premier's empty seat.

All in all, it wasn't a great day for the government, but it might have been about the best they could hope for in the circumstances.

It was a better day for the Opposition -- which still has the premier its strategists very much want to face in the next general election.

If you were a journalist or a blogger looking for a great story, it was, in a word, anticlimactic.  

There was no shortage of chickens, but none of them came home to roost.

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

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