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Worst political strategy ever: Redford put on probation by PC big shots

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Do the backroom leaders of Alberta's Progressive Conservative Party seriously expect the province’s voters to re-elect as premier a leader in whom they obviously have no confidence?

I mean, c'mon people, talk about the lamest political sales pitch imaginable!

If nothing else, we Albertans sure have put a lot of distance between ourselves and the days when you could win an election by merely putting up signs that said "Ralph's Team," haven’t we?

For crying out loud, at yesterday's "respectful but brutal" inquisition in Calgary, the party's board of directors put Premier Alison Redford on probation.

No, they're not calling it that, but what else can you call it when the party's heavy hitters emerge from several hours of interrogating the premier about what the heck she's doing to tell the press that after she's been on the job for almost two and a half years they're going to give her a "work plan" setting out their expectations?

Or what? They'll send her a formal discipline letter? And then if she still doesn't shape up they'll fire her? Sure sounds like it. And if that’s not being on probation, what is?

And we, the good voters of Alberta, mostly Tories by habit if not conviction, are supposed to enthusiastically elect a probationary premier? Please! Even for Albertans this may prove to be a stretch.

Well, at least they didn't make her wear an electronic ankle bracelet.

The Calgary Herald, which had a reporter waiting outside yesterday's meeting, described party president Jim McCormick as saying the so-called work plan would be cooked up with the premier over the next little while. It will address what the scribbler awkwardly called "areas of concern that have recently arose."

Like what? Like not being a "nice lady," as caucus rebel Len Webber whinged, evoking images of Cruella de Vil trying on a coat made out of cute puppies, before he went to sit as an Independent?

Like recording public approval ratings that are significantly lower than Vladimir Putin's? (Really! They do public opinion polls in Russia now too.)

Like earning too many frequent-flyer points for her use of government airplanes?

Like blowing to smithereens the progressive coalition strategist Stephen Carter cobbled together to save the party’s bacon in 2012 just so that she could suck up to the loony right, which had already made up its hive-mind to vote Wildrose?

Who knows? And, increasingly, who cares?

For her part, judging by the Herald's account, Redford tried to put a game face on her excruciating predicament, telling reporters: "One of the things that is important to people is for me to be listening and talking to people, sharing time with people, which I'm happy to do." (Like… Not!)

"I know there is more work going on right now in terms of a work plan for the leader and I'm looking forward to that," she added -- to which we are all entitled to smirk and say, "Yeah, right…"

Well, publicly disciplining the premier was an interesting way to end a week in which Redford announced she would pay back the bill for her $45,000 trip to South Africa … and apparently didn't gain a bit of political traction by doing so.

The week also featured divisions in the PC caucus becoming increasingly public with at least one shoving match between a couple of Conservative MLAs in a local watering hole, although the facts turned out to be not nearly as exciting as they'd seemed at first blush when reported in an innuendo-laden subscriber-only newsletter.

While determined to remain in caucus, other Tory MLAs, like Red Deer North's Mary Anne Jablonski, continued to be pretty harsh in their assessment of their leader. "If she can change the way she treats others, then we have hope," an unhappy Jablonski is said to have sighed hopelessly.

For her part, Redford summed up yesterday's exercise as the party getting together to think collegially, privately and presumably congenially about "what we need to do to get re-elected."

But after 43 years in power, it's not at all clear that they have any idea how pathetically weak it makes the party appear to be talking re-election while publicly ripping into their leader and gossiping about whether or not the party's executive director had been fired. (Kelley Charlebois, McCormick told the media yesterday, was still employed in that position.)

They may even think their party rules by divine right, and can therefore win an election with a leader in which they have no confidence.

What they really need to do, in words often used by the late Calgary alderman Sue Higgins, who knew a thing or two about politics, is "make a call or get outta the booth" -- that is, either back their leader to the hilt, or find a new one.

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

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