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Alberta's PCs may not survive the damage done by Alison Redford; NDP faces risk of collateral damage from CBC revelations

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Alison Redford

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The Alberta Progressive Conservative Party may not survive the damage done by Alison Redford.

It's been 20 months since Redford was fired as premier of Alberta by her own Legislative caucus -- although so much has happened in that short time it seems much longer, doesn’t it? -- but she haunts the PCs still.

Redford's political fate was sealed by her shenanigans as premier between Oct. 7, 2011, and March 23, 2014 -- including irresponsible use of government airplanes, wildly extravagant travel expenses, plans to build the private Skypalace residence for her and her daughter atop a government building in downtown Edmonton, and a protracted war with the provincial public service.

But on Monday this week, a CBC exposé about a controversial decision made by Redford before she was premier, the inexplicable choice of a legal consortium to which she had close political and personal ties to represent the province in a $10-billion lawsuit against the tobacco industry when she was Premier Ed Stelmach's justice minister, hammered the PC Party. The consortium stands to make tens of millions of dollars in fees.

Still suffering from the disaster in public perception wrought by Redford’s catastrophic leadership style, the PCs, by then led by the hapless Jim Prentice, were reduced to only 10 members in the May 5 Alberta election that saw an NDP majority government under Rachel Notley come to power. Prentice promptly quit, cutting that number to nine.

But so bad was the damage done by Ms. Redford’s rule that when her interim successor Dave Hancock was replaced by Mr. Prentice in September 2014, the party's electoral debacle six months later would have taken a more talented Tory leader than Prentice to avoid.

The CBC’s revelation came just hours before Albertans learned of the tragic death in a deadly traffic mishap on a snowy highway of Calgary-Greenway MLA and finance critic Manmeet Bhullar, perhaps the only genuine star left in the PC Caucus and surely a potential future party leader.

Yesterday, as shocked MLAs haltingly resumed business after a day devoted to mourning Bhullar, who was only 35, the CBC published the second part of the encyclopedic report by investigative journalists Jenny Russell and Charles Rusnell.

This second story made the case that senior Justice Ministry bureaucrats knew the consortium chosen to conduct the litigation, which was led by a firm that included Redford's political confidant and former husband, had been judged by a selection panel to be the least qualified of three considered for the job.

The first report had illustrated how the process used to choose the consortium had been manipulated. A briefing note signed by Redford when she made the choice appears to have been altered to remove mention of the fact the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers consortium had been ranked last.

This is a complicated story, which many readers will not read in its entirety. Redford issued a written statement saying "any allegation that the department informed me that ITRL was ranked last among the three firms bidding is false." But the inevitable impression left in the minds of many Albertans, perhaps most, will be of more sleaze and entitlement in Progressive Conservative ranks, and a reminder of the multitude of other sins committed by the party during its nearly 44 years in power.

Even without the crushing loss of Bhullar, this would have made it much harder for the Tories under Interim Leader Ric McIver or whomever is now chosen to replace him to recover and supplant the immoderately farther-right Wildrose Opposition as the voice of Alberta's conservative voters.

The CBC's report also has the potential to do collateral damage to Notley's NDP Government. 

NDP Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley appears only to have learned of the problems in the Justice Department from the CBC.

This raises serious questions about a group of top bureaucrats with ties to former Conservative governments who were mystifyingly reappointed to senior positions by the New Democrats, in many cases to the distress of their own supporters.

Surely Notley's transition team asked these seniors officials if there were any skeletons to be found in the closets of the Legislature. If they were told there were none, the CBC’s report makes it very difficult to avoid the conclusion the new government was misled.

Perhaps this is the price a new government pays for having too many people from out of province on its transition team. Regardless, such a situation requires a swift administrative remedy, and that means showing the responsible officials the door. This will not be pleasant for either Ganley or Notley, but it needs to be done if the government is to avoid collateral damage.

One thing is certain. This is not going to just blow over. There is more to come: the CBC will publish more instalments in this disturbing saga very soon.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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