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Alison Redford is back, and she’s not about to take responsibility for the sorry fate of the Progressive Conservative Party she once led.
Those of us who toil in the blogosphere welcome her back unreservedly. How could it be otherwise? Redford played a pivotal role in the most superlatively entertaining period in Alberta political history — up to then mainly known for its predictability and dullness — since the election of Social Credit in 1935.
Redford was the unexpected winner of the race to lead the then four-decades-old Progressive Conservative dynasty in October 2011, whereupon the politics of the province immediately descended into chaos, whence they may only be recovering now.
In short order after Redford’s emergence as Tory leader, the Wildrose Party, created by parts of the oil industry to backfoot her predecessor Ed Stelmach’s review, of petroleum royalties became a serious contender, and but for the grace of God (in a manner of speaking) nearly defeated her government in 2012.
Thereafter, scandal and division roiled her government. There was Air Redford. There was the Sky Palace. There was the emergence of a hard-right Redford to replace the soft-centre Redford who won the 2012 election, outraging the progressive voters who had saved her government’s bacon that spring. There were laws to ban strikes… and eliminate free speech on topics inconvenient to the government.
Eventually she was fired by her own caucus for, as they saw it, a multitude of sins — the greatest being leading the party ever lower in the polls. She was sent packing one day in March by Dave Hancock, the last competent Conservative Premier of Alberta, who alas for the Tories served only in a temporary role.
Hancock was followed by the bumbling Jim Prentice, who neutralized the Wildrose Party but then bungled the election so spectacularly we saw the rise of an NDP majority under Rachel Notley this spring, a development so unexpected any pundit who predicted it a year earlier would have been accused of recreational pipe dreaming!
Then, yesterday, Redford re-emerged in a short CBC interview, looking relaxed and cheerful, smiling frequently, laughing deeply at times, denying any responsibility for the fate of her former party and signalling, I thought, that she intends to see her tarnished reputation rehabilitated.
Redford told the CBC she plans to work in public policy — though whether or not she has a job yet is unclear.
No matter. She is out from under the cloud that followed her for a few months after her dismissal as leader by her caucus in March 2014, the possibility that some kind of charges could result from the RCMP investigation into the Fakes on a Plane imbroglio, in which made-up passengers were block booked by someone and then cancelled at the last moment so Redford and her aides could fly on government aircraft in privacy. The RCMP announced last February the investigation was closed, and there would be no charges.
She laughed heartily in the interview at former Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith’s defection to the Tories last December, a move so cynical and unpopular it arguably set the stage for the NDP victory. ‘I don’t understand what makes people tick sometimes,’ she chuckled.
She sniffed at Prentice’s petulant election-night resignation. “It was a very surprising step. People go into politics for different reasons. People leave politics for different reasons.”
She used the election of NDP Premier Rachel Notley to take a not-so-subtle shot at the party old boys who brought in Jim Prentice, supposedly to correct the errors of her rule. ‘Twice when Albertans have gone to general elections, they have elected women as premiers. I think that is maybe lost on some people. But I think that’s pretty exciting.”
What do you want to bet, though, given the recent history, that if Alberta’s second woman premier had been Smith, Redford’s assessment wouldn’t have been so sanguine?
Truth be told, there wasn’t really a whole lot of news in Redford’s commentary. The important stuff was in the tone, and the hints therein of the role Redford expects to play in the future. That is to say, she won’t be bullied into silence.
Desperate for a news hook, the CBC chose to lead with Redford’s confirmation she is no longer a member of the party she once led — and that at least some former PCs are certain she led down the garden path to destruction.
But this isn’t really news. Indeed, Redford wasn’t a member of the party during the last couple of months she was its leader, a fact reported by the Edmonton Sun’s Matt Dykstra back in September 2014. “Officials confirmed that Redford never renewed her PC membership in 2014 and was not a member even during the final months of her tenure as leader,” Dykstra wrote at the time.
So it’s hardly an earth-shattering revelation that Redford hasn’t bothered to rejoin her old party, whose legislative caucus after all ended her political career. She is forgiven if she doesn’t feel very warmly about it given that history.
It’s more interesting that Redford doesn’t seem prepared to acknowledge that she played any role in its PC Party’s most desperate moment, and may blame the decision to replace her for the current troubles of the party, reduced a rump of nine MLAs in the provincial Legislature.
Isn’t this the meaning of her most substantial response to the CBC interviewer? “When I was running to be the leader of the PC Party, and then in the election, where I was elected premier, we talked about change,” she said, pointedly. “And I think Albertans wanted to see change. And I think that they decided that after watching the last three or four years in Alberta that the best way that they could get change was to change governing parties, and I can certainly understand that.”
As she said this, she broke into a broad smile.
In truth, Redford must take some of the responsibility for the fate of the PCs she led. But when the history of this turbulent period of Alberta history is written, Prentice and those old boys who wanted him so badly will have to shoulder a big portion of the blame too, just as Notley will get enormous credit for the pitch-perfect campaign that set the stage for what came next.
Still, here’s the real message of Alison Redford’s interview yesterday: Her star turn may be over, and the reviews may have been pretty mixed, but don’t expect her just to fade into the night and take the blame for everything that happened. She doesn’t see it that way.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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