If the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had laid criminal charges against Alison Redford, you can be reasonably certain it wouldn’t have been announced in a whisper late on a Friday afternoon.
Charges against Redford might not have been the optimal possible outcome for the government of Premier Jim Prentice, which no doubt would have really preferred that premier pro tempore Dave Hancock and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis had never involved the Mounties at all in what was only ever a political, and never a criminal, case.
Just the same, at least seeing the unpopular former occupant of the province’s top political job facing the possibility of being banged up in pokey would have supported Prentice’s implausible narrative Alberta is now under “new management.”
It would also have glossed over the embarrassing opportunism of the Hancock Government when it tossed the Auditor General’s highly critical file on Redford’s travel practices and residential plans to the RCMP last summer in hopes of distracting voters from the party’s misdeeds by pinning everything that had gone wrong since Ed Stelmach stepped aside on Alberta’s 14th premier alone.
At the time, it must have seemed like a good idea to publicly call in the cops, who according to the CBC were already poking around after the broadcaster had revealed the former premier had brought her daughter along on numerous government flights over the previous two years.
Yesterday’s sotto voce announcement by the Mounties certainly suggests that last summer’s push by Hancock and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis for the police to investigate Redford’s purported misdeeds was not much more than an exercise in political expedience. As was said in this space on July 31, 2014, “a trial, let alone a conviction, is extremely unlikely.
“For all the ethical murkiness of the behaviour exhibited by Redford and unidentified members of her staff, not to mention some of her caucus mates as well, it’s not at all clear any laws were broken,” I wrote then.
“Maybe Redford shouldn’t have taken her daughter along on the government plane, but there’s no way the police or the Crown Prosecution Service are going to conclude that was a criminal breach of trust. And certainly her staff shouldn’t have put the name of fictional ‘ghost riders’ on the flight manifests as a sneaky way to ensure privacy for the premier and her political aides on certain flights. …
“But was that a criminal breach of trust, whether or not Redford knew about it, as she says she didn’t? Fat chance. There are so many obstacles to a successful prosecution here about the only thing this topic is good for is a question on some future law school examination.”
The RCMP, obviously, concurred with that view. “In the interest of thoroughness, the RCMP interviewed a wide range of individuals who provided us with information related to the auditor general’s report,” Assistant Commissioner Marlin Degrand said in yesterday’s news release, making it sound very much as if he thought his officers’ time was being wasted. “We thank them for their co-operation, and the file is now concluded.”
After that, neither the Mounties nor the government had anything more to say about the matter.
That there wasn’t much to the supposed criminal case should not have been a surprise to Hancock, who is now gone with nothing to reward him but the promise of an honorary degree at the faltering Athabasca University, or Denis, who, significantly perhaps, remains the justice minister in the latest PC premier’s “new management.” After all, both of them are lawyers — Queen’s Counsel, no less — who ought to have known the notion of criminal charges being brought against Redford was fanciful at best.
But in the spring and summer of 2014, who knew for certain who would be the next leader of the party, or what the leading candidate, Prentice, might do if he were chosen as expected? Perhaps the two — and Doug Horner too, who as minister of finance was supposed to be keeping an eye on the government’s air fleet — thought they had a future in the government and cabinet, not just Denis.
Regardless, with the word from the Horsemen late yesterday that they have no intention of wasting any more time on the case, large numbers of Albertans who trust the Mounties more than the PCs may conclude that what got Redford in trouble was standard operating procedure for a lot of other senior members of the Progressive Conservative dynasty for much of its 43-year lifespan.
Redford was an arrogant and inconsistent leader, perpetually persuaded she was the smartest person in the room, harsh in her treatment of subordinates, certain she deserved to travel and live first class on the public tab, convinced she could casually betray people on the left and right with whom she had built alliances without consequences for herself or her government.
As such, she got her party into trouble, and she was fired for it.
Yet, while few Albertans will conclude Redford was innocent of all political failings, many of us are beginning to wonder if just the same she was treated differently because she was a woman for what in others would have been seen as a normal expression of Tory entitlement.
This post also appears on Daviud Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.