Alison Redford March 11 LRT Announcement

How much is it worth to the Redford Government to improve its sagging poll results?

Looks like it’s about $600 million, $400 million anyway.

That’s how much Alberta Premier Alison Redford said yesterday her government is giving to the City of Edmonton for a new 13-kilometre LRT line to the city’s southeast — the larger sum is a combination of $400-million in grants and a $200-million interest-free loan.

The peculiar thing is, there wasn’t a word about this in Finance Minister Doug Horner’s 2014 Budget Speech less than a week ago.

It’s amazing, isn’t it, what a few lousy public opinion polls can do for big city infrastructure?

Premier Redford made the pre-lunch announcement at the Churchill LRT station, which is pretty much in the basement of Edmonton’s pyramidal City Hall. Maybe her advisers reckoned the pyramid would help focus the good vibes.

Redford rode the LRT train up from the stop next to the Legislature and was greeted by an enthusiastic and exceedingly polite throng of political hangers on and journalists, not one of whom succumbed to the temptation to ask if she’d paid her own fare.

She wasn’t alone in the train either, as she apparently is when she flies high above the hoi polloi aboard Redforce One.

She was accompanied by a phalanx of loyal Edmonton-area cabinet ministers, including Horner, plus most of the other members of the Edmonton Progressive Conservative caucus.

Even the lately rebellious Edmonton-Riverview MLA Steve Young was there, it’s said, although I personally didn’t notice him. He’s the former Edmonton police officer who stood out from the crowd of normally timorous Tory MLAs by daring the premier to kick him out of caucus for complaining about her recent spectacular travel bills, a challenge Redford prudently didn’t take him up on.

No broken arms were in evidence, either, but it sure looked as if there’d been some shoring up going on in the cranky ranks of her Tory caucus, which lately has been increasingly out of sorts about those opinion polls, not to mention the backwash of Propellergate revelations, more of which are rumoured about to touch down on the runway shortly.

Anyway, it must have worked, because Redford and her ministers and backbenchers all looked pretty cheerful. Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Dave Dorward’s pink hair added to the cheery aspect of the occasion.

That even included Horner as he manfully tried to explain to the gathered media why even though the money wasn’t mentioned in his budget, on which the ink is still damp, it was really there all along. The Edmonton Journal thoughtfully even provided a detailed explanation of the finance minister’s convoluted reasoning this evening.

Just hours ago, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson was bemoaning the fact there was no sign of funding for the $1.8-billion Valley Line in the provincial budget.

He sounded pretty grim about it, too, suggesting to anyone who would listen that if province wouldn’t help, council’s No. 1 priority could lose promised federal financing and die.

At the very least, he warned, if the dough didn’t come through by the end of April, the project would be delayed for a year.

And then there it was, which just goes to show political blogger Dave Cournoyer had it right when he wrote on March 7 that provincial budgets don’t really mean a darn thing any more.

“The current government’s unpredictable nature has contributed to the folly of these events,” Cournoyer observed, citing a litany of major and often expensive PC policy shifts that were mentioned neither in Throne Speeches nor Budget Speeches.

All the smiles and applause in the chilly underground LRT station notwithstanding, Iveson didn’t really seem all that enthusiastic about the way the government chose to keep his signature project on track. An interest-free loan? Well, OK, it’ll keep things moving … but there are too many strings are attached.

Oh well, as noted in this space yesterday, Redford only needs to hold off her foes in caucus for a week or two and get her budget passed by them for the whiff of rebellion that was in the air yesterday to blow safely away on the spring breeze.

Anyway, rebellious chatter notwithstanding, the Tory caucus is not a group particularly distinguished by its moral courage at the best of times. Indeed, some of them would probably sign a leaf if it blew through the window of the Legislature and landed on their desk! So it’s not much of a surprise that their brave talk already seems to be fizzing away.

Now it’s up to what’s left of the PC strategic brain trust, I guess, to spin this into a victory for the premier and Horner, instead of for the steadfast Mayor Iveson, who of the three is the most likely to remain in office when the trains start rolling south to Mill Woods in 2020.

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

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...