On Wednesday, Alberta Premier Alison Redford resigned suddenly after only two and a half years in office. Redford became Premier in October 2011 when she won the Progressive Conservative Party leadership and was elected in her own right in April 2012 when the Tories won 62 out of 87 seats in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.
The Tories have held office in Alberta since August 1971. This summer the Alberta Tories will become the longest serving government in Canadian history, surpassing the Nova Scotia Liberals who held power for 43 years between 1882-1925. In 2012, Redford and the Tories faced a strong conservative challenge by Danielle Smith and the Wildrose Party. However, a series of racist and homophobic comments by several Wildrose candidates and Smith’s failure to condemn those statements cast sufficient doubts to lead Alberta voters to re-elect the Tories.
However, the Tories have been in political free fall for nearly two years. Redford’s leadership style has been aloof and ineffectual while Smith and Wildrose look like a government in waiting.
But Redford’s political demise can be pointed at one man — Nelson Mandela. How does the late South African President have an impact on the political fortunes of a woman nearly 10,000 miles away? Redford came under fire when it was revealed last month that she spent $45,000 of taxpayers’ money to attend Mandela’s funeral in December. It should be noted that Redford had met Mandela as a member of then Foreign Affairs Minister (and former Prime Minister) Joe Clark’s staff when he traveled to Canada in 1990. Redford subsequently spent some time in South Africa as part of an advisory team which consulted him on establish democratic institutions. So understandably she was invited by Prime Minister Harper to be part of the Canadian delegation to the funeral.
What wasn’t so understandable was how she handled matters. After initially blaming her staff, she apologized for the sum spent, but refused to pay it back. A week ago, after mounting pressure by Wildrose and the other opposition parties, she agreed to pay it back after all, but the damage had been done. Two Tory MLAs resigned, with more threatening to follow suit. This made Redford’s position untenable.
Redford will be succeeded by Deputy Premier Dave Hancock on an interim basis effective Sunday. The Alberta Tories have six months to pick a permanent successor. Time might be on their side as the new leader will have time to establish himself/herself before Albertans go to the polls again in 2016. Or will Albertans want a change and wish return to their conservative roots?