Saturday, November 02, 2013

Alison in Wonderland - The Alberta Premier and the Review of Her Leadership

In just twenty days Premier Alison Redford faces a leadership review by the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. The party is likely to permit her to continue, but it will be close.

What’s gnawing at the party are three things. First, it is clear that she is not a very capable leader. While she is by far the smartest Premier since Peter Lougheed, she is no team player. She is petulant, argumentative, single minded and rarely tows lines that have been collectively agreed. She is not liked as a person – even her security team finds her exceptionally difficult – and many within her cabinet simply do not trust her.

Second, party revenue is drying up. Corporate Calgary and the well known donors didn’t favour her in the leadership election, don’t like her and don’t want her. They are not paying. She has also alienated many faithful in the party – like all who supported Gary Mar in the leadership election – and she is not a focused, team playing fund raising machine.

The third reason is that the oil and gas industry (and many others) find the Government she leads basically dysfunctional. One seasoned oil executive said “it’s like dealing with a bag of play dough, you never know what shape the government will be in when you meet them!”. Since she became Premier, foreign direct investment in the oil sands has fallen by 90% - down from $27 billion to just $2 billion in 18 months. Her Government is one key factor – no one has faith in their handling of the Alberta economy. Price of oil, the reaction to Sovereign Fund takeovers by Canada’s Federal Government and concerns over pipelines are the other key factors. While Premier Redford is working hard to secure the three pipelines, she is not working in any convincing way to run a focused and aligned government.

The flooding in Alberta this last summer will help her for some attending the leadership review. She was seen to handle the initial days of the disaster in a positive way (no where near as positively as the Mayor of Calgary), but even this became evidence of her inability to manage her government. Contradictory messages sent to flood victims about compensation, lack of clarity over process and funding and then the “magical trick” of providing what now look like up to $6 billion in restoration costs to municipalities and individuals – money Alberta doesn’t have – are all causing concern.

Premier Redford will not state what level of support she will find satisfactory, though her predecessors have looked to 70% or higher as the staying afloat as Premier watermark. Those who know her well say that she is looking for 50% plus .0001 as a sufficiently winning number.

What may comfort her is that no one is clearly stepping up to the plate at this time, though Stephen Mandel, former Mayor of Edmonton and an astute politician who is an established team player, hinted at his interest “depending on a vote in November”.  Jeff Johnson, Minister of Education and a man who is part of a political dynasty (his father was an MLA) is also known to be interested, as is the pugilistic Deputy Premier, Thomas (“I haven’t a clue what harm I am doing to post-secondary education in Alberta”) Adam Lukaszuk.

I have suggested before that there is no one within the party who is not tainted with the experience of being in this government who should be allowed to lead. Rona Ambrose, Federal Minister of Health, is still by far the best bet to refocus and reinvigorate the party and she would make a tremendous candidate against the very smart and cunning Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith. Ms. Smith has moved her party close enough to the centre, has retained a focus on fiscal responsibility and is dealing with the “nutters and dingbats” within her party. She will do much better in the next election, partly because all she has to do is to let Alison Redford continue as she is and Albertan’s will flock to any credible alternative.

The party could be smart and ditch her now while there is still time to turn this sinking ship around. They are much more likely to re-arrange the deck chairs and send a note of caution to their leader. No courage will be shown. 

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