Stephen Murgatroyd, Guest Columnist
The Alberta chatterati – the chatterers about Alberta and politics – are convinced that:
1) Premier Alison Redford is a dead premier walking. She has lost the confidence of caucus, the story goes, and is in the death throes of her administration.
2) To position herself for a graceful exit, she is moving to the right to establish her national credentials as a fiscal and real conservative rather than the liberal lawyer with a funny hair do.
3) Doug Horner has been anointed her natural heir and successor, having secured the backing of the monied elite in Calgary and the support of caucus.
That, at least, is the story. Whether we believe any of it is another question, but there is good evidence that key elements have some credibility.
First, the premier has never been able to manage her caucus and is clearly not a streetwise politician. Smart, highly articulate, intelligent and capable, she has never endeared herself to the rural-dominated, predominantly male caucus. She does not come from the same place, is “too clever for her own high heels” and is not one to suffer fools gladly.
This latter accusation is serious because there are several real fools in caucus and some in cabinet. Her own staff, as is shown by some key resignations, has also found her brittle and awkward. It is a shame — she is by far the smartest premier since Peter Lougheed and has an ability to see beyond the current game and take a long view. But if she can’t bring her own team with her, she is toast. The first rule of leadership is to have people following you. If they are not, de facto, you are no longer the leader.
The second element of the story — that she is moving to the right — is clearly the case. Key election promises lay in tatters, her fiscal position rules out new revenues and her solution to the province’s budget challenge is austerity — a failed policy of the right the globe over. Rather than seeking to stimulate growth and increase revenues, she has fallen for the right-wing agenda and is about to announce a mini-Klein agenda.
Whether this is to boost her future position as a national conservative or not, she is moving away from the more liberal premier who stood for election just a few months ago. Fighting with doctors and teachers, cutting or freezing budgets, cutting school budgets, giving up on flagship educational programs and sending in the deputy premier to rationalize post-secondary education (a system which Horner made less comprehensible) are all signs that she has moved to the right.
I doubt, however, this is about positioning her for her conservative future. It just reflects the paucity of imagination in her caucus, the lack of sophistication in their understanding of politics, power and economics, and their lack of vision.
If she is gone as premier by this time next year — a confident prediction of the chatterati — then she will not be eligible as a national conservative leader until after a significant period of detoxification and rehabilitation. When Stephen Harper steps down as prime minister (something he shows no signs of doing), a premier of Alberta who lived a brief life in power will not be an attractive proposition.
As for Horner, he is clearly seen by many to be running the government in all but name right now. Whether he can secure the leadership after the demise of the premier we will have to wait and see. But we can be sure of a fight. Ted Morton is alive and well and starting to appear on screen and stage. Others who left the party stand by to return as well, once the Redford regime enters history. It will not be a cake walk.
One reason for Redford’s nearing-death experience is the presence of Danielle Smith. The Wild Rose leader must think she has died and gone to heaven. She watches the Progressive (sic) Conservative party implode in front of her eyes, simply draws attention to their failures, and smiles. Her loss at the last election enabled her to regroup and refocus in a way that positions her as Redford’s natural successor.
Assuming she can detox her party of the wild elements and make it more rose-like, she will more likely win than lose.