Even if Premier Alison Redford manages to hang onto power, her days as leader of the Tory dynasty are numbered, say several party insiders.
Speaking off the record, three MLAS and three high powered Progressive Conservative mandarins say most party members are so furious at Redford for rejecting sound political advice and “risking so many political careers and a great political brand,” that she would face a hostile leadership review in 2013 and be pushed out regardless.
Why the hostility? According to these insiders, Redford apparently brushed aside the sound political counsel of experienced Tories on many occasions that they say would have helped keep the Tories in power for at least another four years — reaching their 45th anniversary in power before the end of their next mandate.
Redford initially rejected widespread guidance to call an election within weeks of being sworn in as Alberta’s 14th premier on Oct. 7.
She was advised to say that unlike former premier Ed Stelmach — who changed Alberta’s royalty regime (and helped give birth to the Wildrose party as a result) before heading to the polls — she would proceed more humbly by seeking a mandate to govern.
“If she had listened then, we would have won 70 seats — another huge majority, since we were ahead of Wildrose by almost 30 points then,” says one Tory MLA, who adds that the seat he won by thousands of votes in the last election, will be a photo finish horse race on April 23. And he’s being optimistic.
But Redford said she wanted to show Albertans her brand of leadership before seeking a mandate. She said she wanted to deliver a budget before hitting the hustings. So, the next bit of advice she was offered was for her to present the budget and then drop the election writ the very next day.
“Again, she didn’t listen,” said a longtime Tory insider about the Feb. 9 provincial budget.
“There’s an old saying that goes like this: ‘She was born on third base but she thought she hit a triple,’” says another Tory mandarin.
“When she was told, ‘Go now, Alison. Run. Run.’ She didn’t listen. She thinks she’s smarter than all of these smart people, but she’s clearly not very astute politically. She won the Tory leadership by a fluke because of a flawed process. On the first ballot she had 19 per cent of the votes, but believes it was her brilliance that won her the leadership.
“The party wanted Jim Dinning and got Ed Stelmach because of a flawed process, and then wanted Gary Mar but got Redford because of the same flawed process, and both of those leaders surrounded themselves with political neophytes and actually believe they were chosen, when they were not.”
Had Redford dropped the writ on Feb. 10, avoiding question period along with a litany of political bombs on an almost daily basis, longtime Tories say things would be different. They were ahead of the Wildrose by 20 points then. Now, several polls have Wildrose ahead of the Tories by as much as 13 points across the province and by a whopping 18 points in Calgary and in rural areas.
“Why did she insist on passing the budget?” asks one Tory MLA. “We’re not even running on the budget. She’s making it up as she goes along.”
Redford’s campaign manager, Stephen Carter, scoffs at the claims by these insiders.
“What’s the sound advice these insiders gave us?” asks Carter. “The sound advice to manipulate the system for her own political gain? Is that what the sound advice is? Because Alison campaigned on bringing in a fixed election date and she stuck to that,” said Carter on Thursday evening.
That’s a bit of a stretch. Redford ended up bringing in a law that states that an election must be held in a 90-day period between March and the end of May every four years.
As for the political scan- dals that have erupted while the legislature was sitting and after the budget was delivered, Carter says those bombs would have still gone off during the election campaign.
“The news of the payments to the committee that never meets would have still come out and it would have come out during the middle of the campaign,” added Carter, who ran Redford’s successful Tory leadership bid and also Naheed Nenshi’s winning campaign to become Calgary’s mayor in 2010.
“Those same insiders who are presenting this revisionist history now are the same ones who tried to get Alison to drop out of the leadership race after she came second on the first ballot,” speculated Carter.
There are 17 days left in the campaign before the April 23 vote. Carter points out that 17 days before Nenshi’s and Redford’s wins, “we were dead in the water, according to the polls. The only poll that counts is on election day,” he said.
As for the rumours that the Tories have secretly conceded 12 seats in Calgary, Carter denies that categorically. “We’re not conceding anything.”
Whatever happens, it’s certainly novel. For the first time since 1993, the election result isn’t a foregone conclusion in Alberta. This, folks, is what real elections sound like.