After spending two months avoiding having to pay the costs of her $45,000 trip to South Africa, Premier Alison Redford called a press conference late yesterday to announce she would reimburse the government for costs of sending herself and her executive assistant Brad Stables to South Africa in December 2013.
Despite attempts to ignore the issue, Ms. Redford has been unable to escape criticism about her travel expenses and questionable use of government airplanes, including trips from Palm Springs and allegedly to attend a political fundraiser in Grande Prairie.
Ms. Redford argued that because she had apologized for the cost of the South Africa trip, Albertans were ready to forgive her, even if she did not repay the cost. Recent polls showing the premier with a 20% approval rating suggested otherwise.
Responding to their leader’s dwindling popularity, Progressive Conservative MLAs have pushed back. Calgary-Foothills MLA Len Webber announced today that he was leaving the PC caucus to sit as an Independent, citing Ms. Redford’s record as the reason for his departure. There is little love between the premier and this MLA, who is currently campaigning to become the federal Conservative candidate in Calgary-Confederation.
“I hope this will be a catalyst, a domino effect and that others will follow to have the premier gone,” Mr. Webber told the Calgary Herald.
Rumours about disgruntled MLAs have been circulating for months, but today, news reports suggest that up to 18 or 20 PC MLAs were ready to revolt against the premier. Feeding these rumours was the noticeable absence of Labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk from this week’s big LRT funding announcement, at which he was the only Edmonton-area PC MLA not in attendance.
Feeding the unrest is the obvious double standard Ms. Redford held between herself and her party’s MLAs. More than a few PC MLAs were insulted by Ms. Redford’s decision during the last election to force them to pay out of pocket for payments received from the infamous no-meet committee. And in February 2013, Ms. Redford fired Calgary MLA Christine Cusanelli from cabinet after another travel expenses scandal, even though she had immediately repaid the cost before the story became public.
Ms. Redford’s own MLAs may be more eager to see her depart than the opposition. While Wildrose leader Danielle Smith is never hesitant to criticize Ms. Redford, her party is hoping the premier’s scandals will cause irreparable damage to the PC Party brand before the next election. A new leader would force the opposition to build a new strategy and the give the PC Party an opportunity to reinvent itself before the 2016 election.
Will paying the costs of the South Africa trip be enough to save Ms. Redford’s political career? It might, but it also might also be too little, too late. Albertans will applaud her decision to pay back the costs of this trip, but they might not easily forget how much pressure it took to convince Ms. Redford to write the cheque.