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Flippity flop flip... has Alison Redford's Alberta government 'jumped the shark' already?

Alberta Premier Alison Redford

Is this the worst start ever, or what?

Barely sworn in as Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta, Alison Redford's flip-flop yesterday on the Heartland Transmission Line has seasoned political observers wondering if the Redford Government has already "jumped the shark."

This comes hard on the heels of Premier Redford's double flip-flop on the fall sitting of the Legislature described in this space a few hours earlier yesterday, not to mention the controversy over $600,000 in unpaid debts owed by a company owned by her just-appointed chief of staff.

If yesterday was an example of a shark-jumping moment, the decline of Redford's political reputation from the high point of the Conservative leaders' debate on Sept. 28 to the ignominy of the Heartland switcheroo on Oct. 21 must surely mark one of the swiftest implosions of political credibility in recorded history.

To turn Vietnam-era U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson's sage observation about politics on its head, "Son, in politics you've got to learn that overnight chicken salad can turn to chicken sh…"

"Jumping the shark," for those of you who have missed it hitherto, is a TV industry idiom used to describe the moment when a long-running TV series runs out of the ideas that made it a success and moves beyond recovery into irrelevance. It's a reference to the moment in the 1977 season when the Fonz jumped the shark on water skis in an episode of the TV sitcom Happy Days.

Since the election of a new Tory leader was supposed to put an end to the blundering of the government of former premier Ed Stelmach, Redford's accident-prone first days are bound to make Albertans wonder if the entire 40-year-old Tory dynasty has finally jumped the shark. For their part, of course, the Conservative brain trust in Redford's cabinet and among her advisors is no doubt, like Fonzie, thinking "Whaaaaaaaaaaat?"

Yesterday morning, Energy Minister Ted Morton announced the government was putting three major power line projects on hold -- including the expensive and highly controversial Heartland Transmission Line that's supposed to run from Edmonton to Fort McMurray to power the oil-extraction mines of the Alberta Tar Patch.

Huge sighs of relief were heard from many folks -- including plenty of conservative politicians in places the Heartland line is supposed to traverse -- because the project and the Stelmach Government's legislative framework to fast-track transmission line approval and expropriate land aroused such passions throughout rural Alberta and gave an effective wedge issue for the farther-right Wildrose Party.

The potential multi-billion-dollar cost of the transmission lines also left Albertans deeply fearful of what will happen to their already sky-high electricity bills.

The general consensus was the that government intended to defuse Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith's exploitation of the property-rights wedge until after the next provincial election.

However, by the middle of the afternoon, Redford had pulled the plug on her minister's announcement -- the Heartland part of it, anyway. The premier tried to explain the latest flip-flop away as a miscommunication with her minister, just an early-days woopsie. But it's hard to shake the feeling that someone with real clout put in a call to the premier's office to say the line must go ahead, now, and that was that.

This has plenty of Albertans shaking their heads at Redford's seeming trail of missteps. As Linda Osinchuk, mayor of Strathcona County (home of the non-city of Sherwood Park, the world's largest legal village) told Global TV: "If it's going to reverse itself, now that would be terrible for future elections, I would think, for this particular party, for this brand new premier, for this brand new caucus."

Of course, that's exactly what every one of Alberta's opposition parties, right, centre and left is hoping and praying will happen.

Meanwhile, there's evidence that the potential for new miscues by the Redford Government has not yet exhausted itself.

Alert readers will recall how the government of Redford's predecessor really went over the edge with the hospital overcrowding crisis this time last year. It was soon apparent that the Stelmach Government didn't have a clue in a carload how to deal with the situation -- which was only defused when Stelmach appointed the soothing Gene Zwozdesky as minister of health and we were persuaded things were getting back on track.

Now, just days after Redford chose not to put the competent Zwozdesky back in her cabinet, the same physicians whose public statements sounded the warning on last year's Emergency Room crowding crisis are back in the news saying much the same thing.

They say the problem is unresolved -- this government's unwillingness to build public long-term care facilities, leaving patients who should be in long-term care in acute-care beds and backing up the system into the province's Emergency Rooms. The result will likely be the same, they say, especially as the fall rush and flu season hits the province's Emergency Departments.

So, is the Redford Government up to handling a full-blown Emergency Room crisis just like last year? After this fumbling start? With the same old suspects sitting in the senior spots around the cabinet table -- including Ron Liepert, the champion of privatizing long-term care, now the finance minister?

Never mind sharks. This is starting to sound like another one of LBJ's pithy assessments, this time of Richard Nixon: "He's like a Spanish horse, who runs faster than anyone for the first nine lengths and then turns around and runs backward. You'll see, he'll do something wrong in the end. He always does."

Surely this can't be all she wrote about the Alberta Tories?

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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