Alberta Premier Alison Redford would appear to be unassailable.
A recent cross-Canada poll by Angus Reid found her to be the country's second-most popular premier after Saskatchewan's Brad Wall, with a 55-per-cent approval rating among Alberta voters. That's practically "beloved" territory!
Another poll conducted last month by Trend Research of Edmonton put her in an even more commanding position, with 62 per cent approval of the way she is doing her job as premier and her party enjoying the support of 49 per cent of the voters, up from 44 per cent on April 23 when they were re-elected as Alberta's government.
That compares to 27 per cent for the Wildrose Party (down from 34 per cent on voting day) and 42 per cent for the Wildrose Leader, Danielle Smith, according to the Trend poll.
Nevertheless, while you may not have read about this in the media, there are clouds on Redford's horizon, and her personal political weather forecast is -- if not exactly stormy -- not all sunshine and sweet breezes.
Premier Redford's troubles aren't with the Alberta public, at least not yet, and they aren't really with the Opposition parties. On the left, they are too small to have much impact. On the right, the Wildrose Party is not yet experienced enough to punch up to its 17-member weight.
No, her problem is with her own caucus, which to be blunt about this, doesn't really like her very much.
Now, this is all inside baseball, as they say -- but, really, really if you love politics, that’s the only kind of ball that counts! Correct?
Redford's problem in a nutshell goes like this: Back before her election as leader, she wasn't the most popular kid in premier Ed Stelmach's cabinet. She was sharp-tongued, critical of her colleagues and didn't have many friends. That's why when she ran for the leadership, she had the support of only one caucus member, lacklustre Calgary backbencher Art Johnston.
She still doesn't have many friends in caucus. The difference is, now she's the boss.
Redford was never what you'd call a touchy-feely politician. I've never heard of her, like long-ago British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, making grown men, cabinet ministers to boot, weep. But like the Iron Lady, there's little doubt that she could do it if she wished.
Actually, nowadays, her cabinet is pretty happy. They're the insiders. They get listened to, and respected.
But if you're a rank and file Alberta Progressive Conservative MLA, and you're not in cabinet, you are, as Pierre Trudeau might have put it back in the day, a nobody.
When the Tory caucus meets nowadays, members aren't consulted about their thoughts and ideas as they were in the days of premiers Stelmach and Ralph Klein. They sit in rows and are handed their marching orders. And those orders, insiders report, read like this: "March or die!" A lot of them are not happy about it.
In addition to their high-handed treatment by the premier and her inner circle, Alberta government insiders say at least three groups in the caucus will resent her forever for the way she campaigned for the leadership, ably assisted by her sometime chief strategist and chief of staff Stephen Carter.
These groups are:
1) Ralph Klein loyalists -- mad at the way she characterized their hero for leaving the government in a shambles once he’d finished attacking the province's debt
2) Ed Stelmach loyalists -- who also feel their former boss was unfairly disparaged and pushed aside
3) Gary Mar loyalists -- furious at how Redford and Carter trashed their guy’s reputation during the leadership race, then kicked him when he was down over his fundraising activities
Folks from each of these three groups (which sometimes have rather blurred edges) are already grumbling, accusing the premier of ideological shiftiness and looking hopefully to the future for an opportunity to tape a "Kick Me" sign to her back when she's not looking.
Staff members who are not part of the premier's personal Praetorian guard, meanwhile, miss the days of Stelmach's good cheer and inclusive friendliness as the current premier blows by them without so much as a regal wave, and mutter darkly about some of her current favourites.
In other words, it's a snakepit!
For her part, here's betting that Redford believes she succeeded despite her caucus and her party, which she reckons had long ago wandered away from the path of righteousness as defined by the now-sainted Peter Lougheed. Indeed, to stick with the religious metaphor, she may think the party was only resurrected because she returned it to the straight and narrow. There are those who believe she is right, of course.
The trouble with this is that it's not the voters or the Opposition who are likely to cause Redford the biggest problems in the next couple of years -- it's her own troops.
Remember, it wasn't voters who brought down either Klein or Lady Thatcher, it was dissidents in the ranks of their own parties. This can -- and does -- happen in the Parliamentary system.
Moreover, here in Alberta, disenfranchised Tories have a home to run away too if things get to be too much for them in the form of the Opposition Wildrose caucus. Could there be more defections to the Wildrose? Not just yet, maybe, but in a word, yes.
Meanwhile, Redford is without her rainmaker. Carter has all but disappeared.
With B.C. Premier Christy Clark, a conservative Liberal, desperately low in the polls, facing an election in less than eight months, having just been forced to fire her chief of staff for unspecified naughtiness, who would want to bet against Carter showing up in Victoria with a smile on his face and a nice apartment overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca?
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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