EDMONTON – A Tory backbencher in Alberta has announced he is leaving Premier Alison Redford’s caucus because he can no longer work with her.
Len Webber told reporters in Calgary that Redford is disrespectful, a bully and — quote — “not a nice lady.”
Redford has been facing a backlash from a $45,000 trip to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral.
On Wednesday, after weeks of trying to weather the controversy, she said she had repaid the money.
Webber had already announced his intention to seek the Conservative nomination in the new federal riding of Calgary Confederation.
Webber says he plans to sit as an Independent.
The issue began last December, when Redford was invited to join Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other Canadian leaders on a federal flight to South Africa for Mandela’s funeral.
Redford had, before entering politics, worked with Mandela to implement democratic reforms in South Africa.
Redford filed $45,000 in expenses, which included $15,000 for taking the government plane to Ottawa in order to catch the Harper flight, plus first-class air tickets to and from South Africa for her aide, Brad Stables, who was not allowed on Harper’s plane.
In contrast, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, who did not take an aide along, filed expenses under $1,000 for his trip to the funeral.
Other commercial flights were available that day but Redford’s staff said they feared the plane might get held up for de-icing in -3 C weather in Toronto. And rather than take Harper’s flight back, Redford also booked a $10,000 first-class air ticket in order to come home earlier for the swearing-in of her revamped cabinet.
When the true costs surfaced weeks ago, Redford blamed her staff for not following the rules, then accepted the blame, but refused to pay the money back. She said she was on government business.
The trip has become a symbol of what critics call Redford’s extravagant waste of taxpayers’ money and of her own sense of entitlement, with letter writers and cartoonists lampooning her as “Princess Alison.”
On Wednesday, opposition leaders said Redford was paying back the money not out of sincerity but out of political calculation.
In recent weeks, Redford’s government has been beset by regular revelations of other abuse of the government planes.
Last week, Redford admitted she used the planes to fly her daughter’s friends around, and repaid the equivalent air fares of $3,100.
There was a trip back on a government plane from a vacation in Palm Springs and a trip to Vancouver for a family funeral.
This week has brought fresh revelations that at times Redford has flown on her own government plane while another half-empty government plane of other Progressive Conservative MLAs took off around the same time to the same destination.
On Tuesday, the Wildrose revealed that Redford and two other ministers used the government plane to fly to Grande Prairie for a party fundraising dinner in 2012.
Health Minister Fred Horne, who was on the flight, said the party fundraiser coincided with a government announcement on a hospital expansion, but could provide no evidence any news conference took place.
The issue has hammered Redford’s Tories in the polls, including one for Postmedia that suggested Redford’s personal popularity has plummeted to 20 per cent, with the party badly trailing the Opposition Wildrose.
Critics say the issue has struck a chord with everyday Albertans because Redford has made the mantra of her government “living within our means.”
Redford was supposed to attend a meeting with the Saskatchewan and British Columbia premiers in Regina on Thursday, but the Saskatchewan government said the gathering had turned into a conference call.