EDMONTON – Just 29 months after Alberta Premier Alison Redford stood at the base of the grand stairs in the legislature rotunda to take the oath of office, she stood at the same spot Wednesday and quit.
Alberta’s 14th premier, bludgeoned and beaten by revelations of lavish spending and facing an expanding caucus revolt, said the turmoil had taken an intolerable toll.
“Quite simply, I am not prepared to allow party and caucus infighting to get in the way of building a better future for our province,” she told supporters who jammed the ground floor of the rotunda and looked down from the floors above.
“That is why I am announcing today that, with a profound optimism for Alberta’s future, I am resigning as premier of Alberta effective this Sunday evening.”
Redford held her emotions in check, but caught herself as she talked about the importance her husband Glen and 12-year-old daughter, Sarah.
“They have been a rock through all of this and no words can thank them for what they mean to me.”
Standing to her side and around the rotunda were staffers, fellow Tory members of the legislature and cabinet ministers.
As she announced she was quitting, someone in the gallery started chanting “Alison, Alison, Alison!”
“It’s a sad day to see her go,” said Edmonton Tory member Dave Dorward.
“I was a firm Premier Redford fan. I think she’s a great premier and did a whole bunch for Alberta that only maybe years from now we’ll be able to see the effect of that.”
“I’m a little bit in shock,” said Justice Minister Jonathan Denis.
Denis said it was clear there was a crack in caucus.
“I think she’s done the honourable thing and decided to step aside so someone could continue on with the agenda.”
Red Deer Tory Mary Anne Jablonski agreed: “I think the premier did what she had to do for the sake of the party and the caucus.
“She did the right thing.”
Redford’s fall was the stuff of Greek tragedy, a ruler of immense power in a province bursting with newcomers and leading the nation in growth, done in by her own hubris.
She was a premier who cut the earnings of others while jetting herself and her friends around in government aircraft, showering her inner circle with six-figure salaries that dwarfed those earned even by top people in the White House.
The spiral to Wednesday’s resignation began weeks ago, when it surfaced that she had spent $45,000 on first-class air tickets and a government plane to go to Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa.
Other revelations fell like hammer blows: Redford using government planes for a vacation; to fly her daughter and her daughter’s friends around; to go to a family funeral in Vancouver.
There were calls for her to repay the money for the South Africa trip. She apologized, but at first refused to pay the money back, and then did so only after tensions within her caucus spilled into the public realm.
She was punished in the polls, with some suggesting that as many as four out of five Albertans had turned thumbs down on her leadership and preferred the Opposition Wildrose as the next government.
Last week, things went from bad to worse when Redford’s character came into question.
Calgary backbencher Len Webber quit the Tory caucus, saying he could no longer stomach Redford’s temper tantrums and abuse of subordinates. She wasn’t a “nice lady,” he said.
On the weekend, Redford, 49, was taken to task by Progressive Conservative party executives in a closed-door meeting. They emerged to say she would be given an unspecified “work plan” to follow.
The turmoil continued.
On Sunday, 10 government members met to debate whether to leave caucus and sit as Independents.
On Monday, Donna Kennedy-Glans, the associate minister for electricity, quit — saying the promised reforms by Redford were dying on the vine.
Redford was mocked in social media and in newspaper cartoons as “Princess Alison” or “Alison Earhart” — the chief pilot of WasteJet, the lone occupant of Redforce One.
Earlier Wednesday, it was reported that riding association presidents in Calgary would meet in the evening to call for her resignation.
But critics have long said it was never just about the trips or the culture of entitlement they suggested.
Alison Redford, they said, fell because in the end nobody knew where she stood.
Redford had been named PC party leader in the fall of 2011 and led the party to victory in an election in 2012 on a platform of progressivism.
She promised to eradicate poverty, boost social spending and invest in education.
A coalition of unions and progressives helped her party to victory over the more right-of-centre Wildrose.
But once elected, Redford moved her own party to the right.
She cut spending to below the levels of inflation plus population, and strong-armed teachers and doctors into taking wage freezes. She slashed post-secondary budgets.
When the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees refused to accept a freeze, she passed a law forcing it on them.
Despite the move, she angered fiscal conservatives, taking Alberta back into long-term debt expected to reach $21 billion by 2017 to pay for new schools and health clinics.
She is the second Tory premier to quit after holding the job for less than five years. Her predecessor, Ed Stelmach, resigned after only four years as he faced a caucus revolt of his own over a budget.
The party caucus will meet Thursday to decide on the process for naming an interim leader. Then the party’s board of directors will meet Monday in Red Deer to decide how to pick the next premier.
“The PC party constitution requires a leadership selection to be held when the position of leader becomes vacant,” party president Jim McCormick said. “That process can take no less than four months and no more than six months from when the leader resigns.”
The Tories still hold 58 of the 87 seats in the legislature. By law, the next provincial election must be held by the spring of 2016.
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said Redford failed because she couldn’t change a party that, after four decades in power, sees the spoils of the public purse as its birthright.
“This party is done and it cannot be fixed,” said Smith.
In Smith’s estimation, as with other critics, the meteoric rise and tragic fall of Alberta’s first female leader is not the stuff of legends or myth.
It was simply a train wreck.
A gravy train wreck.