Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press
A defection from Alberta's Progressive Conservative caucus yesterday has sparked concerns about Premier Alison Redford's leadership.
Calgary-Foothills MLA Len Webber quit the PC caucus Thursday and will sit as an independent to protest the leadership of Redford.
"She's just really not a nice lady — I can be honest with you there. I cannot work for an individual who treats people poorly, who treats our taxpaying dollars poorly," the 53-year-old backbencher told reporters Thursday morning.
Webber said the premier is prone to tantrums and fits of rage.
Redford declined comment on Webber's resignation as she left the Government House yesterday where her caucus was meeting without her to hash out matters in a private discussion.
There have been rumours that other MLAs were also considering whether to leave.
Steve Robson, president of the PC association in the Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview riding, believes that Redford needs to step down as party leader.
“I don't think we will win the next election with Alison Redford as the premier and, as a party member, I want to see that dynasty carry on.”
Robson says Redford’s decision on Wednesday to pay back the $45,000 she spent on travel to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral in December came far too late. Redford had worked for Mandela years ago.
Support for the premier is declining rapidly, Robson said, adding that Redford’s office won’t accept outside advice.
“It strikes me that it's a very closed door,” he said. “It's her way without a lot of interest in what the other MLAs have to say, and I don't like that.”
Redford a strong leader, says deputy premier
Deputy Premier Dave Hancock said as far as he knows, no one else is leaving caucus and measures will be in place to make sure everyone feels they have a voice.
While Webber had already announced his intention to seek the Conservative nomination in the new federal riding of Calgary Confederation, he said Thursday he can no longer be part of the caucus led by Redford.
Webber said he has personally felt Redford's sting.
"She has treated me with disrespect. I have told her head-on, before the leadership review (last November), that I would not be supporting her because of the way she treats people," he said.
Hancock, house leader Robin Campbell and Health Minister Fred Horne said they have not seen any examples of abusive behaviour on the part of the premier.
Hancock said Redford is a strong leader and described Webber as a very sad man who was unhappy about losing the cabinet post he held under former premier Ed Stelmach.
But political analysts say Redford needs to rally her caucus if she wants to remain leader.
She faces an uphill climb, said Lori Williams, an associate political science professor at Calgary's Mount Royal University.
"It is possible that she can bring this out of the fire, but there's a lot of damage that's been done. A lot of questions about her brand, if you like — her image, her character — that have been raised about her effectiveness as a leader."
Dwindling poll numbers
Since the last election, Williams said Redford has alienated labour groups and many members of her own party, which has led to dwindling poll numbers.
Political scientist Chaldeans Mensah said Progressive Conservative MLAs have a lot to consider before leaving caucus.
"First of all you're jeopardizing your opportunity to be re-elected," he said. "People don't really take kindly to floor-crossers, right, so there's a danger there. Secondly you're going to alienate a whole group of your caucus members — former caucus members — right, so ... I don't see a wholesale defection."
Mensah said right now caucus has the power. Members who emerged from a meeting Thursday seem to be united in standing behind Redford up to this point.
"The shift we are seeing is a shift to the caucus — the caucus has been empowered — and they will have to decide whether they can work with this leader or [if] they're ready for a change," he said.
Flight costs a sore point
Many complaints about the premier have stemmed from the costs surrounding her $45,000 South Africa trip to attend the Mandela service.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil spent less than $1,000 to make the same trip.
But Redford has also been under pressure for her use of Alberta government aircraft on several other occasions.
Although she eventually repaid the money, some people aren't happy about the spending.
Others believe Redford is being punished for mistakes that her male predecessors were given free passes for.
The Calgary Herald is reporting former premier Ralph Klein wasted more than $250,000 on the misuse of government planes in 2003 and 2004, but he managed to dodge scrutiny for the misspending.
Party directors to meet
PC Party president Jim McCormick said he expects much more discussion this weekend when party directors hold a meeting. Redford is expected to attend.
"I think the conversations and discussions and concerns about the $45,000 will continue," he said.
Despite the complaints, McCormick said the party never considered using its own money to cover the cost of Redford's trip.
Political scientist Duane Bratt said there is growing speculation about whether Redford will run for the PCs in the next election. She is the first female premier in Alberta's history, serving in the role since Oct. 7, 2011.
There is no constitutional mechanism in the party to remove her. There was a leadership review, but she passed that test with a 77 per cent approval rating.
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