Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s beleaguered government lost another caucus member today with the resignation of junior cabinet minister Donna Kennedy-Glans.
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The Calgary MLA has resigned as associate minister for electricity and renewable energy and left the Progressive Conservative caucus to sit in the legislature as an independent.
"I’ve been thinking about it for a very, very long time,” the MLA told reporters in Calgary. “In my own guts, it felt right.”
Kennedy-Glans gave several reasons for her departure, including what she calls a culture of entitlement within the party — which has been in power for 43 years — and a slide away from fiscal discipline.
“It’s about change. How does this party effect change from within,” she said. “I don’t know if the premier should resign. I think that’s up to her."
It's not the first time Kennedy-Glans has raised concerns about Redford's leadership. She criticized Redford's handling of the "do-nothing" committee in March 2012 after members were paid $1,000 a month even though the panel did not meet for four years.
Standing ovation for Redford
Redford met with her caucus in Edmonton today for more than two hours, and afterwards she didn't answer questions from reporters about Kennedy-Glans' decision.
Later in the afternoon, Redford was asked in question period whether she still had a mandate.
"To the premier: do you have enough support to keep governing?" NDP Leader Brian Mason asked.
Although Redford received a standing ovation in the legislature, members of the Wildrose opposition were also on their feet applauding, something that wasn't caught on the legislature cameras.
Calgary MLA Len Webber announced he was quitting the PC caucus last Thursday, saying he could no longer be part of a government led by Redford.
The former Tory backbencher is also going to sit as an independent but also has plans to seek the federal Conservative nomination in the riding of Calgary Confederation.
David Stewart, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, says having a cabinet member resign reframes the issue.
"Well, it's obviously an indication that the government is in some difficulty and in some turmoil. It ... lends some credence to the notion that it's not just an issue of cabinet versus caucus, but it's an issue of Premier Redford versus others."
The premier has been under fire in recent weeks from within her party over controversial travel expenses and sagging popularity with Alberta voters.
Redford was roundly criticized for billing taxpayers $45,000 for her trip last year to South Africa for the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. Earlier this month, she agreed to foot the bill herself, but only after weeks of uproar during which more of her travel expenses came under scrutiny.
Redford announced March 4 she would repay $3,156 — the cost of flying to Vancouver for an uncle's funeral and for bringing her daughter's friends along on four other trips.
Other MLAs to follow?
A group of 10 Tory MLAs, not including Kennedy-Glans, met in Edmonton to discuss Redford’s leadership ahead of a caucus meeting Monday.
Finance Minister Doug Horner says those MLAs have a decision to make — stay and make a commitment to the party or go.
But continued infighting is unacceptable, he said.
One Progressive Conservative member is weighing his options. Edmonton-South West MLA Matt Jeneroux is still a member of caucus but isn't ruling out sitting as an independent.
Jeneroux says Wildrose leader Danielle Smith hasn't approached him about joining her party but says he won't run as an independent in the next election, if he leaves the PCs.
In the meantime, Jeneroux is talking to as many of his constituents as possible before he makes a decision.
"There have definitely been things that have concerned me in the last little while with the premier's leadership and it's stuff that I needed a lot of answers to and each caucus meeting I get a few more answers as we go along," he said.
"It's still up in the air for me in terms of what I'm willing to do."
Jeneroux, an MLA who was first elected in 2012, noticed a different attitude from Redford at Monday's caucus meeting
"She sat back and she listened which was refreshing to see that."
Jim Lightbody, a University of Alberta political scientist, described Redford as "up to her neck in the far end of the pasture."
"The one thing that holds this Conservative party together is power and the access to the goodies it brings with it," he said.
"The message is likely to come most vigorously — as it did for Mr. [Ed] Stelmach — from the financiers from the party."
Late Monday night, the president of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, Jim McCormick, issued a brief written statement, saying the party is closely watching the situation along with the government and MLAs.
"As everyone can appreciate, it is a very fluid time," McCormick wrote.
"I am proud of our tens of thousands of volunteers and supporters who continue to stand with the party during this time as we will need their guidance and input in the weeks and months ahead.
"One thing I can say with certainty — we remain committed to the long-term success of the Progressive Conservative Party in this province, and are confident the party will continue to represent Albertans far into the future."
TIMELINE: A look at Alberta MLAs who left caucuses