A group of at least 10 Alberta Progressive Conservative MLAs gathered Sunday night, ahead of a caucus meeting, to express their dissatisfaction with Premier Alison Redford’s leadership and consider sitting as independents.
“We didn’t have a vote, but I’ll tell you there were some significant concerns that were brought up,” Edmonton-Riverview MLA Steve Young said after the closed meeting, held at a downtown office building.
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The gathering came at the end of a tumultuous week for Redford in which one of her MLAs left caucus and a Tory riding association president publicly called for her resignation.
“We shouldn’t have to be surprised when we’re talking about the elephant in the room,” Young said. “And we had a group of MLAs talking about that: the elephant in the room.”
Other MLAs who attended the two-hour, closed-door meeting included Moe Amery, Neil Brown, Ken Lemke, Jacquie Fenske, Mary Anne Jablonski, Matt Jeneroux, Cathy Olesen, Janice Sarich and David Xiao.
Few fielded questions as they left. Jablonski said the group was “talking about policy.” Lemke merely referred to the event as a “potluck supper.”
None of those asked would say whether they still support Redford in her capacity as premier.
Young said the group discussed the controversies surrounding Redford, as well as her recent meeting with PC party executives in Calgary.
He said when the group dispersed, everyone was still a member of the Conservative caucus — but that quitting caucus to sit as independents was “certainly an option” for him and his colleagues.
Young also made no predictions as to what would happen at Monday morning’s caucus meeting.
“I don’t know. It will be interesting,” he said. “But I’m hoping that people will actually speak out and express their concerns.”
Turbulent political week
Last week, Redford, facing mounting pressure from both the opposition and members of her own caucus, said she had personally repaid the controversial $45,000 cost of her trip to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s memorial.
But the move did not pacify Calgary-Foothills MLA Len Webber, who announced the next day he had quit the Conservative caucus to sit as an independent. Webber called Redford’s “forced” apology to the public for her trip expenses the “final straw.”
“She is just really not a nice lady — I can be honest with you there,” he said. “I cannot work for an individual who treats people poorly, who treats our taxpaying dollars poorly.”
Webber said Redford’s disrespectful attitude towards him and his colleagues had grown intolerable.
“I have seen the abuse firsthand, not only to me but to others as well — fits of rage, temper tantrums. It’s just something that I cannot support. It’s just something that I cannot be a part of any longer.”
Amid rumours that as many as 20 MLAs would follow Webber’s lead, PC party executives met with Redford on Saturday in Calgary. The discussion, according to those in attendance, turned “brutal” at times, ending with the executives presenting Redford with a work plan. There were no immediate details about what that plan will entail.
Redford said she heard “lots of perspectives” at the meeting on how she should lead the party, but no one had asked her to resign.
Only a day earlier, Steve Robson, president of the Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview PC riding association, said Redford has endangered the party’s chances of winning the next election.
“Her leadership has slammed the door from all the people that got the party to where it is,” he said. “I don’t like what I see going forward for the PCs’ chance with Alison as the leader.”
'There’s clearly a problem'
Redford’s caucus will gather Monday morning, after a cabinet meeting. Young said he welcomes the opportunity to address the premier.
“I have some concerns about some of the decisions and practices that have been happening,” he said. “And I think it’s only fair to say it to her directly.
"There’s clearly a problem. Many of us are going to disagree on how to define that problem, but there is a problem. And we need to move forward and deal with that problem, one way or another.”
Young said he hopes other MLAs will join him in airing their concerns.
“I have taken some grief from speaking out to the media on my position on certain issues,” he said. “And I intend to do that, without holding back.
"And if there are consequences, so be it. And I think many of my colleagues are seeing the same thing.”