Premier Alison Redford, one year after the election

It has been a rocky 12 months since Alberta's first female premier raised her arms in victory at the Metropolitan Centre in downtown Calgary
Alison Redford celebrates after Albertans elected another majority Progressive Conservative government on April 23, 2012. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press )

One year ago, Alison Redford defied predictions by holding off strong competition from the Wildrose Party to lead the Progressive Conservatives to another majority government.

However, it has been a rocky 12 months since Alberta’s first female premier raised her arms in victory at the Metropolitan Centre in downtown Calgary.

Recent polls suggest Redford has slid in popular support.  Her government has been hit by a number of scandals, including inappropriate expense claims from health executives and illegal political donations to the PC party.

The province’s finances have taken a turn for the worse, which had led to program cuts, salary freezes and layoffs.

Members of Redford’s cabinet also waged high-profile battles with teachers and doctors over pay.

On Monday, Redford attributed her drop in popularity to measures taken to deal with a dramatic drop in resource revenue.

"We did say that there would be some tough times and we did have to make some choices that impacted people," she said.

"And so from that perspective, I can understand why some of that might be reflected."

‘Bitumen bubble’ blamed for financial woes

But many of Redford’s critics say the province’s financial problems could have been easily avoided if her government cut back on spending and stopped relying so heavily on resource revenue.

Redford set herself up for more criticism by blaming the problem on the so-called "bitumen bubble" — the differential between the price for West Texas Intermediate oil and Alberta crude. .

In an address televised in January, Redford said the bitumen bubble meant that Alberta would take a $6 billion hit in revenue this year.

But a former Tory cabinet minister dismissed the suggestion that this phenomenon is something that should have taken the government by surprise. 

Lloyd Snelgrove, the former Treasury Board president who left politics after Redford didn’t name him to cabinet, said the differential has always been a factor in the province’s finances.

"That might work for people who don't follow the financial history of Alberta but we had been made aware, we had talked about it in government five or six years ago," Snelgrove said.

"The departments knew of the risk, they made us aware of it, so either they weren’t going to listen the departments or they chose to ignore what would just be common sense."

Snelgrove believes that Redford made promises during the election knowing that the province didn’t have the money to pay for them.

Teachers not happy

Redford was widely believed to have won the leadership partly with the support of teachers.

Shortly after becoming premier in October 2011, Redford restored $107 million in education funding, which allowed school boards to hire back laid-off teachers.

During the provincial election, she also promised to build 50 new schools and renovate 70 more over a four-year period.

But Redford’s relationship with teachers has become strained over the past year.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association fought with Education Minister Jeff Johnson over a new collective agreement, reaching a deal only after Redford stepped in.

Outgoing ATA president Carol Henderson commends Redford for taking action on contract talks but says she’s broken too many promises.

"It’s been a very difficult year... We had a lot of interference from the minister which surprised us," Henderson said.

"We had some promises from this government for sustainable funding, for ending achievement tests and it's just not happened. So it's been a disappointment that way."

Henderson said Redford needs to start keeping her promises for education.

"I think teachers, I do think that they got involved in the last election, and I think they have a problem with getting people out to vote,"  she said.

"But I think a lot of — not just our members — but other people will once again throw up their hands and stay home on election day and I think that would be really unfortunate."

Redford has focused her efforts by promoting what she calls the Canadian Energy Strategy and lobbying in Washington for the Keystone XL pipeline.

While this raises her profile outside the province, political science professor Chaldeans Mensah of MacEwan University said she has to repair her relationship with progressive Albertans who played a key role in getting her elected.

"The good news is she is in the initial stages and the prospects for recovery are good if she can change her style, try to win back those progressives who’ve abandoned her and try to carve out political space away from the Wildrose party," he said.

Although the next provincial election is three years away, Redford faces her next big test when the party holds a mandatory leadership review at its annual general meeting in November.

With files from the CBC's Kim Trynacity