How Redford’s Missteps Led To The Wildrose Downfall

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Alberta

AlbertaCALGARY – POLITICS – The late, great Rod Love believed fervently that democracy turns on small things.

Over a longish lunch at Buon Giorno restaurant on 17th Avenue S.W. many years ago, Love related to a listening reporter the lesson he and Ralph Klein learned in that regard, and how it shaped their whole approach to politics.

During Klein’s stint as Calgary’s mayor, he was faced with returning surplus cash from utilities charges to Calgarians or simply plowing it back into city revenues. The amount was so small in the context of overall city spending that it hardly justified the cost of mailing the cheques to individual households. Or so Klein and Love reasoned. Kazillion-volt citizen outrage ensued.

“It taught us that you never know what will get people’s attention, what they’ll react to, what will make them mad. Everything in politics is how you respond to the small things you didn’t see coming.”

Love, who of course died far too young in October, also claimed to have developed the habit from that experience of reading only the headlines of newspaper stories. Headlines, he said, were the quintessential condensations of common understanding of the political issues of the day. He meant it as massive compliment to the common sense of ordinary Albertans and Canadians.

Proof of his perspicacity – as if more were needed – is in today’s headlines about the merger between Wildrose and the suddenly revived Alberta Tory party. Behind those headlines is all the evidence necessary for the way in which seemingly minor events of democratic life can provoke major change – productive or destructive – in a person’s life.

Think back, just for a moment, to one year ago when then Premier Alison Redford’s executive assistant, Brad Stables, made the decision that he should accompany his boss on her whirlwind trip to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral. In asking that the premier’s office book him a flight, he can hardly have thought that he would be altering Alberta’s political landscape. Short of fleeting thoughts about the plane they we’re on crashing, few of us now consider mere international travel to be life changing in and of itself.

But, of course, it was. Controversy erupted over the $45,000 cost and led to questions that unearthed revelations that sparked the resignation of Redford as premier in March and as an MLA in August. At the time, the taxpayer outlay for the South Africa trip must have seemed, in the context of overall spending by the Alberta government, almost too small to matter. Yet ultimately, it killed one political career, kick-started another and appears to have put the kibosh on the Wildrose party’s prospects of ending the Tory dynasty.

There are those who would argue it’s always a sequence of events evincing a particular set of misbegotten political postures that are responsible for such seismic shifts. Nothing ever turns on one thing alone. In Redford’s case, it’s become boilerplate to blame her downfall on her imperial appetites: the South Africa trip only exemplified her boorish sense of entitlement, which was truly her undoing.

That’s true to a certain extent. It’s also backward cast thinking. If young Mr. Stables doesn’t book a flight, if the cost is half what it turned out to be, if Premier Redford sees citizen outrage building and short circuits it . . . there’s no March resignation. No Jim Prentice leadership. No talk of merger between Wildrose and the Tories. Everything in politics is how you respond to the small things you didn’t see coming.

Somewhere in the section of heaven set aside for political operatives of special wisdom, Rod Love is reading tomorrow’s headlines and smiling.

Peter Stockland


 

Peter Stockland is publisher of Convivium magazine and a senior fellow with Cardus think-tank.

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