Alberta Premier Alison Redford's First Month Marked By Progress, Controversy
EDMONTON - How many Alberta Tories does it take to change a light bulb?
Just one. No, two. No, six.
Wait, we're putting all bulb replacements on hold pending a full review of power needs.
Except for one bulb. That one we'll change.
And we only need one person to do it.
No, we need two. No, six.
New Alberta Premier Alison Redford's government officially turns one-month old on Monday.
It has been 30 days of whirlwind change matched by hallway snickers and Internet jokes about whether it's a government taking flight or whether it's just plain flighty.
"It's early days, so one should cut her a bit of slack, but the first month has been disappointing," said political scientist Doreen Barrie at the University of Calgary.
"She promised this administration would bring a breath of fresh air, but I think there's a familiar sour smell around her."
Since being sworn in as premier Oct. 7, Redford has stripped the gears on the government's car, slammed some of predecessor Ed Stelmach's policies into reverse and rammed new ones into overdrive.
It began with a bang on Oct. 12 when she restored $107 millon that had been cut from school budgets.
And she's put the wheels in motion to deliver on other pledges.
Two controversial high-voltage power lines are on hold pending a review of whether they're needed.
Proposed legislation on stiffer fines and penalties for drunk drivers and those caught close to being drunk may come as early as the resumption of the fall sitting Nov. 21.
A bill setting a fixed election dates is to pass before Christmas.
Redford has proven herself adept at handling question period.
The 46-year-old lawyer stymied Opposition Liberal Leader Raj Sherman on his first day in the house as party leader. He got up and suggested that reports of the government consulting with energy companies on changes to incentive programs smacked of collusion or worse.
Under Stelmach, such questions often led to long-winded evasions or counter-accusations — fodder for face-time on supper-hour TV news shows.
Redford simply stared back.
Interesting but unproven, she said. We'll look into it and get back to you.
"The facts will be made publicly available," added Redford, who left Sherman nowhere to go but to fall back on the same accusations.
It's a case of gifts for political friends, said Sherman.
We'll look into it, said Redford.
It's insider information, he countered.
We'll look into it, said Redford.
"What I've said often to my nine-year-old is that just because you say something over and over again doesn't make it true," she sighed as Sherman continued to hammer away. A report found no wrongdoing.
Redford's gung-ho style has also led to erratic and contradictory decisions.
She promised a new era of transparency and a different way of doing business, but has been criticized for finding cabinet or government jobs for all her leadership rivals — as well as Kelley Charlebois, a former aide to candidate Gary Mar and a man once implicated in a patronage scandal.
Barrie said the job handouts were particularly disappointing given that few legislature members supported Redford in her leadership campaign.
"She didn't owe anybody for her victory. She could have charted a brand new, radical course."
Redford promised consultations with the public on the budget, but the sessions will be held in private with hand-picked, unnamed people.
Her government indeed put two high-voltage power lines on hold, but originally said it would be three. Redford chalked it up to a "miscommunication."
After she won the leadership, Redford cancelled the fall sitting because caucus wasn't ready. Days later, she said it was. A few days after that, she said the fall sitting resuming Oct. 24 would go for only two days before a month-long recess.
"I've sat longer in emergency waiting rooms than the average PC MLA has sat in the legislature," Tweeted NDP partisan Lou Arab.
Legislation ready to go this fall, an overhaul of the Education Act, has been shelved. It took three years of consultation, but was pulled for more consultation.
Minor announcements have been trumpeted like royal proclamations and major ones tossed over the transom.
On Oct. 24, the first day of the fall sitting, the premier delivered an emergency speech on the global economic crisis that became a reiteration of campaign pledges.
One pledge she didn't address was a fixed election date — a promise she made as a candidate but had not publicly followed up on. All signs pointed to a long wait.
Redford said last week the bill wouldn't be ready until consultations were done. Government house leader Dave Hancock said a fixed date affected so many other bills, legislation couldn't be thrown together willy-nilly.
But on Thursday Redford announced the proposal would be ready for the continuation of the fall sitting — a fundamental change in how Albertans will vote slipped in as an aside on a Calgary morning TV chat show.
It is the shifting promises on alleged health-care misdeeds that have critics smelling blood.
In her campaign, Redford promised an independent inquiry led by a judge to get to the bottom of allegations that politicians were letting buddies jump the health care queue and that doctors have been stripped of authority for speaking out on problems.
The hearing could be a public relations H-bomb for the government, with ministers interrogated under oath and potentially embarrassing information coming to light.
Last week, Redford said it might be better to leave the inquiry to a panel of doctors with beefed-up investigatory power on the arm's-length Health Quality Council.
That shifted days later, when her chief of staff told a newspaper columnist the judge-led inquiry was back on.
The premier later agreed the judge-focused plan was back on, but perhaps with a judge operating under the umbrella of the council.
The opposition parties have signed a joint letter urging the premier to keep her word, but opposition NDP leader Brian Mason said not even the government knows what will happen.
"They're just making it up as they go along," he said.