Alison Redford - 14th Premier of Alberta - is premier no more. She leaves behind her a trail of fiscal wreckage, but not without a few significant bright spots for which she deserves due credit.
Just before the 2012 election, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) threw a stun-grenade onto the floor of the legislature, making known to Albertans the now infamous 'No-Meet Committee,' a group of MLAs paid for sitting on a committee, which hadn't met in over three years. The premier's first reaction was to claim it was a non-issue and a distraction. Move on folks.
But she eventually realized that Albertans were steaming mad about this, and went nuclear on it. She abolished all committee pay and promised that her MLAs would pay the money back. She may have been forced into it during an election, but it was the right thing to do.
In the business of routinely telling Canadians how much money politicians are taking with them when they leave, the CTF also released how much retiring or potentially defeated MLAs were eligible to receive in severance packages. It was damning stuff, and another big fire to put out in the election. The premier didn't think it was all a big deal at first, but she caught on soon enough. Like "No-Meet Committee" pay, she announced that gold-plated severance packages for MLAs were gone. At least, after the 2012 election quitters and losers got their cheque.
Quite commendably, she said that she wouldn't take one of those fat cheques herself. Albertans will hold her to her word on that one, but it was the right thing to do.
Following the election, she rejected an 'expert' committee recommendation to re-instate gold-plated MLA pensions and hike her own pay to over $300,000.
In the fall of 2012, the CTF released hundreds of expense claims obtained through Freedom of Information requests. Needless to say, they were damning. The documents showed that Redford's Tourism Minister at the time - Christine Cusanelli - had expensed first class flights to the London Olympics for her mother and daughter. This, Allaudin Merali's scandals at Alberta Health Services and other expense scandals engulfed her government.
What did the Premier do? She announced a nation-leading expense disclosure system that should make our federal MPs and Senators ashamed. Again, it was the right thing to do.
One year later, media outlets (and the CTF again) began snooping around for the severance package paid out to Alison Redford's former chief of staff, Stephen Carter. Rejecting Freedom of Information requests for the contract - even though it was legally required to be released by law - threw her government into yet another crisis. Her answer to it - after much political blood had been spilt - was to go nuclear again. She would make up for this screw-up by introducing a salary and severance disclosure "sunshine list." Her sunshine list fit the bill as the most comprehensive and complete disclosure system of its kind in Canada.
If you're noticing a pattern here, it's because there is one. Redford introduced a number of historic reforms to entitlements and transparency, but only after being forced to do so and with few other options.
It reminds one of a Sir Winston Churchill's (alleged) quote that "America can always be counted upon to do the right thing... after exhausting all other options."
And while she deserves credit for eventually doing the right thing "after exhausting all other options," she only did so for the relatively easy things: MLA pay and expenses, staff severance disclosure, etc. On big, budgetary issues, she was an unmitigated disaster as premier.
She won the Progressive Conservative leadership and the 2012 General Election, in part, on a promise to "balance the budget by 2012-13 without raising taxes." Unfortunately, she also promised a raft of new spending programs that made her other promises impossible to keep.
After Stelmach's long string of deficits, she inherited a minuscule deficit of just over $200 million. So close, yet, so far. Redford took that $200 million deficit to approximately $4 billion last year, and just tabled a budget a few weeks ago that will run a $3.9 billion this year. If her successor follows her current budget plan, Alberta will run deficits for the foreseeable future, with no balanced budget in sight.
Alison Redford's real claim to fame in the history books of Alberta will be as the premier who returned Alberta to debt. Premier Alison Redford - and her finance minister Doug Horner - took Alberta from Ralph Klein's "Paid in Full," to $8.3 billion in debt as of March 20, 2014. Unless her successor radically changes course, Alberta will have a debt of $21 billion by fiscal 2016-17.
And while she did it, she tore up Alberta's best financial transparency legislation, repealing the Fiscal Responsibility Act and the Government Accountability Act. Redford's "big picture" fiscal legacy is ruinous, and will require a bold leader with real fiscal conservative credentials to clean up. For Alberta's sake, let's hope that the PC Party chooses such a successor.
While her legacy of transparency and eventually doing the right thing will be remembered, her last fix came too late.
Her repayment of $45,000 for her South Africa junket came about four or five weeks too late. As with the others, it was the right thing to do, but it was clear Albertans just didn't have it in them to overlook this one, especially after being angry for so long.
While she leaves a fiscal mess in her wake, we should always give our elected official the benefit of the doubt when they say that they are in office for the right reasons; that they are here to improve our community, our city, our province and our country.
Alison Redford deserves that much.