03/15/2012 04:28 EDT | Updated 05/15/2012 05:12 EDT

Alberta Premier Redford becoming regular no-show in legislature question period

EDMONTON - With an election looming and her party getting beaten up over scandals, Alberta Premier Alison Redford has become a regular no-show during legislature question period.

Redford was in the legislature building Thursday but skipped question period to complete other work, said her spokesperson, Kim Misik.

"There is other business she has to take care of, and unfortunately she can't be in the house," said Misik.

It was Redford's fifth no-show in the last seven legislature sitting days over the past two weeks.

She missed three days last week to travel to speak to decision-makers in the United States. She was absent Wednesday to attend a fund-raising announcement across town at the Telus World of Science.

"Is she not here again?" said Wildrose critic Rob Anderson.

"You know, all you can say is she's running scared.

"This is someone who says she has so much respect for the legislative assembly, (so) where is she? I barely see her."

Opposition Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said by his count Redford has missed question period for half of the spring sitting, which began Feb. 7.

"She’s using taxpayer time and money in a desperate bid to get re-elected," he said.

"Photo ops, radio ads, web ads, publicity blitzes.

"It’s all happening on the taxpayers' dime, and it’s shameful."

Question period — a daily 50-minute cross-floor verbal slugfest — is quietly acknowledged by parties on all sides to be often little more than a theatre of self-serving announcements or grandstanding accusations.

But in recent weeks, the opposition has gleefully forced Redford time and again to rise in the house to speak to a spreading stain of scandals with an election expected to be called in days or weeks.

One imbroglio involves Gary Mar, Redford's former rival for the Progressive Conservative party leadership and currently the Hong Kong-based Asia trade envoy.

Redford suspended Mar without pay last week after learning he may have tacitly offered to open doors in Asia for benefactors who attended a $400-a-plate dinner to help him pay off campaign debts.

The case is now being handled by an independent investigator, but Redford has been criticized from those both inside and outside her party.

Political opponents say she was too quick to hire Mar last fall for the $265,000-a-year job. They note Mar, when serving as a cabinet minister eight years ago, was rebuked by the auditor general for handing out $400,000 in untendered contracts to a former aide. Mar said it was for verbal advice.

Earlier this week, John Chomiak, a senior Tory who organized the Mar fundraiser, said it was a "stupid move" for Redford to suspend Mar without first talking to some of the people involved. Mar says he is innocent.

During the leadership race Mar enjoyed the support of most of the caucus, compared to just a handful of government members for Redford.

The premier has also had to do damage control this week when it was revealed an all-party legislature committee was paying politicians thousands of dollars to sit on a panel that hasn't met in years.

On Monday, Redford froze the committee pay for all her members pending a review.

NDP critic Rachel Notley wondered if Redford is now facing some in-house discord.

"I suspect there may be a problem with how much support she's got in her caucus right now," said Notley.

"Maybe this just isn't a friendly place for her to be right now and it's not just the opposition.

Redford is dealing with fallout on other issues, including a recent report by the Health Quality Council.

The council said a struggling provincial health care system hit the ditch five years ago when the province centralized services. The result, said the report, was more patient suffering and doctors getting punished and ostracized by their bosses for speaking out.

Also, the head of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association recently said the province too often hands out grant money based on who is loyal to the PCs.

Ten Tory riding associations are under investigation for accepting illegal donations, and Tory backbencher Hec Goudreau was demoted last week for warning officials in his riding that they may not get a new school if they keep publicly criticizing the government.

Speaking on a Calgary open-line radio show earlier Thursday, Redford admitted that accusations of Tory entitlement after 40 years in power have gone from irritant to image problem.

"We're seeing some things right now that I think are illustrating what have been, in the past couple of years, problematic," said Redford.

"It's not right and I don't agree with it, either."