Alison Redford made history in her political career, but a dramatic rise to power was eclipsed Wednesday by her stunning downfall.
With her government in turmoil and Tory MLAs and party members in open defiance of the leader, Redford announced her resignation Wednesday night, just 896 days after officially becoming Alberta’s first woman premier.
Redford — who lead the party to a come-from-behind majority government with 61 seats in the April 2012 provincial election — said in a hastily-called announcement in the legislature rotunda that she would officially step down on Sunday evening.
“I have given my heart and my soul to this province every single minute of the day for the last two and a half years,” said Redford, who choked up at times but also smiled through much of her seven-minute speech.
“I am not prepared to allow party and caucus infighting to get in the way of building a better future for our province and all Albertans. And that is why I am announcing today, with a profound optimism for Alberta’s future, I am resigning as premier of Alberta.”
The 48-year-old Redford said she fully supported the PC party and will continue to sit as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow, although she did not indicate how long she will stay in the role.
The Tory caucus will meet Thursday morning to either pick an interim leader or to set the process for picking one. Deputy premier Dave Hancock and Redford met for a substantial amount of time Wednesday afternoon.
PC party president Jim McCormick said the party must hold a leadership selection process that lasts between four to six months.
“I think we’re all in a bit of shock here this evening,” he told reporters in Edmonton.
Redford’s exit from the premier’s office follows the rocky departures of her predecessors in the four-decades-old Tory dynasty, Don Getty, Ralph Klein and Ed Stelmach.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Albertans have to question the “excessive partisanship” that has surrounded Redford and need to remember this is also “a human story.”
“It’s about a real person, a good person, a person who loves this province and has worked and made incredible sacrifices,” he told reporters.
“And it’s the story of a system that takes someone like that and chews them up and spits them out.”
At the legislature, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said Redford was not part of the “old boys club” and ran as someone who could “fix what was wrong with the party and the government.”
“I have no doubt that she intended to be that leader,” Smith said. “But what we’ve witnessed during her short 29 months as premier is the clearest indication yet that the PC party cannot be fixed.”
A human rights lawyer, Redford was first elected as an MLA in 2008 and was immediately named justice minister by Stelmach. Running as a Red Tory pushing a progressive agenda in an underdog campaign, she captured the Tory leadership in 2011 and led the PCs to a victory over the Wildrose two years ago.
While there were rumbling about her grip on power last year, she received 77 per cent support in last November’s Tory leadership review.
But Redford had recently come under fire for a series of controversies over travel expenses and a top-down management style, with the issues exploding last week.
While she repaid the contentious $45,000 cost for her trip to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s memorial, it was done in the face of a caucus revolt, with an estimated 20 to 25 MLAs potentially ready to bolt the government benches or demand her resignation.
Len Webber, MLA for Calgary-Foothills, chose to leave to sit as an independent last week. On the way out, he accused Redford of being a bully who abused and intimidated government staffers and MLAs.
The premier spent more than four hours on Saturday hearing the Tory party’s board of directors bare their grievances with her leadership and they emerged with an agreement to follow an undefined “work plan” from the party.
On Monday, associate cabinet minister Donna Kennedy-Glans also left the Tory caucus. While her criticism of Redford was tempered, she said there is a culture of entitlement within the PC government and party.
Other MLAs have been openly musing about leaving the government out of discontent with Redford, while veteran Tories said publicly the premier had to make major changes to carry on.
On Wednesday night, constituency association presidents were set to meet in Calgary and Edmonton with resolutions calling for the premier to step down. One riding president who supported Redford acknowledged Wednesday afternoon that opposition inside the party ranks was simply too great to overcome.
A Redford aide who spoke on condition of anonymity said the premier called her staff together in the afternoon.
“She thanked us all and told us. There was a lot of tears and a lot of admiration all around the table,” said the official. “I know she was weighing a lot of things during the week.”
In an interview, Webber said Redford’s resignation was “long overdue.”
“Now this government can move forward and make some positive changes,” he said. “It’s a brand new ball game.”
Redford noted that on election night in 2012, she had pledged the Tories would “govern with unity and build prosperity.”
“Well, at least we got the prosperity right,” she said with a rueful smile.
Redford spent much of her brief address talking about the government’s actions and accomplishments during her tenure as premier.
As premier, she focused on building public infrastructure such as schools and working to open new markets for Alberta’s oil and gas through her advocacy of a Canadian energy strategy.
She was also praised for her tireless work when floods swept through southern Alberta last year in the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history.
Alberta’s economy has boomed and the Tories brought in the first balanced budget in seven years just two weeks ago.
Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen — a Redford loyalist who worked for her as an aide before running in the last election — said it was “incredibly selfless of her to step aside for the greater good of the province.”
“At this point in time, what’s done is done and we need to move forward as a party and heal,” she said.
With files from Jason van Rassel, Jason Markusoff and Darcy Henton, Calgary Herald, and Postmedia News
By James Wood, Calgary Herald