Resilient little beasts though they are — which probably accounts for the presence of rats on every continent except Antarctica — paragons of endurance they are not. On the other hand, if the ship is really sinking, taking one’s chances on the high seas is better than a one-way ticket to Davy Jones’ locker for the world’s less fortunate representatives of rodentia.
As with rats, so it is with politics. Media across the province were hollering ‘thar she blows!’ last week after hunting down the veritable white whale of political scandals. Auditor general Merwan Saher’s report into former premier Alison Redford’s flagrant abuse of the government’s fleet of aircraft was a clear indictment that is seldom seen in the often wishy-washy world of politics, where getting a clear answer is like trying to squeeze water from a stone.
Interestingly, the former premier’s cabinet seem to be like Ahab, obsessing about their own white whale — that of Alison Redford. And like the climactic battle between man and beast that punctuates the final pages of Herman Melville’s classic Moby-Dick, leaving the shattered Pequod easing slowly into the sea — the caucus rats appear to be deserting the sinking ship, clinging to any piece of flotsam that offers dry harbour.
Any cursory reading of the flurry of damage-control press releases being showered on media outlets across the province will tell even the casual investigator that former cabinet ministers, PC leadership candidates, even lowly MLAs are doing their utmost to cut all ties with the now-tainted era of Alison Redford, and with the premier herself. It doesn’t require one to read deeply between the lines to discover that beneath the thinnest veneer of whatever respect remains for Redford, the sharks — represented collectively by her former political allies and enemies alike — are now out to feast on the shattered reputation of their once-vaunted commander-in-chief.
Whether or not this will be an effective strategy for the now poll-plunging PCs remains to be seen. Current caucus’ attempts to absolve themselves of all guilt by association by crucifying their former leader and comrade in arms may have the ability to obfuscate any personal responsibility. But if they truly believe that Albertans will take them at their word given their track record, they’ve taken a permanent holiday in cloud cuckoo land. No amount of character assassination and finger wagging should convince citizens that the problems that surround the office of the premier are not endemic to some degree at all levels of a PC government that has held sway over Alberta politics for 43 years.
If nothing else, serious questions must be asked of Finance Minister Doug Horner — who unless completely and utterly incompetent in his position — must have had some inkling of the fiscal largesse and unsound spending practices of his premier. Even worse, if knowledge about Redford’s less than prudent approach to taxpayer accountability extended far down the chain of command, why wasn’t something done to combat it? Was there no one in the PC party with the moral fortitude to step forward and say it was wrong, regardless of their political future? If that is indeed the case, there must be few left who are actually deserving of the title of “leader.”
And speaking of leaders, just how this latest of scandals will impact the PC party’s leadership is anyone’s guess, although suffice to say it will be unlikely to buoy positive interest across the province. It would be interesting to peer inside the membership rolls of the Wildrose to see just how many disaffected, card-carrying PCs now pay their dues to their former blood enemies. It would probably be fair to say it is not an inconsequential number. Scandals like the present are an opposition party’s dream, especially heading into what will likely be a new election once the PC leadership race is concluded. How ruling-party MLA candidates will defend against so much scandal and corruption over the past few years without being purple with embarrassment is a question only they will be able to answer.
The fact remains that there will be little or no credibility left for the party on election day as its fortunes ebb lower with each passing hour. Without some kind of dramatic turnaround — think a thunderbolt-from-above kind of revelation — the party is likely to be facing a bloodbath at the polls. Then again, that was what the pollsters said during the last election, and the PCs came back with a landslide victory. Anything is possible in Alberta.
Some pundits have commented the move by interim Premier Dave Hancock to call for an immediate RCMP investigation into Redford’s spending habits and use of government planes was a brave — and perhaps foolhardy — move. An investigation will no doubt expose more about the internal workings of the PCs than would perhaps be considered prudent by party insiders. At the same time, Hancock had little choice. If he had chose to try to bury the auditor general’s report and continue on unperturbed, the provincial media and Albertans would have howled whitewash and cover-up, and they would not have been unjustified in their indignation. Sometimes one is faced with a choice that may be bad either way. In a glimmer of leadership that might make what few PC supporters still remain in the province wish he was running for the leadership, Hancock appears to have chosen right.
In the end, it is important to come full circle and reflect back on the past. This isn’t the first time that an Alberta premier’s disgrace — real or imagined — has haunted a party’s fortunes at the polls. Only this time, it was sex — not money — that contributed to their demise. In 1934, Premier John Brownlee of the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) was accused of seducing an 18-year-old family friend and secretary, and conducting an affair that lasted for three years. Those were still the days when a father could sue for damages over an illicit affair out of wedlock with his daughter, and he did just that — suing for “seduction.” After a sensational trial, a six-man jury found in favour of the plaintiffs, awarding them $15,000 — a huge sum in 1934. Brownlee resigned from the premiership immediately after.
Although this was at the height of the Depression in Alberta, and the quirky theories of William “Bible Bill” Aberhart and Social Credit were sweeping the province like a firestorm, there is little doubt that Brownlee’s sex scandal played a significant role in the utter defeat of the UFA during the following election in a still straight-laced Alberta. The UFA was crushed at the polls in 1935, losing every seat in the legislature.
Just how much will Redford’s problems with the provincial pocketbook impact her former party’s fortunes on election day? Perhaps the now-deposed Queen Alison will truly have her revenge after all.