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Back when her approval rating was cracking 30%. Oh how the times have changed.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford speaking last month.
Premier Alison Redford


Another prominent Conservative stepped down yesterday, and in doing so put another dent in Canada’s grand old party.  Sure, Alison Redford, Premier of Alberta, may not have held an official post in Stephen Harper’s cabinet.  She may not have even had any formal ties to the federal party.  But she flew the Conservative flag over Harper’s transplant home, the province in which a goat can win a federal riding, for 2.5 years, so the connection is worth mentioning.

Redford’s story is remarkable.  Roughly two years ago she was Canada’s second most popular premier, boasting a 58 per cent approval rating trailed only by Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall.  Those were the glory days- Redford could do no wrong.  She had the upper hand against the bumbling Christy Clark, then Canada’s second least popular premier and now Canada’s most successful flip-flopper in Northern Gateway pipeline project discussions.  What went wrong?

In a nutshell, her approval rating fell 40 points.  It seems people grew tired of her conservative voice.  She wasn’t as exciting as Ralph Klein, so it was time for a change.  Albertans wanted something fresh, something edgy, something more radical than Conservative.  Maybe someone young and cool like Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.  So did they look left?  No.  Albertans pulled a muscle in their necks in 1980 and are still able to turn only one way.  So, naturally, they looked further right to the ultra-conservative Wildrose Party.

Or the leader of a party named after one.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, showing how easy it is to be a wild flower.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith now enjoys a 51 per cent approval rating.  She may be so popular because her party is much more thoughtful and willing to change than Redford’s Conservatives ever were.  Need proof?  Consider this.  After losing the 2012 election, Smith’s party went back to the drawing board and reevaluated some of its core policies.  It revised its stance on climate change from “inconclusive” to acceptance.  Further, it made a concrete promise to join the 21st century when it passed a motion to “defend the equality of all persons regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.”  This was a big leap from Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger’s warning, issued days before the 2012 election, that homosexuals would “suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire.”  Wildrose demonstrates a clear commitment to change, if that is what is necessary to form government.  The party was simply too right to be right, but now it’s just right enough that it can’t be wrong.

The rise of Wildrose aside, Redford dropped clear hints that she was ready to resign.  Her behaviour became erratic toward the end of her reign.  Last December she went on the traditional “Screw it, I’m leaving anyway!” spending spree with company money.  We’ve all been there- pocketing a few pens from the boss’ desk, taking a few rolls of toilet paper… maybe even stealing that guy’s lunch out of the communal fridge because he was always a jerk.  Well Redford took it to another level.  She spent $45 000 of government money to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral.  The same trip cost Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil a paltry $1 000.  No one would have accused Brad Butt of lying if he said he’d seen Alison Redford throwing herself a farewell party.  It was pretty obvious.

Wildrose MLA Shane Saskiw summed things up nicely by saying “[Redford]’s out of touch with Albertans.”  Given Saskiw’s party’s platform, it is tempting to respond by saying “THANK GOD!”  While the party is popular, it is important to remember that Wildrose entered the 21st century in 2013, so it is a few years behind the rest of us, and still has to suffer through the recession.  There will be growing pains.  But this is less about them and more about Alison: the woman Naheed Nenshi called “a real person, a good person.”

Unlike Wildrose, she held values we can all endorse.  Redford did what so many idealistic bumper stickers suggest- she tried to be the change she wished to see in the world.  She painted a beautiful picture of a prosperous future: one that ought to appeal to every Canadian.  It would be pretty great if we could all fly on a government plane to South Africa to hang out with the global elite, and then fly back first class to see our cabinet sworn in.  That’s Alison’s world, and I’d bet big money plenty of us would love to live in it.