Flippity flop flip… has Alison Redford’s government ‘jumped the shark’ already?

Alberta Premier Alison Redford, immediately after ‘jumping the shark.’ Alberta politicians may not appear exactly as illustrated. Whaaaaaaaaat?! Below: The quotable LBJ.

Is this the worst start ever, or what?

Barely sworn in as Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta, Alison Redford’s flip-flop yesterday on the Heartland Transmission Line has seasoned political observers wondering if the Redford Government has already “jumped the shark.”

This comes hard on the heels of Premier Redford’s double flip-flop on the fall sitting of the Legislature described in this space a few hours earlier yesterday, not to mention the controversy over $600,000 in unpaid debts owed by a company owned by her just-appointed chief of staff.

If yesterday was an example of a shark-jumping moment, the decline of Ms. Redford’s political reputation from the high point of the Conservative leaders’ debate on Sept. 28 to the ignominy of the Heartland switcheroo on Oct. 21 must surely mark one of the swiftest implosions of political credibility in recorded history.

To turn Vietnam-era U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson’s sage observation about politics on its head, “Son, in politics you’ve got to learn that overnight chicken salad can turn to chicken sh…”

“Jumping the shark,” for those of you who have missed it hitherto, is a TV industry idiom used to describe the moment when a long-running TV series runs out of the ideas that made it a success and moves beyond recovery into irrelevance. It’s a reference to the moment in the 1977 season when the Fonz jumped the shark on water skis in an episode of the TV sitcom Happy Days.

Since the election of a new Tory leader was supposed to put an end to the blundering of the government of former premier Ed Stelmach, Ms. Redford’s accident-prone first days are bound to make Albertans wonder if the entire 40-year-old Tory dynasty has finally jumped the shark. For their part, of course, the Conservative brain trust in Ms. Redford’s cabinet and among her advisors is no doubt, like Fonzie, thinking “Whaaaaaaaaaaat?”

Yesterday morning, Energy Minister Ted Morton announced the government was putting three major power line projects on hold – including the expensive and highly controversial Heartland Transmission Line that’s supposed to run from Edmonton to Fort McMurray to power the oil-extraction mines of the Alberta Tar Patch.

Huge sighs of relief were heard from many folks – including plenty of conservative politicians in places the Heartland line is supposed to traverse – because the project and the Stelmach Government’s legislative framework to fast-track transmission line approval and expropriate land aroused such passions throughout rural Alberta and gave an effective wedge issue for the farther-right Wildrose Party.

The potential multi-billion-dollar cost of the transmission lines also left Albertans deeply fearful of what will happen to their already sky-high electricity bills.

The general consensus was the that government intended to defuse Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith’s exploitation of the property-rights wedge until after the next provincial election.

However, by the middle of the afternoon, Ms. Redford had pulled the plug on her minister’s announcement – the Heartland part of it, anyway. The premier tried to explain the latest flip-flop away as a miscommunication with her minister, just an early-days woopsie. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that someone with real clout put in a call to the premier’s office to say the line must go ahead, now, and that was that.

This has plenty of Albertans shaking their heads at Ms. Redford’s seeming trail of missteps. As Linda Osinchuk, mayor of Strathcona County (home of the non-city of Sherwood Park, the world’s largest legal village) told Global TV: “If it’s going to reverse itself, now that would be terrible for future elections, I would think, for this particular party, for this brand new premier, for this brand new caucus.”

Of course, that’s exactly what every one of Alberta’s opposition parties, right, centre and left is hoping and praying will happen.

Meanwhile, there’s evidence that the potential for new miscues by the Redford Government has not yet exhausted itself.

Alert readers will recall how the government of Ms. Redford’s predecessor really went over the edge with the hospital overcrowding crisis this time last year. It was soon apparent that the Stelmach Government didn’t have a clue in a carload how to deal with the situation – which was only defused when Mr. Stelmach appointed the soothing Gene Zwozdesky as minister of health and we were persuaded things were getting back on track.

Now, just days after Ms. Redford chose not to put the competent Mr. Zwozdesky back in her cabinet, the same physicians whose public statements sounded the warning on last year’s Emergency Room crowding crisis are back in the news saying much the same thing.

They say the problem is unresolved – this government’s unwillingness to build public long-term care facilities, leaving patients who should be in long-term care in acute-care beds and backing up the system into the province’s Emergency Rooms. The result will likely be the same, they say, especially as the fall rush and flu season hits the province’s Emergency Departments.

So, is the Redford Government up to handling a full-blown Emergency Room crisis just like last year? After this fumbling start? With the same old suspects sitting in the senior spots around the cabinet table – including Ron Liepert, the champion of privatizing long-term care, now the finance minister?

Never mind sharks. This is starting to sound like another one of LBJ’s pithy assessments, this time of Richard Nixon: “He’s like a Spanish horse, who runs faster than anyone for the first nine lengths and then turns around and runs backward. You’ll see, he’ll do something wrong in the end. He always does.”

Surely this can’t be all she wrote about the Alberta Tories?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

6 Comments on "Flippity flop flip… has Alison Redford’s government ‘jumped the shark’ already?"

  1. Carlos says:

    Well David, to me they have jumped shark since Peter Lougheed left. This province has been running unregulated for years with booms and busts and wasted opportunities. If we do not switch to proportional representation to give a chance to other voices in this province we will be in Canadian History as the biggest flip flop ever. Alison Redford is obviously lost in the wilderness of PC confusion. It makes me wonder if we are already suffering from some pollution caused insanity.

  2. Lou Arab says:

    For what it's worth, the shark episode of Happy Days had a huge impression on me when it first aired. I loved it.

    Mind you,I was six at the time.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Dave, Alison is NOT going to fix healthcare, this IS going to be HER achilles heal. She has Horne running the system and that will be her biggest liability. She should have kept Zwozdesky in Healthcare. This is the last Tory Administration.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Dave, yes the Tories have jumped the Shark. Many undecided and disenfranchised voters are going to abandon the Tories and give the ALP a chance. Think about it. Most people are neither Wildrosers or ND's. Most people are socially progressive, but financially fiscal, exactly where the ALP is.

  5. Tony says:

    I'm still not sure why Redford was the one who said that this was a "miscommunication" and not Morton. It was, we're to believe, his screw up so he should have been the one in the spotlight backpedaling for our friends in the media. Maybe he flat out refused.

  6. Marty says:

    So, Morton sent a letter to the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) requesting them to suspend or adjourn issuing decisions on three applications. The AUC agreed. It had to be a request, not a direction, because the AUC is (supposed to be) an independent decision maker. Redford reversed that request and asked that the decisions be issued. The AUC (reluctantly) agreed again.

    With Redford's legal background, I interpreted this as her not wanting to interfere, or be seen to be interfering, with a quasi-judicial process in progress. Taking the high-road, as she did during her campaign. That was my take on it, though this is admittedly charitable since she did not explain it this way herself. But then, if she had, that would essentially be accusing Morton of meddling (which he was, in my opinion). So, flip-flop, yes, but the better path overall? What say you, Perfesser?

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