Rivals enjoy field day in legislature as PC worries mount ahead of election

CALGARY — Alberta's opposition parties are having a spectacular week. Day after day they pummel the PCs in the legislature, enjoying a free campaign platform courtesy of the Redford government.

By passing her sort-of fixed election law, the premier guaranteed voting no later than May 31. The PCs can no longer delay six months or a year to avoid political trouble.

And this has turned into a problem so serious you have to suspect the premier hadn't thought of it.

Foreknowledge of the May 31 deadline allows the opposition to cut loose every day, knowing they aren't wasting their ammunition. They've launched a political version of the artillery barrage that softens up the enemy before the final charge.

That advantage comes free because the assault is televised every day as part of regular legislature business. Liberals, Wildrose and the rest can save their party dollars until the real battle starts.

In hindsight, this looks obvious. But Premier Alison Redford insisted on bringing in her election law, and then having a full legislature session with a budget debate.

Meanwhile, the old mule train loaded with four decades of government baggage was lumbering along behind her. And she gave it ample time to catch up.

Now, even the Gary Mar fundraising controversy is rendered more difficult by age-old connections.

Mar's leadership campaign manager, Elan McDonald, is Redford's interim chief of staff, the most important political job in government.

The interim executive director of her party is Kelley Charlebois, who is eternally (and unfairly) branded by that health-advice contract with Mar.

The fellow handling Mar's event was John Chomiak, who was also involved in Ed Stelmach's controversial fundraising efforts after the 2006 leadership. (All parties in that case were exonerated by the ethics commissioner.)

Nearly 40 of Redford's MLAs supported Mar in the leadership campaign. A lot of them are still his good friends.

According to sources, some Tories knew about Mar's event some time ago, and were doubtful about the invitation.

But when Redford was asked Wednesday when she became aware of it, she told reporters, "Gary Bobrovitz showed me a picture of the invitation on his iPhone."

That was last Friday afternoon, when the Global TV reporter bird-dogged Redford to get a reaction.

With all those presumably loyal Mar people around her, why wouldn't Redford have heard about this stink bomb already?

That question, in turn, raises questions about the solidarity of the PC caucus that Stephen Carter suddenly pops out of obscurity to tell us is fully united.

The Mar case now goes to Peter Watson, the deputy minister of executive council, who will hire both an independent investigator and a lawyer. So it will be a government probe, not an inquiry by an officer of the legislature.

In the midst of this, the election date is still undetermined. One rumour is that Redford will ensure a cooling off-period by delaying the call for some days after the legislature rises next week.

Under this scenario, she would drop the writ April 2, with voting set for April 30. Others wonder if the date should be pushed into May.

But one thing won't change: the PCs' burning wish to flee this disastrous legislature session.

Calgary Herald, Thurs Mar 15 2012
Byline: Don Braid

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