Alberta government shaken by defections as popularity fades
CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Alberta's Progressive Conservative government, which has run the oil-rich Canadian province for more than four decades, suffered another defection on Monday in what was the latest protest against the leadership of Premier Alison Redford.
Donna Kennedy-Glans, a junior member of Redford's cabinet, said on Monday she would resign as associate minister for electricity and renewable energy and sit as an independent in the provincial legislature.
"Since being elected ... and particularly since joining cabinet, I am increasingly convinced that elements of this 43-year-old government are simply unable to make the changes needed to achieve that dream of a better Alberta," Kennedy-Glans said in a statement.
The resignation is the second from the Progressive Conservative caucus in less than a week. They follow a series of controversies related to Redford's travel and spending habits that have hurt the party badly in the polls.
Alberta, the largest source of imported oil in the United States, is flush with cash from production from the oil sands in the northern part of the province.
But while the Alberta government's operating budget is in surplus, Redford is spending heavily on capital programs to cope with rapid population growth. This has added billions in debt to a province that prided itself on being debt-free before her election.
By cutting spending on arts and education and attacking public sector unions, the premier has also angered the centrist coalition she relied on to craft her rise to the party leadership in 2011 and which brought her victory in the election the following year.
"The government thought they could campaign from the middle and govern from the right," said Keith Brownsey, a politics professor at Mount Royal University. "They've lost a lot of support."
Redford won 61 of 87 seats with 44 percent of the vote in the last election. An Angus Reid online poll published on Monday by the Edmonton Journal pegged current support for the party at just 23 percent, half of that commanded by the opposition Wildrose Party.
Redford, a first-term premier who came from behind in the polls to win her majority in 2012, agreed earlier this month to repay the C$45,000 ($40,700) that was spent on first-class tickets for her and an aide to attend Nelson Mandela's funeral.
She also repaid the costs of taking her daughter's friends on government aircraft. She has been criticized for using the planes to attend party fundraising events.
Last week Len Webber resigned from the Progressive Conservative caucus to sit as an independent. Like Kennedy-Glans, Webber represents a constituency in Calgary, the province's largest city and home to most of its oil industry.
While announcing his departure, Webber said Redford was "not a nice lady".
Redford's office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the latest defection.
CBC News reported on Monday that 10 members met in secret on the weekend to consider whether they would leave Redford's government and sit as independents. If even a few of them decide to leave the party, observers question whether Redford would be able to survive the blow.
"If she loses another one or two (members) it gets pretty serious for her," said Harold Jansen, a political science professor at the University of Lethbridge. "Once the trickle turns into a stampede, then it's serious."
(Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson; and Peter Galloway)
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