Alberta Premier Alison Redford has faltered in her campaign to ram through legislation on tough drinking and driving laws.
While she has gained favour with anti-drinking-and-driving lobby groups, her strategy exposed dissension in the Tory ranks. And perhaps a hint at what’s in store in the near future of Alberta politics.
Bill 26 appears doomed to be dissected by Alberta’s appeal courts. In British Columbia, the higher courts have ruled that certain provisions under that province’s tough new stand on drinking and driving violated the Constitution’s presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
Many Alberta Conservative MLAs object to Redford’s push for tougher laws, because she appears to be ignoring the B.C. rulings. Only 29 out of 61 Progressive Conservative members showed up for the final vote of Bill 26 on Dec. 6.
For a new premier seeking strong support from MLAs during her formative time in office, that could be devastating.
“It was the most divided caucus (during the debate) I have seen on an issue in my 15 years,” said Richard Marz, Tory MLA for the Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills riding.
“At the very best, there was a lot of indecision about (the new laws),” said Marz, who took the bold step of breaking ranks and voted against the legislation.
He said he argued against the bill several times in caucus, where he told fellow Tories he would speak out against the bill in the legislature.
The low voting turnout leaves doubts about Redford’s hold on caucus.
“When the premier shows up for a vote on a piece of legislation the premier has been advocating personally for, there is usually a tendency for members to drop what they’re doing and show up for that vote as a show of support,” said Marz.
Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Luke Ouellette was among the MLAs absent during the Dec. 6 vote.
“I can’t vote against my own party, but I couldn’t vote for (Bill 26) right at the time either,” said Ouellette.
Among the provisions in Bill 26 that trouble MLAs is the power given to police to suspend licences and impound vehicles if the driver provides a roadside breath test that registers .05 per cent or higher.
A person is legally impaired, under federal law, with a reading of .08 per cent.
While lobby groups would ultimately prefer zero tolerance, there are legal obstacles to such a perspective.
“If there is proof positive (that .05 per cent constitutes impairment), then we should be working with the federal government to change .08 down to .05 rather than gerrymandering something quickly, jamming it through, based on what we hear from lobby groups,” said Marz.
Bill 26 aside, recent announcements by veteran Tories that they are stepping down should cause Albertans to take note. House Speaker Ken Kowalski is leaving, as is former premier Ed Stelmach. So is Ron Liepert, Iris Evans and Lloyd Snelgrove.
Perhaps they detect a change in the wind for Alberta politics.
Veteran followers of Alberta politics claim that they have not seen such division in a provincial government since the Conservatives toppled the Social Credit Party 40 years ago.
Redford, in her acceptance speech as the new premier-designate, pledged to rebuild the Tory party.
But what she really needs to rebuild is confidence in her party, inside caucus and beyond.
Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.