Joe Anglin fires opening shot in Wildrose Civil War

Danielle Smith Joe Anglin Wildrose MLA Election Alberta 2012

Happier times: Wildrose leader Danielle Smith with Joe Angiln during the 2012 Alberta Election.

Citing a “civil war” within the Wildrose Party, MLA Joe Anglin has decided to leave the Official Opposition caucus to sit as an Independent MLA.

Mr. Anglin said in a Facebook message posted this morning that he did so in advance of today’s caucus meeting, where leader Danielle Smith was expected to introduce a motion to expel him from the Official Opposition caucus.

The first-term MLA for Sundre-Rocky Mountain House-Rimbey claimed foul-play when losing his nomination bid to represent the Wildrose in the next election. A divisive split in the local constituency association has drawn the ire of senior party officials.

His departure represents the first time the Wildrose has lost an MLA to a defection and now leaves the Official Opposition with 16 MLAs.

A political wildcard, Mr. Anglin admitted in his Facebook post he had “been a round peg in a square hole in the Wildrose Party.” And despite the more recent troubles, rumours of his departure have been circulating in political circles for at least one year.

The former leader of the Alberta Green Party and outspoken critic of electrical transmission line development in rural Alberta was an odd fit for the Wildrose Party.

Mr. Anglin’s advocacy came to province-wide attention in 2007 when it was revealed the now defunct Energy and Utilities Board hired a private detective to spy on central Alberta landowners who were organizing in opposition to transmission line construction through their property.

Fanning the flames of enraged farmers and landowners, Mr. Anglin, along with lawyer Keith Wilson, helped lay the ground for the Wildrose surge in central and southern Alberta in the 2012 election.

The question now is whether Progressive Conservative Premier Jim Prentice‘s peace-offerings towards property-rights activists like Mr. Anglin could convince him to join the government caucus, or at the very least support related legislation expected to be introduced in November.

While the party’s loss in four recent by-elections put the spotlight on Ms. Smith and her call for a leadership review at the party’s November convention, Mr. Anglin’s departure casts a light on a split in the party and caucus.

It has been caught up in a civil war between ideologues and pragmatists, with staff, volunteers, and even MLAs being placed into and forced out of positions with alarming frequency,” Mr. Anglin wrote in his Facebook post.

While most Wildrose Party activists I have spoken with support Ms. Smith’s leadership, there is a group who remain disappointed with the party’s lack of focus and inability to hold significant ground against the PCs in the polls.

The clear beneficiary of this public dispute is Mr. Prentice, who, after nearly two months in office, has left the Wildrose Party scrambling to respond to a post-Alison Redford reality.

Since Peter Lougheed catapulted from official opposition leader to Premier in 1971, leadership positions in Alberta’s opposition benches have become a political graveyard for many well-intentioned and ambitious politicians.

If Ms. Smith is able to rally her MLAs and party activists in unity at the party’s convention and secure a strong leadership vote, the party could remain competitive going into the next election.

If Mr. Anglin’s departure deepens the splits in the party, and other MLAs join him or cross the floor to the PCs, Ms. Smith may be destined to join the list of many other Official Opposition leaders who failed to defeat Alberta’s 43-year governing PC Party.

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