As 2 more Wildrose MLAs leave, can Danielle Smith’s leadership survive?

Alberta Wildrose Caucus MLA

After three departures in the past month, the Wildrose Caucus is now down to 14 MLAs,

Last week, the wheels were falling off the Wildrose bus. This week, the passengers have flung open the emergency exits and started leaping out into traffic.

The Wildrose Official Opposition started the month of November with 17 MLAs and might be ending it with only fourteen. Today, Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice, flanked by Little Bow MLA Ian Donovan and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle, announced at an afternoon press conference that the two Wildrose MLAs were joining the PC Government Caucus.

Ian Donovan David Eggen MLA

Ian Donovan and NDP MLA David Eggen protesting the closure of the Little Bow Health Centre at a rally in front of Alison Redford’s constituency office on August 14, 2012.

Even though he led the fight against the closure of the Little Bow Health Centre in Carmangay in 2012, Mr. Donovan’s departure did not come as a complete surprise (as was noted in my previous post). Ms. Towle’s departure was tougher to predict, as she had been one of the loudest Wildrose critics of the PC Party since she unseated cabinet minister Luke Ouellette in the 2012 election.

The floor-crossings come at the end of a tumultuous month for Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party, which began with the sting of defeat in four by-elections and the departure of Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Joe Anglin, who now sits as an Independent MLA.

Kerry Towle

Kerry Towle

Ms. Smith tried to demonstrate her party had modernized at its recent annual meeting but was sideswiped by angry conservative activists, who voted down a motion recognizing equality for specific minority groups and then blamed the media for the party’s poor reputation.

The loss of three MLAs in such a short period of time raises questions about Ms. Smith’s future as leader. As the party’s most recognizable face, she is one of her party’s strongest assets. But if more MLAs decide to leave her caucus and the internal turmoil continues, will her leadership survive until the next general election?

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta

Jim Prentice

Since becoming PC Party leader in September, Mr. Prentice has strived to distance his party from the toxic memory of Alison Redford and Ed Stelmach. He has skillfully robbed the Wildrose of its strongest talking points by proposing the repeal of unpopular property rights laws, stalling the closure of the Michener Centre, announcing the sale of the government’s fleet of airplanes, firing cabinet ministers too closely associated with the previous leader and a handful of other lightening rod issues.

He also has deep roots in Canada’s Conservative establishment, serving as a federal cabinet minister in Ottawa and as a bank executive on Bay Street. And the PCs are using Mr. Prentice’s Tory credibility to invite former Tory supporters in the Wildrose party back under their big tent.

Mr. Prentice has started strong and still has plenty of time to stumble, especially with the prospect of declining natural resource revenues, which leads me to believe a provincial election may come sooner than the fixed date of Spring 2016.

Ken Boessenkool

Ken Boessenkool

The temptation to take advantage of a crumbling official opposition, which could lead to a lack of vote splitting among conservative voters might be too appealing to resist (a bad sign for the NDP, Alberta Party and Liberals). If there is one thing that is true of Alberta politics, it is that the PC Party knows how to consolidate and preserve its own power.

As Ms. Smith’s party struggles through a tough month, they need to figure out what fundementally differentiates them from the PC Party led by Mr. Prentice. One conservative strategist – Ken Boessenkool – has once again raised the idea of a potential merger of the two parties to create the “Conservative Party of Alberta.”

Despite its bleak prospects in the immediate future, political fortunes can shift quickly. But if the party’s fortunes do not improve soon, more MLA floor-crossings may follow.

Wildrose knows about floor-crossing

Danielle Smith Rob Anderson Heather Forsyth Wildrose

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith (centre) with MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson in 2010.

Floor-crossing is a familiar activity for the Wildrose Party, but they are used to it going the other way. In 2010, the Wildrose received a big boost when then-PC MLAs Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth left Mr. Stelmach’s PC Party to join Ms. Smith’s upstart party. Not long afterward, they were joined by former PC MLA Guy Boutilier, who had been sitting as an Independent MLA.

Over the course of its 43 years of uninterrupted power, one of the great successes of the PC Party has been its ability to build a big tent that includes individuals of all sorts of political persuasions. The two former Wildrose MLAs will now find themselves in the same caucus as two former Liberal MLAs who also crossed the floor to the PCs – Speaker Gene Zwozdesky and Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor.

Over the past 25 years, there have been a total of six Liberal MLAs, one Representative Party MLA and one New Democrat MLA who have crossed the floor to the PCs. The lone NDP floor-crosser, Stony Plain MLA Stan Woloshyn, made himself comfortable in the Tory Party ranks as a Ralph Klein-era cabinet minister.

Should floor-crossing be illegal?

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk

In 2010, following Mr. Anderson and Ms. Forsyth’s departure from the PC Caucus, Edmonton-Castle Downs PC MLA Thomas Lukaszuk declared that floor crossing should be banned. PC MLA Jonathan Denis responded to the defections by telling Sun Media that “[t]he Wildrose talks about parliamentary recall — why not initiate that and run in a byelection?”

Manitoba is the only province that currently prohibits MLAs from crossing the floor. If an MLA wishes to leave their party, they must step down and run in a by-election or sit as an Independent MLA until the next election.

14 thoughts on “As 2 more Wildrose MLAs leave, can Danielle Smith’s leadership survive?

  1. Jason

    What is the best argument for banning floor-crossing? To my mind, it is this: That the electors were given a commitment, when the candidates ran under the party banners, that they, if elected, would support those parties. Changing parties between elections is to violate that promise.

    OK, fine. But if we’re going with that logic, we also have to ban leadership changes between elections. Because these people voted for Ralph, not Ed. I mean, they voted for Ed, not Allison. I mean, they voted for Allison, not Jim. I mean, if an MLA not representing the same party is an issue, then surely the party not being led by the same person is an issue.

    Also, they can’t change policy. Because they were elected in order to do what they said they were going to do. They can’t change their mind. And they are less likely to, now, because we have prevented leadership changes.

    And they definitely can’t vote against their own party in the house, because that would be tantamount to leaving the party and coming back. In fact, we should just not let them vote at all, and just give all their votes to their leader, who can cast them all the same way. To be safe.

    And there should be no amendments to legislation. Because that would suggest that it is OK for the party to change its mind about something, which is kind of like changing policy, and that’s not OK, because we should get exactly what we voted for.

    A nice, simple electoral system where we vote once every 4 years, and based on the results, one person has all the legislative power in the land. That’s what we’re voting for, and that’s what we deserve.

    Reply
  2. jerrymacgp

    Ms Towle was the lead voice for the “kinder, gentler” face of the “new” Wildrose, so her departure will hurt the WR with moderate urban voters. What will be left for WR will be the dinosaurs of the “old” Wildrose, although many of them likely don’t believe in dinosaurs anyway (or at least, don’t believe they really died out 65 million years ago).

    Reply
  3. John Tort

    Wildrose, Tory… same old story. Too bad there isn’t a united progressive alternative to take advantage of the Wildrose Party’s tailspin. The Tories deserve a term or two in opposition. Prentice is a shiny new face but he leads the party of mediocrity and missed opportunities. Alberta deserves better.

    Reply
  4. Peter Moss

    MLAs or MPs should not even be allowed to sit as an independent. Manitoba fell short in their policy in my opinion.

    If elections are to mean anything, then someone who has lost faith in their own party should not be allowed to quit without actually quitting. Force them to actually step down and leave their seat vacant for a byelection. Otherwise an independent is saying, “I know you voted for me and my stand on issues, but my stand has changed. And I’m going to keep my seat and all the pay and perks that go with it.” This is just fraud.

    Reply
  5. Peter Moss

    Jason, your analogy with party leadership changes doesn’t quit work.
    Here’s why:
    A leader isn’t abandoning his/her party, or is not otherwise in such disagreement with it that he/she feels the need to cross the floor or sit as an independent. A leader is working within the existing party to strengthen it or move it in a slightly different direction. Also, constituents in the leader’s riding still have the opportunity to vote for him/her in a byelection if the leader does not currently have a seat.

    So no, leadership changes do not create the same issue as party members who cross the floor or sit as an independent.

    To really be free of this nonsense, we need to get rid of the party system altogether and just have individuals running for office. That would solve not only floor crossing, independent sitting, leadership changes and so on, it would also solve the problem of party discipline and obedience. Everyone would be an independent and everyone would have a free vote.

    Reply
  6. Rajdeep Kandola

    Peter,

    Byelections are an added expense, and an unnecessary expense if the elected MLA is planning to run in it. The voters elected that individual with the understanding they would fulfill their term. Considering how low byelection turnout is, a byelection would simply mean that a smaller number of voters has the opportunity to over-ride a decision made by a larger number of voters. For the added cost, you actually get a less democratic result. Byelections only make sense if the elected representative can not fulfill their term–they are a necessary evil in that case.

    An MLA is in their right to sit as an independent if they feel that the party has not stuck to the principles and promises that the voters based their choice on. They should not be allowed to switch to another party, because the voters explicitly rejected those other parties in the previous election.

    The party system sucks, but getting rid of it would create more problems. Voters don’t have the time to know what each candidate is advocating–they make their choice based on a broader sense of what each party is offering. Municipal elections show that voters will simply make their choice by name recognition. Even outright lazy councillors get reelected because they have the only name that voters recognize.

    Reply
  7. Crescent Heights Guy

    1) Secret video of Wildrose caucus meeting:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zMGA1HmAN0

    2) Re. floor crossing: Last time I looked at a ballot, the name of the candidate was in big letters and the party name? Are party names even on the ballot? Anyway, I vote for the best candidate. And if that candidate decides to switch parties, good on ’em. Politcal parties suck. The only thing that can prevent a premier or prime minister or leader of the opposition from going totally out-of-control is the threat of back-benchers switching party on mass.

    Reply
  8. reality

    45 billion dollar budget they can afford to be everything to everybody and they can afford to promise anything they want because the media gives them a free ride. They can lie, waffle, detract and obfuscate and they can afford to poach staff and MLA$. 45 billion dollars as their slushfund. Albertans dont care and we as a people have lost our moral and ethical compass. Everybody there is hoarding cash as fast as they can before the debt grows out of control. ie exec severances, and sole source contracts and so on….. Media is complacent, no investigative journalism.

    Reply
  9. Alvin Finkel

    I sympathize with a bit of what “Reality” says. We do have a corrupt, crony government in Alberta, and it does not stand for much. Any jurisdiction that does not change the party in power in over 4 decades is going to attract a lot of scum to the governing party: people who are just looking out for themselves and see the governing party as a tool to enrich themselves. But “Reality” does not grasp the reason why the government of Alberta appears unable to provide the services that its citizens want (the other day, for example, the universities and colleges were told to expect no increases in the budgets that Alison slashed) and is likely to find itself in debt next year (not that I actually join Reality in thinking that debt is always a problem and never a solution to economic problems).

    Albertans pay less than half of what other Canadians pay on average in taxes to their governments. That’s what the big corporations and the wealthy who keep the Tory party alive demand. And, not surprisingly, this low taxation limits the ability of any government, honest or not, to provide services. Wildrose, even if they provided completely honest government, would do as poor a job as the Tories–indeed, poorer, because they are in the 19th century and don’t understand that debt to pay for long-term infrastructure that will benefit future generations is investment, not a sin–because they are even more obsessed than the traditional right-wing party with the notion that taxation is a crime against the people.

    If we want a chance at both good services, some social justice, and an end to corruption, Albertans will have to look left. Unfortunately, at the moment, they will only see a series of small, squabbling, self-righteous parties with vague, if similar, platforms. We deserve better but we won’t likely get it.

    Reply
  10. Marie

    Of course Danielle’s leadership will survive. She has shamed anybody else from thinking about crossing the floor by declaring, “There’ll be no more floor crossers.” (Besides, nobody else is going to want to make her cry and hear her say, “You’re not my friend anymore.”)

    And, as far as the staffer who broke Towle’s mug and e-mailed the pic to her: proves the WRP is still attracting the “boys in short pants.”

    All of it seems so grade 4 to me – will the party ever grow from adolescence into adulthood?

    Reply
  11. May Day

    Are we to believe that the PC’s would accept any more “floor crossers”? How many turncoats do you need joining one party anyway? Too many, and the accepting party loses their credibility. In fact, I think two “rats” are two too many.
    As far as Kerry Towle crying because her mug got broke, well she’s not playing nice either. Danielle says their not friends anymore! Really?!!! Wow……..just wow!!

    Reply
  12. Marie

    I believe the PC’s would accept almost any or all of the rest of the WR MLA’s. Based on the general public’s seemingly positive reaction to Prentice and their willingness to give him a chance during the by-elections, I believe that more WR floor crossers would create the optics that Prentice has been able to heal the “divided right” as opposed to them being turncoats or rats. (for example, Kerry Towle has received 300+ e-mails of support vs. 11 against regarding her move across the floor.)

    Like it or not, Prentice has a credibility that Danielle just doesn’t have. I strongly believe that the WR membership is left wondering what relevance the party has now that Prentice is at the helm of the “Good Ship PC.”

    It was Joe Anglin who actually tweeted the pic of Kerry Towle’s mug – not Towle. Once the press got a hold of it, of course they made it a story. I think both Danielle and Kerry need to toughen up a little.

    The next test will be the Q4 fundraising numbers due January 15th!

    Reply
  13. Jay Sommers

    I agree with Professor Finkel that Alberta is just one big company store. Whether Albertans deserve better is another question. If they did deserve better, they’d have better. It’s as simple as voting differently.

    Reply
  14. unapologetically blunt

    @jay sommers.

    Albertans have lost their sense of proper balance between having a strong financial economy and a social conscience. Albertans have lost their way and their social concience.

    We dont care about seniors we dont care about healthcare we dont care about corruption we dont care about educating our kids. We seem to only care about ourselves, our enjoyment, hockey, beer and we are knee deep in becoming a me-me-me self serving individualistic society. We as a society have become shallow, remorseless, uncaring, indifferent and callous as a society. As a society we bash and ignore good politicians that want to pass good sound humanistic policies for a stronger and more productive society.

    We in Alberta have to look at ourselves in the mirror at who we have become both rural and urban and ask ourselves, is this what really had in mind, when we were young and thoughtful? May be we deserve a a society when we get what is coming……..Or are we hypocratically going to beg for no social cuts to health and education when Jim Prentice takes the axe to social programs while the corporatocracy continues to profit? When the tables are turned every self agrandized so called ‘conservative’ becomes a bleeding heart sensitive Liberal when they start to suffer from cuts. It is coming. Oil is at 65$/bbl. Low oil prices will test all of our hypocrisy. How did you vote last election?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *