The Great Betrayal – what happened to the Wildrose Party?

Mass MLA defection cripples Alberta’s Official Opposition
Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Staircase

Danielle Smith and Jim Prentice make a grande entrance at yesterday’s press conference at Government House.

Anyone already cynical about politics in Alberta will have their views reinforced with yesterday’s announcement that Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and eight of her party’s MLAs have abandoned their role as the Official Opposition and joined the 43-year governing Progressive Conservatives.

Danielle Smith Wildrose PC MLA

Danielle Smith

After a five hour meeting of the PC Caucus at Government House, Premier Jim Prentice and Ms. Smith walked side-by-side down the staircase to announce news that nine Wildrose MLAs had been accepted into the government caucus.

It was a shrewd move that could be a decisive win for Mr. Prentice in the Conservative Civil War that the two parties have waged against each other since the mid-2000s. But what led to this mass exodus of Wildrose MLAs?

Many political watchers, including myself, have pointed to Mr. Prentice’s leadership or the September 2014 by-election losses as catalysts for today’s news, but one long-time reader and observer of Alberta politics shared a different view:

“The Wildrose was not founded on political principles, like the fiscal conservatism of the Progressive Conservatives, or the social democracy of the New Democrats – but rather it was created, out of nothing, for the sole purpose of exerting political pressure on the PC government.”

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta

Jim Prentice

Since the disappearance of the Social Credit Party in the 1970s, Alberta has seen its share of conservative fringe parties, usually based in central or southern rural Alberta – including the Western Canadian Concept, the Representative Party, a short-lived SocCred revival in the mid-1990s and the Alberta First Party. The Alberta Alliance, which later became the Wildrose Alliance Party, transformed itself into something different.

While the Wildrose Party was founded on a social conservative base, the purpose of the party was to pull the meandering centrist Tories back to their conservative political roots. Over the past four years the Wildrose has excelled at using wedge issues like oil and gas royalties and property rights to drive the political agenda in Alberta.

Premier Ed Stelmach‘s meddling with natural resource royalties led the oil industry to quickly begin funnelling donations to the Wildrose, then led by a photogenic former school trustee named Danielle Smith. When the PCs abandoned plans to raise royalties, the Wildrose honed in on property rights and stirred up a considerable amount of fear and resentment among rural landowners, who were mostly traditional PC voters.

The nutty social conservatives proved to be the Wildrose’s greatest weakness in the 2012 election, costing the party a chance at forming government. But the many blunders of Alison Redford’s embarrassing government gave the Wildrose a renewed lease on life.

And now, with Mr. Prentice as leader of the PC Party, it has become difficult to point out significant policy differences between the two parties. By refusing to meddle in the marketplace, halting the poorly written Bill 10 and pledging to protect property rights, Mr. Prentice has robbed the Wildrose of their most effective critiques of the PC Party.

The Wildrose Party still exists with a significant campaign war chest and a membership role of 23,000. But it now lacks a leader, which the party executive says it will soon begin a search for. The steps taken by the party over the coming weeks could determine whether it can actually recover or whether it will join the list of conservative fringe parties after the next election.

Despite Ms. Smith’s agreement with new premier, the departure of the nine MLAs is a betrayal of the party’s hundreds of volunteers and donors and the more than 440,000 Albertans who voted Wildrose in the last election.

Life as an opposition MLA in Alberta is not glamorous, but as the Official Opposition, those nine MLAs played a critically important role in our parliamentary democracy. The timing and nature of the floor crossing reeks of political opportunism. And the quality of our democratic system will be weaker tomorrow with the loss of these nine opposition MLAs into the government backbenches.

The five remaining Wildrose MLAs will technically form the Official Opposition, but with their party in disarray, many political observers are watching to see if another political leader -NDP leader Rachel Notley – is able to form an effective opposition to the 43-year governing PC Party.


The nine Wildrose MLAs who crossed the floor to the PCs are:

Danielle Smith (Highwood)
Rob Anderson (Airdrie)
Gary Bikman (Cardston-Taber-Warner)
Rod Fox (Lacombe-Ponoka)
Jason Hale (Strathmore-Brooks)
Bruce McAllister (Chestermere-Rocky View)
Blake Pedersen (Medicine Hat)
Bruce Rowe (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills)
Jeff Wilson (Calgary-Shaw)


I joined Ryan Jespersen on BT Edmonton this morning to talk about the Wildrose defections:

15 thoughts on “The Great Betrayal – what happened to the Wildrose Party?

  1. Brian Dell

    re “The Wildrose was not founded on political principles, like the fiscal conservatism of the Progressive Conservatives, or the social democracy of the New Democrats – but rather it was created, out of nothing, for the sole purpose of exerting political pressure on the PC government.”

    This makes little sense to me.

    First of all, the PCs are not fiscally conservative. Take their spend policies and drop them down in a jurisdictions that don’t rake in billions in resource revenue and they’d be notorious profligates running deficits almost everyone agrees are unsustainable. If the PCs are fiscally conservative, then the Norwegians must be far right extremists given their relative restraint with respect to spending amidst significant resource revenue.

    Secondly, why would you found a political party just to exert “political pressure” on some other party, as if the “pressure” could come from any and every direction with no other objective in mind? That pressure has to come from some sort of POV. If it doesn’t why not join the NDP instead of starting a new party, since the NDP aims to apply political pressure on the PCs as well, no?

    I was at the Wildrose founding convention in 2007 and I’d say that, while there are some differences, it was founded in the same mentality as the Reform party. Indeed, the demise of the Reform party and what happened to Wildrose is similar, in that original Reform principles were slowly corrupted by those who decided that nothing was above being compromised and by rank and filers following their leaders without holding them accountable to the Reform principles calling for respect for the grassroots.

    What happened this week is far more about the 9 individuals that changed parties than anything else. If all these macro/ideological analyses being put forward by pundits were accurate, then there would have been a grassroots call for a merger. But the grassroots never led this. This was a scheme hatched in the mind of the floor crossers, not in some sort of external force that carried along broad based opinion.

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  2. Neal

    I disagree with your use of the word “meddling” to describe Stelmach’s royalty changes. He was only doing what Albertans had told him to do, and continuing in Lougheed’s tradition of ensuring Albertans get their fair share of oil revenues. That it timed up with global economic collapse and most Albertans are too stupid to understand what really caused the sector to suddenly fall off is hardly Stelmach’s fault.

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  3. Doug

    What happened? The Wild Rose chose a charismatic, photogenic salesman rather than a leader. Had anyone in the WRP actually vetted this woman’s resume it would have been clear that she was nothing more than a political grifter who attracted more of the same. I am hardly a fan of the WRP but should they survive, and I have no doubt that they will, they might want to choose a leader who actually espouses the party’s principles and doesn’t just sell them like used cars.

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  4. jerrymacgp

    This is a virtually unprecedented attack on the principles of parliamentary democracy. In any other province in Canada, in Ottawa, and in any other functioning Westminster-style legislature in the world, the role of HM Loyal Opposition is to hold the government’s feet to the fire, in order to ensure government accountability to the people that elected it; this is what we mean by “responsible government”. Unity in politics is a myth; freedom and democracy flourish when there is healthy, vigourous debate in the political arena. North Korea has unity, but it most certainly has neither freedom nor democracy.

    What Mr Prentice and Ms Smith have done here, aided and abetted by the PC caucus and the other eight Wildrose defectors, is pull the rug out from any semblance of responsible government in Alberta. What they have clearly said, by their actions, is that there is no room in Alberta politics for lively, vigourous, healthy debate and multiple points of view; there is only room for one opinion and one vision. Maybe the makers of The Interview should have made their movie about Alberta, not North Korea.

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  5. Edward

    The Wildrose Party’s website states that (quote) “Albertan’s must have trust in their leaders. It’s time for a new government and a new kind of government that instills confidence and works to earn Albertan’s trust every single day” I’m confused…How does the leader of the Wildrose party Danielle Smith instill confidence, and earn Albertans trust when she just jumps ship and joins an opposing party? Isn’t this rather hypocritical?
    She was elected by the people of the Highwood riding as a Wildrose member, not a P.C. member. I would tend to think that if they wanted a Progressive Conservative representing them they would have voted one in a couple of years ago.

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  6. informational fog

    This betrayal will go in the history books as one of the worst that humanity has ever seen. Just 6 weeks ago Danielle was eviscerating the PCs in the Leg. Then a couple of weeks ago she said there will be no more floor crossings. To double that, Rob Anderson is now the first double floor crosser in Alberta history, I think. They will be rewarded for their betrayal and joined the very culture of entitlement that they fought against. They think that in one fool swoop that Jim Prentice has somehow changed the PC culture, and the media keeps trying to create this perception. Jim Prentice has not changed squat. The culture of that group has not changed and Danielle and Rob have joined it now. Do you folks remember that hunchback traitor character in the movie 300 that betrayed King Leonidas? This betrayal is that same moment. Absolutely ugly sickening and reviling. In retrospect, the media is also to blame, for overplaying and in fact promoting tory largesse. They never gave the other opposition parties a chance. They all had good thoughtful policies. When ever they did mention the Liberals, it was always in the most unflattering way, with so called political scientists pro actively creating a negative perception and then polling the very negative perception they created and then telling everybody, see we told you so. Readers are usually low information and tend to blindly believe any thing columnists, bloggers or political scientists tell them and this is a form of perception manipulation. There is no investigative journalism in Alberta, the same political scientist who has to secure funding for his institution tells the same PC promoting ideals over and over again, with no thoughtful in depth analysis on ideas, policies or solutions. A lie told a thousand times becomes real in the minds of the unaware public and as they keep talking about it, the false perception becomes real. Also, Bloggers that kept down opposition parties for their own political reasons have a played a part in weakening our democracy, whether they want to admit it or not.

    Reply
  7. GoinFawr

    Alberta your official ‘opposition’ and ‘incumbents’ have just laid all their cards upon the table, and ‘lo and behold: they’re both playing the exact same hands, in the exact same suits, for the exact same house. Have you now the wherewithal to recognize the prestidigitation that has been perp’d upon you by these ‘two’ parties at the behest of their plutocratic handlers, or does their ‘Hocus Pocus’ still leave you wringing your hands, baffled at how it was done? I’m thinking the time is approaching that you might want to try ignoring your intense neoliberal conditioning for awhile and consider the motives of politicians who receive the least (rather than the most) support from corporate donors. It’s really quite easy to do, you know; whenever a politician flaps his/her gums just follow the money and ask yourself,

    “Cui bono?”

    Reply
  8. Paul

    Ray Speaker crossed the floor 4 times and the last crossing as leader of the Representative Party and he crossed the floor as leader of the Social Credit caucus.

    Reply
  9. Socred

    Political parties should be banned, and all representatives should be forced to run as independents. In this way, these representatives would represent their constituents, not their political party.

    Reply

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