Tag Archives: Crossing the floor

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:

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.

That sinking feeling. More problems for the Redford Tories

Alison Redford Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership party sinking shipBlasting the culture of entitlement that has engulfed the 43-year governing Progressive Conservative Party, Calgary-Varsity MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans announced on Monday that she was leaving the government caucus to sit as an Independent MLA. Ms. Kennedy-Glans is the second MLA to leave the PC caucus this month, but unlike the departure of Calgary-Foothills MLA Len Webber, she did not have a well-known history of dissatisfaction with the party’s leadership.

Donna Kennedy Glans MLA Calgary Varsity Independent

Donna Kennedy-Glans

Since being elected, however, 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. – Donna Kennedy-Glans

The now-former Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy was a star PC candidate in the 2012 election, and was seen as a rising star within the caucus. A former vice-president of Nexen, Ms. Kennedy-Glans decision to leave the PC caucus carries a significant amount of weight in Calgary’s corporate oil establishment, and her departure is a blow to Ms. Redford’s party.

Hoping to ease the turmoil amid calls for the premier’s resignation and the threat of an MLA revolt, senior PC Party officials gathered in Calgary last weekend and imposed an ambiguous “work plan” on Ms. Redford, essentially putting their leader on probation two years before the next election. A strange move, this action is hardly a vote of confidence in Ms. Redford’s leadership.

The “work plan” apparently did little to appease a group of ten disgruntled PC MLAs, who met in Edmonton on Sunday to discuss their next steps. According to CBC, the ten MLAs at the meeting were Moe Amery, Neil Brown, Ken Lemke, Jacquie Fenske, Mary Anne Jablonski, Matt Jeneroux, Cathy Olesen, Janice SarichDavid Xiao, and Steve Young.

Premier Alison Redford

Alison Redford

Over the past 43 years, the PC Party has survived, and dominated, by reinventing itself with each new leader. As such, the PC Party has transformed drastically since the principled Peter Lougheed first led it to victory in 1971. Tied to its current unpopular leadership, the PC Party faces a serious identity crisis, but the crisis is deeper than its current leader. As a natural governing party for more than four decades, the PC Party in 2014 has become tired, arrogant and absent of real principles.

Albertans have an overwhelmingly low opinion of Ms. Redford’s character and they are scratching their heads wondering why the party has not yet compelled her to resign. Her aloof reaction to scandals over her personal use of government planes and travel expenses have overshadowed the government’s entire agenda over the past two months.

The PC Party had an opportunity to send Ms. Redford packing last year, when instead they handed her  a 77% approval vote in her leadership review.

Now left with no official mechanism to remove her as leader, her opponents and her potential successors are forced to use eagerly using more public and more embarrassing methods to pressure Ms. Redford to resign. 

Update: This morning on CBC Edmonton AM, Edmonton-South West PC MLA Matt Jeneroux mused that he is “taking time to reflect” about whether he should remain in the government caucus.