Five backbench Tory MLAs voted today to deny the Wildrose Alliance increased funding for their now three MLA caucus. As the third largest party in the Assembly, the Wildroses receive $395,000, which is much less than the $561,000 received by the two MLA NDP Opposition and $1,537,000 received by the eight MLA Liberal Opposition. The Liberals and NDP supported the motion to increase funding for the Wildroses.
Until Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith is elected, an all-party committee of provincial politicians has decided her party’s caucus will not receive all potential funding.
“Until she steps up to the plate and runs for a position in the next election, we stay where we’re at,” Government Whip Robin Campbell said Monday afternoon.
The argument presented by Mr. Campbell is the continuation of the on-going political games that have been happening on the committee level at Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. While PC MLAs on this committee argued that the presence of a party leader should determine funding levels, at another MLA committee last week Tory MLAs argued that the Assembly had no business regulating donations to party leadership elections that would select these leaders.
Beyond the partisan rhetoric, there appears to be little basis to determining funds for offices internal to the Assembly based on the leadership of an external party. Albertans do not directly elect party leaders in General Elections, so why should their public funds be tied to the presence of party leaders in the Assembly? If past examples are taken into account, I do not believe that any special “leaders funding” was denied between the time that Nancy MacBeth was selected as Liberal leader and her victory in the 1998 Edmonton-McClung by-election. Of course, precedents and logical arguments are not always surefire ways to win arguments at Legislature committees.
Another argument in favour of denying the funding is because two of the three Wildrose MLAs (Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth) were elected under a different banner in the 2008 election. Supporters of this argument claim that funding should be denied until they run in a by-election to prove that their constituents support the floor-crossing.
There are still a lot of Tory loyalists who feel their blood boiling when they think of the rookie MLA and Klein-era cabinet minister turning their backs on the governing party. Of course, this same argument was not applied to a handful of Liberal MLAs crossed the floor to the Klein Tories in the 1990s, including current Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky.
Under the same logic, why should an MLA who leaves a party to sit as an Independent MLA not be held to the same standard? Should funding be denied to former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor until a by-election is held to confirm his status as an Independent MLA? Would there be an exemption for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Guy Boutilier, who was ejected from the PC caucus in protest?
This political problem for the PCs began in 1997, when MLAs voted to grant the two MLA NDP caucus official party status even though they did not meet the the official four MLA status. The decision at the time was just as political, though it was aimed to weaken a then-stronger and larger Liberal opposition. The NDP also continue to pose a very minor electoral threat to the PCs. The Tories are having a difficult time applying the same standards to the three MLA Wildrose opposition. The reason why the Wildroses were denied increased funding was because they are seen as a political threat.
PC MLAs can try their hardest to bleed the Wildroses dry inside the Assembly, but it will not stop their larger political problem – the growing crowds of Albertans that Ms. Smith is continuing to attract as she travels across the province.