After 11 of the party’s 16 MLAs crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives in November and December 2014, the conservative opposition Wildrose Party was thrown into chaos. Left without its most public faces, notably former leader Danielle Smith, the party will choose its next permanent leader sometime in the next year, likely between the months of March and September.
Soon-to-be-retired Member of Parliament Rob Anders said he will not run and Conservative Godfather Preston Manning would likely not be welcomed to join after he admitted to accidentally convincing the MLAs to abandon their party.
Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes has been named as a natural choice for the leadership spot. Unknown to most Albertans, Mr. Barnes is the lone remaining Wildrose MLA, other than interim leader Heather Forsyth, to step into the spotlight in the weeks following the floor crossing. Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA Shayne Saskiw has also been mentioned as a potential leadership candidate.
It is unclear whether the other remaining MLAs – Rick Strankman and Pat Stier – are interested in contesting the leadership.
Lawyer Richard Jones, the party’s nominated candidate in Calgary-Acadia, has been mentioned as a potential candidate, as has former lobby group spokesperson Derek Fildebrandt.
If the Wildrose Party waits too long to select a new leader, they could find themselves facing a provincial election without a permanent leader. On January 10, 2015, the PC Party Executive Board will meet and it is suspected they will discuss whether to keep the June 1st nomination timeline or whether to advance it in preparation for a Spring 2015 election.
Crossing the floor a last minute decision
The abruptness of the floor crossings shocked party supporters, political watchers and even some of the MLAs who crossed the floor.
“I too was shocked,” Chestermere-Rocky View MLA Bruce McAllister told the Rocky View Weekly. Mr. McAllister told the newspaper that he did not consult with his constituency prior to crossing the floor because the window of opportunity was quickly closing.
Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Rod Fox told The Chautauqua that he “made an extremely difficult decision to join the governing PC Party of Alberta … a decision that was reached after many hours of agonizing and soul searching.”
“I finally made my decision moments before it was due,” Mr. Fox said.
In another bizarre addition to the floor crossing story, it appears that Medicine Hat MLA Blake Pedersen was on vacation in Australia when he crossed the floor to the PC Party. On the day of the floor crossings, Mr. Pedersen sent his statement to reporters in the form of a text message from Down Under.
Despite previously embracing a mantra that leaned heavily on “consulting constituents,” it does not appear any consultation actually occurred before the MLAs quit their party.
But as Maclean’s writer Colby Cosh suggests, Albertans angry with the floor crossings are likely to move on and forget the former Wildrose MLAs transgressions.
Another Wildrose candidate drops out
The nominated Wildrose candidate in Strathcona-Sherwood Park has announced he is dropping out of the race. Brian Tiessen was nominated in a contested race in October 2014 against County Councillor Vic Bidzinski. He is one of a handful of nominated Wildrose candidates to forfeit their candidacies following the mass floor crossing on Dec. 17, 2014.
In a neighbouring constituency, former Strathcona County mayor Linda Osinchuk tweeted that she will remain the nominated Wildrose candidate in Sherwood Park. Ms. Osinchuk will face PC MLA Cathy Olesen, a former mayor who Ms. Osinchuk defeated in the 2010 municipal elections.
FYI I am still planning to run to be the next MLA representing Sherwood Park. Bold leadership is still needed. #shpk
— Linda Osinchuk (@LindaOsinchuk) December 16, 2014