Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle said she heard loud and clear when she door-knocked during recent byelections that it was time to give new Tory Premier Jim Prentice a chance.
The respected and outspoken Wildrose MLA surprised many people, but not everyone, on Monday when she crossed the floor to join the governing Progressive Conservatives.
Another Wildrose MLA, Ian Donovan, who represents Little Bow, also joined the Tories on Monday.
But Towle said neither of them knew what the other was planning.
Towle said she made the decision on Sunday.
More and more constituents were telling her that maybe it was time for the two parties to come together, she said.
Towle said that since Prentice became premier, there was a growing sense that a door was opening.
As well, she said that some of the directions that came out of the Wildrose party’s recent annual general meeting in Red Deer “were creating personal and integrity difficulty for me.”
“The idea that membership decides how I vote, that I don’t actually represent my constituents … it’s not what I signed up for.
“More importantly, it’s mostly the idea that if my constituents could be open-minded about how we worked with the (Prentice) government, then I needed to think about that as well.
“It was not easy decision. I’m terribly gutted. I was a strong supporter of the Wildrose and I certainly consider Danielle Smith to be a friend and this is a very difficult day for me,” an exhausted-sounding Towle said.
Her crossing the floor was actually only figurative on Monday because it takes a day for the seats to be moved over. She spent the day in the legislature with Donovan.
“I think there are a lot of us who are really concerned about our riding and concerned about our constituents and the vision for Alberta. But I would never want to put anyone in the difficulty I’m facing today. … They need to be able to look themselves in the mirror.”
Towle said that while she respects the opinion that MLAs should not cross over to another party because they were elected under a certain platform, “I respect that opinion but I can tell you … as someone who has made the decision and gone through it, this is not an easy decision. It doesn’t come lightly. It does come with consultation.”
She said she was not promised anything when she spoke with Prentice on Sunday.
“I asked for nothing. I got nothing. I stand on my integrity and my word.
“I don’t think there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know that I admire and respect Danielle Smith and I continue to do so. … This is not an issue about her personally. This is an issue about where our party is going and what’s best for my constituents and for Albertans, and in time, once emotions die down, I hope that she’s able to see that I think we can work better together than we can apart.”
Towle’s decision is being supported by her constituency association president.
Reached at his home on Monday minutes after he had learned Towle was going to cross the floor, constituency president Wayne Parcels said he was “surprised, but not.”
“I’m supportive of Kerry no matter what she does. I think it was coming and we kind of knew it was.
“I think that Kerry would get in regardless whether she’s Wildrose or not because she’s shown what she can do and what she has done.
“And I think it’s best for us really, that she can do more there than she can as an Opposition,” Parcels said.
Asked what he thought other constituency association members’ reaction might be, Parcels said he believed it would be similar to his.
“I think they’ll be backing Kerry … we see her as the person we want there, regardless of what side of the fence you are on.”
Parcels said he was a longtime Conservative supporter but “when the Tories started doing what they did under (former premier Alison) Redford, that just wasn’t right.”
The departures leaves Wildrose with 14 seats, down from 17 as recently as early November. Joe Anglin, MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, quit caucus and has been sitting as an independent since Nov. 2.
Anglin, who was in the legislature on Monday, said when he resigned from the party he had hoped that it would “have helped the party face up to reality and correct some problems. Clearly they are not and they are losing MLAs as a result.
“The individuals will make their decisions on the facts that hopefully best serve their constituents.
“This is an issue of leadership right across the board. I know everyone will be looking at Danielle Smith. I still respect Danielle Smith as a person but the party leadership is out of control in my view. In the end she bears the responsibility, being the leader of the party.”
Anglin is still angry about the considerable unrest within the Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre Wildrose constituency association, and ultimately losing the riding’s Wildrose nomination for the next election to Jason Nixon, blaming in part “”top down authoritarian dictatorship.”
He said that he knew of five Wildrose MLAs who were thinking of leaving the party, and only one of them who left on Monday was on that list.
“I don’t feel comfortable crossing the floor to another party. I prefer to sit as an independent and let the voters make that decision in the next election.”