An attempt to cripple a once strong opposition party is instead galvanizing the party, at least in one Red Deer riding.
Since last Wednesday’s exodus of nine MLAs from the Wildrose caucus, the party’s Red Deer South constituency association has seen a large influx of people looking to join.
“In the last week I have never seen so much interest for people wanting to be part of the board,” said Calvin Goulet-Jones, president of the Wildrose’s Red Deer South constituency association.
“From my view, this is sparking a little bit of a resurgence. Usually it’s election time when people come forward and want to help out. This seems to have motivated people to want to be a part of the party at the board level and bring change that way.”
On Monday, 21-year Alberta legislature veteran Heather Forsyth was named the party’s interim leader. Goulet-Jones called her the obvious choice. Forsyth has already announced that she would not seek re-election in the next Alberta general election.
“The reality is if she is retiring and we’re going to go into a leadership race, she’s a person that can remain the most unbiased,” said Goulet-Jones.
“I think that’s probably the best thing for the party, to have a person that is going to cheer for the party and cheer for our principals.”
Goulet-Jones thought it would either be her or Drew Barnes, the Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA.
As interim party leader, Forsyth will become the new leader of the official Opposition, replacing the departed Danielle Smith.
Forsyth starter her political career with the Progressive Conservatives, first being elected in 1993. She served as solicitor general and minister of public security under Premier Ralph Klein.
She left the PCs and crossed the floor to the Wildrose Party in 2010 with Rob Anderson. Anderson returned to the PCs last week, as one of nine Wildrose members to cross the floor.
Of the five remaining Wildrose MLAs, only Rick Strankman calls Central Alberta home. The Stettler-Drumheller MLA was on vacation when the floor crossings occurred, but was flying home on Monday while the interim party leader was named.
In the thinned down caucus, Strankman becomes the party’s critic for agriculture; Service Alberta; jobs, skills, training and labour; and culture and tourism.
“These issues need a renewed voice and a party of individuals ready to speak on the issues,” said Strankman, in a release. “Our work begins today of building an even better Alberta.”
In the event of a snap election, Goulet-Jones said they would be ready to go and they had a few people express interest in seeking the nomination for the riding.
“Albertans clearly aren’t happy,” said Goulet-Jones. “The ironic thing is this has united the left and the Wildrose. We have Brian Mason (former leader of the Alberta NDP) helping out with funding laid off Wildrose staffers.
“This has united Alberta in a way I don’t think the PCs were counting on. Albertans, when we see something that’s not right, that’s not principled, we get a little upset about it and we speak up.”