EDMONTON — Floor-crossing Alberta MLA Bridget Pastoor, who sat in the legislature Wednesday for the first time as a member of the governing Tories, said her constituents are OK with her decision.
Pastoor said street-side straw polls and phone calls to her Lethbridge-East constituency office indicate the majority of those asked don’t mind that she left the Opposition Liberals.
“From the reports I’m getting in my office, it’s 70-30 in favour of what I’ve done,” Pastoor said as she entered the house.
Pastoor, 71, sat in the second row on the government benches, over the left shoulder and down the way from Premier Alison Redford.
A former nurse and Lethbridge city councillor, Pastoor on Monday confirmed what had been long-rumoured — she was leaving the Liberal caucus to sit with the Progressive Conservatives.
Pastoor worked as a volunteer for the Tories during the Peter Lougheed era of the 1970s and ’80s. One of her fellow volunteers was Redford, and Pastoor made it clear Redford was the main reason she decided to switch.
“I’m very pleased that I’m on the government side of the house. It probably makes it easier for everyone if I’m on that side,” said Pastoor.
“It just gets a little bit awkward, and I don’t think that’s good for anybody.”
The Tories plan to put her to work right away. Pastoor is set to replace Gene Zwozdesky this week as chair of the all-party standing committee on education.
Liberal Kent Hehr, deputy chairman of the committee, said he looks forward to Pastoor taking over, given that she has been on the other side of the aisle.
He suggested she might bring change to a Tory-dominated committee that too often has squelched alternative or opposition viewpoints.
“I’m hoping this signals a new spirit will emerge from these committees.”
Hehr’s comments reflect was has become one of the most amicable floor-crossings in the history of the Alberta legislature.
Pastoor said didn’t bolt because she was upset with the Liberals or their leader Raj Sherman.
“In my mind this is not a partisan decision,” she said in Monday. “This way I will able to sit at the table where the decisions will be made.
“I’ll be able to say from the inside what I’ve been saying from the outside.”
Sherman himself wished her well.
“Like I always say, if somebody doesn’t want to be with you, it’s better now than later on. We’ll make our adjustments and we’ll keep moving forward.”
The last floor-crosser before Pastoor was Sherman. He was kicked out of the Tory caucus for publicly criticizing how his government was running the health system. In September, he won the leadership of the Liberals.
Despite Sherman’s reaction, Pastoor’s departure is a gut-blow to a party that is falling in the polls, has just eight members in the legislature, has nominated only 19 candidates and has no elected members outside Edmonton and Calgary.
Veteran MLAs Harry Chase, Kevin Taft and Hugh MacDonald have already announced they won’t run in the next general election, expected to come in the spring.
Pastoor, originally from St. Boniface, Man., said she will run again, this time under the Conservative banner, for her third legislature term. She said she believes voters in her constituency have traditionally voted more for her than for the Liberal brand.
“I think it will play OK (in Lethbridge),” she said.
“I think they will understand.”