Local MLAs caught off guard by Wildrose mass exodus

Total shock. Complete surprise. Disbelief. Stunned. Embarrassed. We’re not talking about the day after one terrible yet somehow incredulous office party.

Total shock. Complete surprise. Disbelief. Stunned. Embarrassed.

We’re not talking about the day after one terrible yet somehow incredulous office party.

No — this is some of the reaction to Wednesday’s nine Wildrose elves crossing over to work in Santa Prentice’s glimmering new toy shop.

While the three Central Alberta MLAs at the centre of the unprecedented floor crossing are not talking yet, three other local MLAs are.

Wildrose MLAs Rod Fox (Lacombe-Ponoka) and Bruce Rowe (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills) were two of nine MLAs, including leader Danielle Smith, who skipped across the floor to the governing Progressive Conservatives on Wednesday. One of the five remaining Wildrose MLAs is also from Central Alberta — Rick Strankman (Drumheller-Stettler).

After a few calls to Fox’s office, a representative told me the MLA was busy for the next few days with paperwork and other matters. There has been no response at all from Rowe.

But response there certainly was on Thursday from MLAs Mary Anne Jablonski (Red Deer North), Kerry Towle (Innisfail-Sylvan Lake) and Joe Anglin (Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre).

Towle, who only a month ago was a Wildrose MLA herself, garnered big headlines when she and another colleague, Ian Donovan, crossed the floor to Premier Jim Prentice’s PCs.

“I want to make it very clear. I did not know any of those conversations were going on. Had no idea that they’ve been in the works for months,” Towle told me.

“When I crossed, I crossed solely because I was hearing it from within our riding … I had no idea.

“I spent that whole week with Danielle (Smith) before crossing and she was very torn on whether she could stay with the Wildrose.”

Towle, a good friend at the time of Smith’s, said she thought the Wildrose leader was ready to simply resign, and there was no inkling she wanted to cross to the PCs. Now it seems there may have been some conversations between Wildrose and the PCs about merging for several months.

Towle thought that Smith was discouraged over her equality rights proposal being voted down at the party’s recent annual general meeting in Red Deer, among other things.

When Towle crossed the floor, Smith was quite angry and the friendship between the two came to an abrupt end.

“I realize bygones are bygones … if this really was in the works for months, there should be no reason not to restore the friendship. It does cause a bit of a concern as to why she was so upset when I left,” said Towle.

“I don’t know if we’ll be able to repair that relationship. I am more than willing. … I’ve lost a brother. This is not the worst thing in the world. You can always move forward but there has to be a willingness on both sides and I would hope there is because we’re going to be working alongside each other and we worked alongside each other very well previously.”

Towle said she received a text on Saturday that the entire Wildrose caucus was going to cross over to the PCs. She didn’t believe it and she especially didn’t believe that Smith would cross.

And now that she’s over the initial surprise, “I would remind everybody not to judge too harshly because no one knows what it’s like to cross the floor until they do it. And I have no doubt … this has been gut-wrenching for them. I have no doubt this will be some of the hardest days they will face because I know what I faced and what they’re facing is probably much more harsh. …

“When I crossed, I got it from all over Alberta. I got it from all over Canada, for that matter. It’s really difficult. It’s personal. It’s attacking your integrity and your character.”

As for people being angry with the floor crossing, Towle said voters will have their say in the end. “Once they go to an election, they are free to vote for whoever they choose.

“Maybe this will bring out more voters. That’s part of the problem we have in Alberta. We’re apathetic about voting. period. Maybe this is a bit of a catalyst to have people re-engage,” Towle said.

As for PC MLA Jablonski: “I was as surprised as anyone. I had heard rumours like anyone else that there would be a few more crossing the floor, but to hear that nine of them would cross, with their leader, was as shocking to me as probably to anyone.”

“We’re going into tough economic times and it’s not going to be easy and by working together I think we can do the right things for the people of the province. And I think that’s the goal of the MLAs that crossed the floor and that’s the goal of the PC MLAs as well.

“So we are on the same page that way. And we’re all on the same page as far as principles and policies are concerned, in most cases,” Jablonski said.

“I certainly can understand why the supporters and fundraisers and the people of the Wildrose party who have worked so hard for the party, I can understand their frustration, and anger perhaps in some cases, but … I also feel when you can see that you have a good leader, and that’s what we have in Jim Prentice, when you can see that this province needs good direction, you put those two things together, Danielle Smith said it herself, she didn’t have the fire anymore to go after a premier who she thought was doing the right thing,” Jablonski said.

“The democratic process require a good opposition, which the Wildrose did provide, so now it will be up to the 15 remaining members of the different opposition parties to perform that role.”

Jablonski admits she’s had a number of phone calls and texts from concerned constituents.

“Even though I think it makes us stronger, we still have some PC members that aren’t entirely happy with what’s happened as well.

“I explained to my constituents we are going into a challenging time … in order to be stronger, we have to have everybody with us and as few against us as possible.”

Anglin, a former Wildrose MLA who left the party recently to sit as an independent, had strong criticism of the nine members joining the PCs.

“I kinda woke up this morning like a 20-year-old. Did that really happen at that party last night? It just seems surreal.”

“Stunned,” is how he described how he was feeling.

“I’m a bit embarrassed and ashamed at how my former colleagues acted. They destroyed a party for no good reason. They’re calling it a merger, it’s not. They’re calling it a merger of conservatives. They don’t have that right. I don’t know where they think they are entitled to that right.”

He said part of the reason that he left the party is “We started to do the backroom stuff. We started to do the anti-democratic behaviour, it started to seep into those who thought they were entitled.

“To do what they did to the membership that they did it to, to the Albertans they did it to, is unforgiveable.

“It isn’t about one person crossing … there is a higher responsibility particularly for the leader.

“This act is a shameful act. If they wanted to merge the conservatives … you go to the party, you sell it to the people first and then you vote on it,” Anglin said.

“I can’t find anyone that’s really in favour of this, particularly on the street. People are ashamed. They’re embarrassed. And they’re angry.

“The Wildrose was only five points behind Prentice a week ago. These people acted like amateurs.

“Whether I agree with the party or not, to destroy the party for your own personal gain, is just an unbelievable betrayal beyond imagination.”

Anglin said he intends to remain an independent MLA but Wildrose and Liberals each have five members now, and “I will form a coalition but I’m not interested in joining anybody.”

Anglin predicts that two more Wildrose MLAs could leave the party soon, but not to cross over to the PCs.

He does not blame Prentice for the floor crossing.

“Why wouldn’t he accept them and get rid of the biggest pain in the rear end? Hey, why wouldn’t you do that?”