“I will fully admit the first two weeks after I lost I was totally in the fetal position, cried my eyes out. It was awful. I couldn’t even drive to town. I honestly believed I had a chance, a good chance to win.”
Kerry Towle, the former MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, acknowledges losing her seat nearly five months ago in the May 5 provincial election that it was a hard lesson in politics.
Today she is not shying away from talking about intense personal insight into what happened, and what she believes needs to happen to close the divide between Alberta’s two main right-of-centre parties — the Wildrosers and Progressive Conservatives.
Towle was elected in 2012 as a rookie Wildrose MLA. She quickly gained respect and credibility as a passionate outspoken advocate for vulnerable persons. In fact, her special interest in helping these people — persons in care, seniors and others — came from first-hand experience and was the sole reason she entered politics.
Towle’s brother, Ron Hunt, was diagnosed in his 30s with Huntington’s disease. She fought a long battle to get him into long-term care and also over who would pay for it. He died in 2010 at age 35.
Last November Towle and another MLA touched off an incredible series of events when they crossed the floor to the governing newly led Jim Prentice Progressive Conservatives. It was a major surprise and just the beginning of a political fracking that wasn’t only felt by Wildrosers, but by Albertans of other political persuasions.
In that historic moment in Alberta politics that’s drawn endless ink, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and eight other MLAs followed Towle in December, crossing over to the PCs. In May, the PCs were all but wiped out after 44 years of rule, Rachel Notley’s New Democrats won a majority government, and Daniel Smith and Jim Prentice are long gone.
“I left the Wildrose for the PCs fully understanding I could lose. I don’t think there was anybody who thought I was going to lose as a Wildroser in my riding. The problem that I had was in sticking up for our seniors, our vulnerable, and our people in care.
“I was repeatedly told by a faction of the Wildrose I wasn’t right enough, that I was too leftist, I was too liberal,” Towle says.
Before Wildrose she said she had no party affiliations. “I didn’t really label myself at all. But when I joined the Wildrose I was told I must be right wing. I must be in favour of privatizing all medicine. … The reality of it was I only got involved in politics because my brother died in health care.
“But whether they want to admit it or not, unfortunately the Wildrose faces a stereotype that they are not socially progressive, and that stereotype remains with them today.”
“They’re just strong social conservatives who have their beliefs, and they found a home in the Wildrose. … They needed a party that shared those beliefs but the reality of it is if you want to govern there are certain things that we have to all understand, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is one of them,” she says.
“And the PCs have their own stigmas. They have a stigma of being corrupt, and entitled, and been there too long … So between the two, the brand is equally damaged.”
Voters were incredibly angry at the PCs and wanted to teach them a lesson, Towle says. “Is that going to be the same case in 2019? I don’t know.”
The fundamental problem for the Wildrose is that they don’t understand why they lost 136,000 votes in the provincial election, even though they gained five seats, says Towle. The idea of a new right-wing party is seeing some uptake, says Towle.
“We’re now seeing other people talking about how there’s no question that we need to bring conservative-minded folks together, and there’s no question that there was a need for a break-off party, which was the Wildrose, to get the PCs in check. Even I agree with that.”
She says it’s not for her to decide if Wildrose or PCs are dead, it’s for voters to decide, adding it’s like the “Hatfields and McCoys” right now between the two.
She said there needs to be agreement for a discussion at the grassroots level, “to create the movement that allows the Wildrose and PCs to come together organically under a new banner, under a new brand with new bylaws and a new constitution that actually looks at the voter first rather than party solidarity, rather than party preservation.”
Voters are exhausted from “the meanness and the hatred and the vitriol that’s happening,” she says.
The provincial election results signal a change in the Alberta voter, Towle says, “but more importantly it signals a lack of understanding by the parties of who the Alberta voter is.
“Having the two parties with brands that are damaged is creating a problem for everyday voters.”
“I’m a person without a home at the moment because, Wildrose obviously I left … the PCs I’m not so sure they’ve been humbled enough.”
“I honestly thought that people would see through the politics and would more want a really good MLA who was standing up for the right things and who wasn’t scared to leave a party that she no longer felt at home with.
“And what I learned was that all that matters is the politics. That the person who is running doesn’t matter at all actually. And we’ve seen it. I mean how many candidates did people not even know their names.”
“Maybe I’m not cut out for party politics.”
“I understand that I deserved to lose because I broke the voters’ trust. I don’t regret leaving (Wildrose) though.”
“I may never run again and I’m okay with that. Or I may. “
Towle says she is happy now. She lives near Innisfail on an acreage with her husband Brad and daughter Madison and she has a public relations business. She also takes care of her elderly parents. “I am doing things with my family I haven’t done in three years.”
“I’m thankful. You couldn’t have learned more in such a short period of time.”