EDMONTON — The growing rancour between Alberta’s two right-of-centre parties spilled over in a committee meeting Tuesday, when Premier Ed Stelmach’s Tories used their majority to deny almost a quarter-million dollars in research money to the rival Wildrose Alliance.
“It’s clear they fear our party and the success we’re having in Alberta,” said Alliance member Rob Anderson.
“It is not fair, it’s not equitable, but we’re going to find a way to make it work.”
The decisions came in a meeting of the legislature’s all-party member services committee, which oversees housekeeping items such as pay, perks and legislature office budgets.
The Alliance is growing. The party has been matching the Tories in opinion polls and beat them in one of their stronghold Calgary ridings in a 2009 byelection. The Alliance will have four members — making them an official party — in the 83-seat house when politicians return for the fall session on Oct. 25.
The Alliance has been fighting for research funds to match their growth, specifically $233,000 in caucus research money given to lower-ranked opposition parties in what is called the “leader’s allowance.”
That money would be a big boost for a party with a current research legislature budget of $400,000, enough to pay for a small staff.
The Tory-controlled committee denied the $233,000 because party leader Danielle Smith is not elected. Anderson urged members Tuesday to overturn that ruling in the interest of fairness and give them the funding under a new name.
He said there is precedent, that former Liberal leader Laurence Decore was given the money in 1988 even though he wasn’t in the legislature. The Alliance also noted it’s bizarre that the two-member New Democrat opposition gets more than $500,000 in funding while the four-member Alliance gets less.
“We’re at a disadvantage. With four members we should be entitled to more,” said Alliance member Paul Hinman. “All this speaking of elected leaders and leader’s allowance is smoke and mirrors.”
But Tories on the committee were unmoved.
“I would almost say be careful what you wish for,” said Tory George Rogers, who noted legislature funding on a per-member basis actually favours the opposition.
And Rogers said they can’t be rewriting policy on the shaky framework of shifting political allegiances. Three of the Wildrose members — Anderson, Heather Forsyth, and Guy Boutilier — left or were kicked out of the Tory party.
“The reason we’re talking about this today is because a number of members have crossed the floor to join another party,” said Rogers. “If that was the rationale, I would submit if in November two members of the Wildrose Alliance decided to join the NDP, will we be back here suggesting we reduce that funding?”
Boutilier officially joins the Wildrose on Oct. 25, but the $96,000 he had been getting for research as an Independent won’t be transferred to the Alliance. A motion to have that happened was denied by the Tory majority.
After the meeting, New Democrat Rachel Notley told reporters while she doesn’t want to promote the interests of a rival like the Alliance, there’s a larger issue involved.
“I think Albertans ultimately lose,” said Notley.
“At the end of the day we need a strong opposition. It doesn’t matter what your political preference is.
“We need a strong and robust debate, and this is an attempt to negate that.”
Also Tuesday, the Wildrose Alliance announced it will abide by a ruling from the Speaker’s office and no longer identify party leader Smith as the party leader in taxpayer-funded caucus press releases.
The Speaker’s office says private citizens can’t use caucus funds to promote their interests.
Anderson told reporters they’ll assume anyone reading a future Wildrose Alliance news release will already know Smith is the leader.
“We’ll continue to quote her. We’ll not quote her as the party leader, but we’ll quote her opinion whether we have to call her an adviser or some other thing,” he said.