While the Wildrose Party suffered a major blow on Wednesday, there remains a sentiment to fight on.
The Progressive Conservatives accepted nine Wildrose MLAs — including leader Danielle Smith — into their party on Wednesday. Included into the PC fold also are two now-former Central Alberta Wildrose MLAs — Rod Fox (Lacombe-Ponoka) and Bruce Rowe (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills). Rick Strankman (Drumheller-Stettler) is one of the five remaining Wildrose MLAs in Alberta.
With the defections, the Tories went from 63 to 72 seats.
Alex Pratt, Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills constituency association president, has been with the Wildrose from Day One.
The Didsbury resident was involved in the very beginning, in 2003, with the Alberta Alliance Party that would eventually merge in 2008 with the fledgling Wildrose (the party’s registered name is actually Wildrose Alliance Party).
“We have a strong support for the Wildrose in this area. The volunteers on the board, I’ve talked to several of them, and they’re dumbfounded with what’s going on … nobody seen this coming.
“It was all orchestrated behind the scenes,” said Pratt.
Speaking to the Advocate on Wednesday morning before it was known how many or which Wildrose MLAs would cross over to the PCs, Pratt said he believed things started to move after Wildrose MLAs Kerry Towle (Sylvan Lake-Innisfail) and Ian Donovan (Little Bow) crossed the floor three weeks ago, leaving Wildrose with 14 seats.
Smith’s departure for the Tories is a surprise, he said, because only a month ago at the Wildrose annual meeting she was very committed.
“I think there’ll be a lot of ‘What the hell’s going on? We just had our AGM.’ ”
Pratt said he thinks Towle’s departure “kicked Danielle pretty hard. I think she felt betrayed in a way.” The two women were close friends.
As well, the fact Wildrose did not win any of four recent byelections was difficult, he said.
“They were going up against the PC Machine hard at work. I think that was kind of demoralizing.”
“I am not very fond of Danielle at the moment. I think she has dropped her whole ideals, as the opposition of holding the government to account, and now she’s joined forces with them.”
Pratt said he had a call earlier this week from Rowe and they had a heartfelt conversation without animosity.
“He was asking for some advice and he said he had to do a bit soul-searching.
“I told him he has to make his own decision.
“He’s going to be the one that has to look at himself in the mirror and has to answer to his constituents as to why he’s crossed the floor.
“The PC party to me it’s the same old regime … they tried to put a real good makeup face on it by having Jim Prentice as leader … he’s the one that’s orchestrated (the defections).
“I think there’s been a big carrot out there. The carrot is that they will go across the floor and there’ll be positions in the caucus for them and supposedly … (Prentice)… will sign their nominations in their constituency as a PC candidate.
“Now I don’t know how PC constituencies will feel about that because I know if it was coming the other way, and I had a candidate in the wing and somebody turns around and says, ‘No no you can’t have that candidate because this is the candidate for you.’ … I think that’s what’s stalling the news (Wednesday) of what’s going to go on.
“Nothing is going to change as far as the constituency association in Olds-Didsbury.
“If (Rowe’s) choice is to cross the floor, all we’re going to have to do is regroup and find another candidate.
“That’s basically everybody I’ve talked to in the Wildrose family. … Yeah, we’ll take a little bit of a sting but we were down to where Paul Hinman lost his seat and had nobody in the legislature and came back.
“We’re going to have those five individuals who adamantly said they’re not going to cross the floor and that’s more than what we started with at the first, and we’ll just have to rebuild with those individuals.”
David Baugh, head of the Political Science Department at Red Deer College, said late Wednesday that there was always something a bit artificial about one conservative party being the official Opposition for another conservative party.
“This could create an opening where we have a real discussion of views, not just two conservative parties but a left-right political discussion.
“I hope we’ll see more of a regular party system here, not just one big party but some real discussion of alternative viewpoints. Reunification on the right will lead to instead of a right-right debate, a right-left debate, I think,” Baugh said.
Far more important matters are ahead for this province, he said, pointing to Alberta’s huge reliance on resource revenue as oil prices have tanked.
Alberta has a premier who hasn’t faced the electorate and far more important going forward is the next provincial election, Baugh said.
About a month ago, Wildrose had 17 seats. Joe Anglin, MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, quit caucus and began sitting as an independent in early November.
Interviewed when Towle and Donovan left Wildrose, Anglin said then that he knew of four other Wildrose MLAs who were thinking of leaving the party.
The Tories began a caucus meeting at 10 a.m. on Wednesday to discuss accepting the Wildrose MLAs, and it was over six hours later that Prentice made the official announcement that the nine were joining the PCs.
The Advocate was unable to reach Fox, Rowe or Strankman before deadline on Wednesday.