The Wildrose Party has chosen Heather Forsyth as its new interim leader and announced the caucus has been "re-energized."
"I am deeply humbled to receive this endorsement from my colleagues," Forsyth said in a release after the announcement was made in Calgary.
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Forsyth was elected in 1993 as a Progressive Conservative MLA, but crossed the floor to join the Wildrose Party in 2010.
Forsyth said she will lead the party until it selects a new leader next year. But the veteran MLA will not seek the leadership on a permanent basis. She said Albertans want Wildrose to be a check against privilege and entitlement in the government.
The Wildrose Party is still reeling after nine MLAs crossed the floor to join the governing PCs last week, including former leader Danielle Smith. The change leaves the PCs with 72 seats.
"We need a few days to just relax and we need to reach out to Albertans, reach out to our candidates, find out what the next step is, work with the party," Forsyth told CBC News. "I think more important than anything is to talk to Albertans, obviously."
She said the dramatic events of the past few days may have a silver lining.
"This truly has reinvigorated myself, my colleagues, our candidates and, quite frankly, Albertans feel that their democratic right has been taken away from them," Forsyth said.
Despite the bravado, political scientist Duane Bratt said it appears Wildrose no longer poses a serious challenge to the long-running PC government.
"I doubt it's going to be easy to raise money but could they win some seats? Absolutely, but as far as being a threat to form government? That's gone. Those days are gone," Bratt said.
Party won't quit
Party officials are adamant they will continue building support in the province and electing MLAs. The party now has five MLAs in the Alberta legislature:
- Shayne Saskiw (Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills) elected in 2012.
- Rick Strankman (Drumheller-Stettler) elected in 2012.
- Drew Barnes (Cypress-Medicine Hat) elected in 2012.
- Forsyth (Calgary-Fish Creek) elected in 1993.
- Pat Stier (Livingstone-Macleod) elected in 2012.
Forsyth will also continue in her previous role as the party's health and seniors critic. Saskiw has been named the new house leader for the party, as well as the critic for justice, energy, environment, international and intergovernmental relations, aboriginal affairs and executive council.
Barnes will serve as the new caucus whip, while picking up new roles as finance, human services, education and innovation and advanced education critic.
Stier is now the Wildrose critic for infrastructure, transportation, municipal affairs and sustainable resource development. Strankman is now the critic for agriculture, Service Alberta, jobs, skills, training and labour and culture and tourism.
“Albertans want an unwavering, fiscally conservative voice in the legislature. This means establishing needs before wants, targeting wasteful spending, and achieving more effective and efficient government,” Barnes said in a release.
The party says Alberta's Speaker is set to rule Tuesday on whether the party will keep its official opposition status after several members quit the party and joined the Progressive Conservatives. The Alberta Liberal Party is now even with the Wildrose Party, with both holding five seats in the provincal legislature. The NDP has four seats and there is also one independent MLA.
Staff laid off after MLA defection
Danielle Smith said her decision last week was precipitated by a series of events beginning with the loss of four byelections, which left her wondering whether the party could be "a spoiler" in urban ridings.
Smith said a merger between the two parties was proposed to her in May, but she rejected it because she thought it was too soon.
She dismissed calls from current Wildrose MLAs to run in a byelection, but said she would conduct some polling and listen to what her constituents have to say.
"To me, it's declaring victory and uniting conservatives under the leadership of one person, so that we can deal with some very significant challenges ahead," Smith told CBC News on Saturday.
The party had to lay off about 10 or 11 staff members following the announcement. A crowdfunding campaign to help Wildrose staffers has nearly reached its $20,000 goal in just two days.
Forsyth is the party's fifth leader since 2003, when it was still known as the Alberta Alliance Party. The party later merged with the Wildrose Party of Alberta in 2008.