Analysis

What could Wildrose's Danielle Smith possibly have been thinking?

She was probably the most effective opposition leader Alberta has seen in decades, Kathleen Petty writes. But when Wildrose leader Danielle Smith crossed the floor to the government benches she also opened the door to cynicism.

Motive, judgment, credibility, Wildrose's big floorwalk opens the door to cynicism

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice and former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith speak to the media following a PC caucus meeting in Edmonton Wednesday, and after Smith and eight other Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

You can't  CANNOT  make this stuff up.

Just a few weeks ago, Danielle Smith was describing how betrayed she felt after her friend and fellow Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle crossed the floor to the ruling PCs.

But now we have Premier Jim Prentice telling CBC radio in Calgary that talks with a Wildrose caucus representative about a much bigger move to the government side began five weeks ago.

Smith herself said the "discussions have been going on for months." She didn't look embarrassed at all.

"No more floor crossings" Smith said after Towle left with Ian Donovan for the government benches on Nov. 24. Yet she was having conversations about doing exactly that.

In fact, she said a lot of things her growing legion of critics are finding profoundly duplicitous looking back.

Like offering to have her leadership reviewed after the complete routing of her party in the October byelections, rededicating herself to the cause at the party's recent annual convention, and offering to resign if she didn't lead the party to victory in 2016, in the process dismissing the Conservative's Jim Prentice as more of the same.

No wonder that PC caucus meeting about how (whether?) to welcome their new seatmates went on for hours Wednesday. So long that some were speculating the whole deal would fall apart.

Clearly some PCs needed convincing and some still do. Prentice acknowledged the vote wasn't unanimous. How could it be?

Motive, judgment, credibility

When the leader of the Official Opposition decamps with most of her caucus to the government side of the house, some might wonder about motive, judgment and credibility.

Perhaps that explains why Prentice put off the question of potential cabinet positions for the new arrivals until the new year.

Timing really is everything in politics.

In Danielle Smith's case, she took a rag-tag, nascent party in 2009 and helped turn it into the most effective opposition Alberta has seen since the late Laurence Decore, a fiscally conservative Liberal, put a real scare into the PCs in 1993.

Under Smith, Wildrose cut its teeth on Ed Stelmach and then eviscerated Alison Redford.

Had Redford survived longer, Prentice would likely still be in the corporate boardroom and Danielle Smith may well have made history by defeating a government in power for more than four decades.

Former Alberta premier Alison Redford beat Wildrose in a close election in 2012, but was forced to step down less than two years later. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Then again, she's still making history.

Some supporters in her riding of Highwood, and those posting in social media, are stunned and angry — calling for her resignation as MLA and denouncing her as a hypocrite.

I'm sure it hurts. I'm sure she expected it. The question becomes, can she survive it?

Criticism is one thing, but now it's turned to ridicule. Can you blame people for being cynical about politics?

Things were looking up in Alberta. In the last provincial election, turnout was the highest it's been since 1993 — probably because of Smith and Wildrose.

So why did Smith give up?

Jean Chretien might have the answer.

In his memoir, My Years as Prime Minister, he recalls hearing a young man explain why he wanted to go into politics. The young man's motivation was of the highest order.

Chretien writes: "I said to myself, my friend, you seem nice and you have some charm, but you're not telling the whole truth. Going into politics is about wanting power, getting it, exercising it and keeping it."

Perhaps for Danielle Smith those really are words to live by.

About the Author

Kathleen Petty

CBC Calgary's Executive Producer

Kathleen Petty is the former host of CBC Radio's The House, and is currently executive producer of CBC News in Calgary.

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