Two Wildrose MLAs, including the party's high-profile seniors critic, have crossed the floor to join the Progressive Conservatives.
Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle and Little Bow MLA Ian Donovan announced their decision today to leave the opposition party.
"I made my decision yesterday and it's incredibly difficult," a visibly emotional Towle said at a midday news conference with Donovan and Premier Jim Prentice. "I consider most of my caucus mates my friends, but I felt that I had done all that I could in the role that I was in."
Towle said that she made her decision after talking to her constituents, who liked the direction the new government was taking.
Towle said that fractures on the direction of the party leadership, which she supported, played a part and that the past five weeks have been difficult.
“We are a party of free votes. However, our membership was deciding how I, as an MLA, was expected to vote and that caused me great conflict," Towle said.
"I just felt that some of the decisions that were being made were taking our party in a way that was not in line with what my constituents elected me to do ... I didn't think I could do anything to fix that path."
Donovan said he was crossing to the PCs because he was impressed with Prentice's leadership.
"For my constituents, I think I can do the best from the inside making the decisions around the table with the governing party and under the new leadership of Premier Prentice," he said.
Towle said she didn't know that Donovan had also decided to leave the Wildrose Party until last night. She said she first reached out to the PCs last week to find out what would be involved if she crossed the floor.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith made a brief statement about the departures late Monday afternoon and did not take questions from reporters. After thanking Towle and Donovan for their service, Smith went on to criticize them.
“I have always believed that politics should be about principle. Today I was proud to be in the legislature with Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth at my side," she said.
"Rob and Heather crossed the floor from government to opposition because of principle. They gave up the perks of power to serve Albertans, not for personal gain because they wanted to put Albertans first. Today we saw the opposite."
After listing the party's priorities, Smith said that they were the principles Towle and Donovan were elected on.
"Now they will have to answer for their actions both in their constituencies and in the legislature," Smith said.
"As we have seen again and again, changing one person at the top does not change this government's recurring problems of entitlement and mismanagement."
The departures leave the Wildrose with 14 seats in the Legislature, while increasing the Tories to 63.
Third MLA to leave Wildrose caucus
Prentice said that he did not make any deals with Towle and Donovan when they decided to join the PCs.
"This is about their personal views of where they can be most effective," he said. "Neither one has been promised anything and neither one of these people has asked for anything. It speaks to their integrity.”
Towle and Donovan were not expected in the legislative assembly today. Prentice said his new MLAs will take their seats with the government side on Tuesday.
The defections are the latest incident in recent months for the Wildrose Party.
The party didn’t take a single riding from the governing PCs in the four byelections on Oct. 27. Then Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Joe Anglin left the Wildrose to sit as an independent, hours before he was set to be kicked out.
The defections come after a fractious annual general meeting in Red Deer where delegates defeated a motion to include an affirmation of rights for every Albertans, regardless of their race, religion and sexual orientation.
That decision prompted Terry Lo, a Calgary party member and parent of a gay son, to leave his post in a constituency association.
On Monday, the Wildrose caucus approved the same motion that was defeated at the AGM.
Opposition leaders used the defections as a sign that Prentice is moving the party further away from the centre of political spectrum.
'Sucked into the mothership'
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said the new premier sent a message with last week’s throne speech.
“It’s obvious that Mr. Prentice has provided a safe haven for social conservatives with his shift of the PC party to the hard right,” he said.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley called the moves by Towle and Donovan part of a game of musical chairs being played by the province’s two right-wing parties.
She said the PC party is reversing the progressive stance it campaigned on in the last election.
“Phase one, after the election, was to break all those promises,” Notley said. “Phase two now is to become the Wildrose.”
Notely said that Albertans would be upset by the fact that two opposition members felt the only way to represent their constituents was to get “sucked into the mothership.”
“That’s not a good sign of democracy in this province."