Danielle Smith speaks out on defection to the Tories

Danielle Smith says her defection to the Conservative Party was not a decision that came easily. She made the comments Thursday in an interview on CBC Radio.

Former Wildrose leader says Alberta conservatives should be united in a time of economic crisis

Danielle Smith says the defeat of a statement on equal rights was a turning point in her decision to leave the Wildrose Party. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Danielle Smith says her defection to the Progressive Conservative Party was not a decision she came to easily.

"You know it's been a tough couple of months," Smith said Thursday in an interview with CBC Radio. "But I'm convinced that it's going to get easier."

The former Wildrose leader says she first met with Premier Jim Prentice a week ago after hearing suggestions from their common supporters for months. Smith admits she rejected the suggestions at first.

But over time, Smith says she has come to see the upside of uniting with the Tories.

Her change of heart was sparked by poorer than expected byelection results as well as the defeat of an anti-discrimination policy at the recent Wildrose AGM

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

"I was gravely disappointed at the AGM by our members refusing to endorse an anti-discrimination policy I was very proud of and told them I was very proud of," she said.

"It seemed to me that I was continuing to fight the same faction of my party that just didn't want to move forward in becoming a socially-mainstream fiscally conservative alternative to the government."

After soul-searching, Smith says she came to realize an alliance makes sense.

"When we started talking and realized how much common purpose we have, especially at a time of economic crisis, it doesn't make sense for conservatives to be fighting each other."

With the plunging price of oil, Smith argues Prentice needs strong fiscal conservatives at the table.

"I think he needs some allies in being able to advocate for the changes that need to be made."

Preston Manning reacts

Preston Manning, the former leader of the federal Reform Party, says the Wildrose caucus consulted with him earlier this week but he didn't tell them exactly how to proceed.

"Alberta is headed into some rough waters with the decline in the oil prices and now is the time for Albertans to pull together no matter what their politics are, particularly for conservatives," he said. "Of course, they could interpret that as pulling together within the Wildrose caucus or pulling together with the government."

Manning isn't surprised by the mostly negative public reaction to the decision of the nine MLAs to cross the floor.

"If people wonder why there is never any improvement in the performance of our political system, it's because of that negative reaction to everything that's done new."

Student starts byelection petition

Wildrose MLA Pat Stier said on CBC Radio that the floor-crossers should have to stand for election under their new party’s banner.

“I also believe that there should be a fair election process just as there should be a fair system for MLAs who think they need to make a change, there should be a fair system for the voters to be involved in such a decision,” he said.

“This crossing the floor does not involve the voters and I think they should have been consulted first.”

University of Calgary student Caitlyn Madlener has launched an online petition asking for Smith to be recalled and a byelection held in her riding. Madlener says she's disappointed with Smith and stunned to learn that negotiations to cross the floor had gone on for weeks.

"The people in High River voted for a Wildrose candidate, they did not vote for a PC candidate," said Madlener. "The people in that constituency should be given an opportunity to say yes or no, and that's what I'd like to see."