Calgary

Wildrose members disappointed by planned MLA defection to PCs

Jeff Callaway, the former Wildrose Party president and current vice-president of fundraising, says he is very disappointed at the possible defection of more party members — which may include leader Danielle Smith.

Danielle Smith among Wildrose MLAs expected to cross the floor

CBC anchor Rob Brown discusses the future of the Wildrose Party as several MLAs are expected to cross the floor to the governing PCs. 5:42

Jeff Callaway, the former Wildrose Party president and current vice-president of fundraising, says he is very disappointed at the possible defection of more party members. 

"It's rather unfortunate for the state of democracy," he said.

Callaway says at least three MLAs are prepared to cross the floor to join Alberta's governing Progressive Conservatives (PCs):

  • Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith (Highwood MLA).
  • Wildrose Official Opposition House Leader and finance critic Rob Anderson (Airdrie MLA).
  • Jason Hale (Strathmore-Brooks MLA).

CBC has since confirmed several Wildrose MLAs have voted in favour of crossing to the PC party: Smith, Anderson, Hale, Jeff Wilson, Gary Bikman and Blake Pederson.

Callaway said an offer letter surfaced last weekend that outlined what MLAs would be offered if they joined the PCs, but the party has not been approached for merger discussions.

Officials with the Wildrose Party say they will fight on even though a number of its 14 MLAs are on the verge of joining Alberta's governing Progressive Conservatives. (CBC)

He says this is not the end of the party and he hopes enough MLAs remain so it can hold onto official opposition status. If the Wildrose Party ends up with anything fewer than five MLAs, the Liberals will once again become the official opposition.    

"We've come so far in such a very short political time frame," he said. "And I think we've been very effective as the Official Opposition. I'm being bombarded by our members ... and no one is in favour of taking these kinds of actions. We have a lot of belief in the principles of the party that we all stand for."  

Callaway told CBC News Tuesday afternoon he still respects Smith.

"I think there are still a lot of people that we can still do a good job in this party and I was hoping she was going to be leading us into the next election," he said. "Unfortunately that's not the case. I think there's a lot of people that will disagree with her judgment on this, but that's the way it is." 

Paul Hinman weighs in

Former party leader Paul Hinman, who was the first elected MLA for the Wildrosesays the party membership — which numbers roughly 21,000 — would not even vote on whether to merge with the PCs. 

He says there is no way the membership or executive will follow the MLAs who cross.

Danielle Smith, left, and former Wildrose deputy leader Paul Hinman, right, are joined at a news conference by MLAs Rob Anderson, second from left, and Heather Forsyth after the two announced their defections from Alberta's PC party in 2010. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

"We don't need to merge. Anybody that wants to go join the PC Party is free to do that," said Hinman.

"We live in a free province and nobody signed on a life agreement to be part of the Wildrose, and they are free to go, but I think you will find the mass majority will indeed want to stay and carry on with our principles and our policies."

He says he joined the party because he wanted an open and transparent government that is accountable, which he doesn't think is being provided by the PC Party even if some Wildrose MLAs are happy with recent policy decisions.

The possible change for the Wildrose Party comes just weeks after two other defections. Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle and Little Bow MLA Ian Donovan said they had grown disillusioned with the Wildrose and liked the direction of the province under Prentice.

Joe Anglin also quit in early November ahead of a caucus vote to oust him. The three departures left the Wildrose with 14 members compared with 63 for the Tories.

High River residents react

News that Smith is preparing to cross the floor is spreading quickly, and many constituents in her own riding of Highwood are not happy about the prospect of a Tory MLA.

"Sounds to me like they're selling out," said High River resident Terry Plunkett.

"I don't think it's a good idea. I think they should just stick to their guns."

Brad Downie says he voted for the party, not the leader, and he will never vote for any of the Wildrose MLAs who cross the floor.

He says he is pretty certain that this is the end of the Wildrose Party.

"Even though the PCs have lost contact of reality, and it's just the old boys and the hogs at the trough type thing," said Downie. 

"But Alberta is so afraid of making change that they are never going to vote out the PCs."

But Steve Gauthier can't wait to see a bolstered PC party.

"I'm a Conservative, so I think it's great," he said. 

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