Tories more socially conservative, former Wildrose MLA says

Ian Donovan, one of two MLAs who jumped to the Tory caucus this week, described his new party on Tuesday as more socially conservative than the Wildrose.
Innisfail-Sylvan Lake Kerry Towle sits in her new office in the Alberta legislature Tuesday morning. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC News)

Ian Donovan, one of two MLAs who jumped to the Tory caucus this week, described his new party on Tuesday as more socially conservative than the Wildrose.

“If you followed the last six months with the Wildrose, I think they’re definitely getting into ... the Liberal zone, definitely left of the Progressive Conservatives by a long shot,”  Donovan told Edmonton AM host Mark Connolly on Tuesday.

Donovan, the member for Little Bow, and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle crossed to the Tories on Monday. Opposition parties seized on Donovan's statement as evidence Premier Jim Prentice was moving his party further right.

"With Bill 202, Mr. Prentice has provided safe haven to some of the most socially conservative people in the Wildrose caucus," Liberal leader Raj Sherman said. "We want to build a province for 2015, not a province for 1950."

Prentice dismissed that suggestion that the PC party was moving further right. He said that Donovan told him on Tuesday that he meant to say the party was conservative not socially conservative. 

"The Progressive Conservative party is a progressive party. I’m not going to get into labels. We are fiscally conservative. We are a very progressive party when it comes to social policy," Prentice said

“What an individual member of my caucus might think about the party and the characterization of the party is his or her opinion but I think you should be guided by what my view is about the nature of our party.”

Prentice said that PC caucus members would be allowed a free vote on Bill 202, which is aimed at protecting LGBT students from bullying. His own position still isn't known. He told reporters on Tuesday that he is still reviewing the bill.

'Greatest act of personal betrayal'

Since Donovan and Towle switched parties, Smith has made one brief statement. She has not made herself available for questions.

NDP MLA Brian Mason said the move was a shock given how close Towle was to Smith. 

“Frankly I thought it was the greatest act of personal betrayal I have ever seen in my 25 years of elected office," he said Tuesday. 

“Best friend and greatest supporter one day, crosses, cleans out her office and goes across. I couldn’t believe it.”

As she stood in her new office earlier in the day, Towle said the move and the end of her friendship with Smith has taken a toll on her.

“I lost a very dear friend yesterday and I lost friends in my caucus and I understand that,” she said, “I respect and admire Danielle and I’ll continue to do that.”

Towle said the support she’s been getting from her constituents is “overwhelming” and most have said she has made the right decision. She said the PC caucus has been very welcoming to her and Donovan.

Donovan said a number of factors pushed him to the PCs, including the negative ad campaign the Wildrose used in their failed bid to capture seats in last month's byelections.

Party strategy was driven by what communications and political staffers saw on social media, not by MLAs, he said.

Constituents were telling him that Smith's leadership did not reflect their values, which caused problems.

“I felt like I was defending her all the time instead of being able to talk with my constituents about the issues they needed dealt with," he said.