In what will be remembered as one of the greatest acts of betrayal in Canadian political history, the leader of Alberta’s Official Opposition appears poised to quit on her party and join ranks with the provincial government. And Danielle Smith hopes to take a chunk of her ever-shrinking caucus with her.
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Elements of the plan began to leak late Monday evening, and by Tuesday, Wildrose party brass were confirming they had indeed uncovered a plot by Ms. Smith and her chief lieutenant, Rob Anderson, to grab other party MLAs and join the Progressive Conservatives. As an act of political subterfuge in the modern times of this country, it is without equal.
The utter implosion of a provincial opposition party in a matter of mere months may be unprecedented, as well.
After the 2012 provincial election, Wildrose formed an effective Opposition that was often praised for the job it did holding the government to account. In a legislature not known for stout opposition forces, Wildrose was particularly effective throughout the spending scandal that led to the resignation of former premier Alison Redford this past spring. This summer, ahead of the Tory leadership vote, Wildrose topped most polls.
Now it appears the party is destined to join the list of political protest vehicles that were relevant for a time, but eventually lost their way and became extinct. What happened? Jim Prentice ascended to the Tory throne in September and the transformation of the Alberta political landscape was immediate and profound.
He successfully distanced himself and his party from the Redford era, and issued a call to those who had left for greener political pastures to return to their Tory home. When the governing party won all four by-elections in October, Ms. Smith knew in her heart it was over for Wildrose – Alberta was returning to the one-party state it has mostly been over the past four-plus decades.
There is still much we don’t know about the pending developments. Some have characterized what could take place as a merger. However, executive members of the Wildrose party insist that is not true. There will be a party standing, regardless of whether the Leader resigns and takes a number of her caucus members with her. But surely that is mostly brave talk. If a massive floor-crossing occurs, that will be the end of Wildrose. The only thing missing will be Danielle Smith’s signature on the death certificate.
Mr. Prentice said that his caucus would vote on whether to accept anything resembling an amalgamation between the two parties. And Wildrose was supposed to be voting Tuesday on how many of the caucus members would go with Ms. Smith.
If this momentous event takes place there will be many things people will want to know, chief among them: what were Ms. Smith and those Wildrose MLAs joining her promised? A document has surfaced that appears to outline the rules that surround this proposed political accord, including a provision that suggests Mr. Prentice will endorse any Wildrose MLAs who want to keep their seats in the next election running under the Tory banner.
There are also a number of policy-related areas that Wildrose and the Tories appear set to publicly agree on, including continuing to make Alberta a sales-tax-free zone. There is not much on the list likely to come back to haunt Mr. Prentice. Fact is, the document is designed to do little more than make it easier for Ms. Smith and the others to publicly rationalize their decision. But if for any reason Mr. Prentice decides he needs to change course, or go in a direction other than the one outlined in the terms of this union, he isn’t going to need Ms. Smith’s permission to do it.
So, this pact is as worthless as the paper it’s written on.
If the Tory caucus intends to vote on this so-called unification, we don’t know for sure it will go through. There will be many, I’m sure, opposed to the idea. If the caucus says no, then that would be it for Danielle Smith’s political career. It may be over regardless.
It was only last month, two Wildrose MLAs, including a close friend of Ms. Smith’s, deserted their party to sit with the government. At the time, Ms. Smith was stunned and saddened by what was deemed one of the most brazen acts of political duplicity the province had witnessed in recent times.
Now, when she looks in the mirror, Ms. Smith will be reminded of one that is far, far worse.