Wildrose MLAs Kerry Towle and Ian Donovan are under new management.
The pair of opposition MLAs crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservative government on Monday, reducing the Wildrose caucus to just 14 members and increasing the PC majority to 63 members in the Legislative Assembly. Towle is the MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake and Donovan is the MLA for Little Bow.
In a news conference with Towle and Donovan, Premier Jim Prentice said both MLAs were “warmly received” by the PC caucus in a unanimous vote of acceptance. Neither MLA asked for or will receive any special post or treatment, he said.
“I’m humbled by their support. These are two people that are known to be tough advocates, each in different spheres,” said Prentice. “These were separate discussions that both crystallized today. It’s as simple as that.”
Towle said the decision was “incredibly difficult.” She noted the “continued fraction” among the party’s direction in the wake of four byelection losses had her constituents asking her to give Prentice a chance.
“They felt that I could do more with them than against them,” said Towle, one of the Wildrose party’s most popular MLAs.
“I consider most of my caucus mates as friends but I felt that I had done all that I could in the role that I was in and over the last 10 days, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to my constituents and hearing from them that they wanted us to come together.”
Donovan also cited the wishes of his constituents as his primary reason for jumping off the Wildrose ship. He said he was “impressed with the new leadership” of the PCs and disagreed with Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith’s decision to step down if the party doesn’t form government in the 2016 election.
“As a team player — and I respect Danielle Smith to the utmost — it’s hard to follow somebody when they say they’re not sure if they’re going to lead the team if they don’t win the next game,” he said.
The Wildrose party has been under fire since it lost all four provincial byelections in October and members rejected an expanded equality statement at the party’s recent annual general meeting. The caucus passed the statement on Monday.
Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley said none of her party’s four MLAs are considering crossing the floor, adding Albertans should be distressed when opposition members feel they need to be “sucked into the mother ship” to affect change.
Liberal critic Kent Hehr said the move is “maybe just a re-coalescing of the natural right-wing of this province,” while Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said Prentice is looking to provide “safe haven” for Wildrose social conservatives.
The move comes just weeks after outspoken Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin crossed the floor to sit as an Independant, citing “poor management and infighting” within the party.
Terrence Lo — the former vice-president of communications for the party’s Calgary-Glenmore constituency association — resigned Nov. 19, saying the party took “a dangerous step back” when members didn’t pass an expanded statement on equality rights during a recent general meeting.
Today perhaps in an attempt to stanch bleeding, the Wildrose Caucus released a “binding resolution defending the equality rights and individual freedoms of all Albertans.”
Here is the current breakdown of seats, before confirmation of the floor crossing.