In defence of Danielle Smith and the Wildrose defectors

In defence of the Wildrose defectors

The floor-crossing was widely characterized as an attack on democracy. The truth? Alberta will get over it fast, writes Colby Cosh.

 Jeff McIntosh/CP

Jeff McIntosh/CP

Throughout December, the nine floor-crossing MLAs who abandoned Alberta’s Wildrose party for its Progressive Conservative governing caucus continued to receive fantastic abuse. They were accused of the “greatest betrayal” in Canadian political history; the crossing was widely characterized as an attack on democracy itself. The truth? Alberta will get over it fast.

Commentators inside the province eventually began remembering that current Liberal Leader Raj Sherman is an ex-PC, Alberta Assembly Speaker Gene Zwozdesky is a Liberal who crossed to the PCs, new interim Wildrose leader Heather Forsyth is an ex-PC, and the chief of staff to Premier Jim Prentice who helped to broker the floor-crossing, Mike Percy, used to be a Liberal MLA. This is politics in a one-party state that is procedurally democratic, a polity in which a government can hang on only by renewing itself once or twice a generation. Our government benches and our inner circle of mandarins are always full of co-opted talent that started out in opposition. The opposition, for its part, always contains dissidents who crossed the other way on principle, or out of personal pique.

This may not be a perfect substitute for a perennially strong opposition, but do we want an opposition party to exist just for the sake of having one, even if it has no hope of forming a credible alternative government? This is the question that confronted defecting Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, as she faced undisguised attacks from within her party, originally formed by social conservatives, and concluded that she “didn’t want to take down this premier.” She is being berated for joining a mass walkout from a party she no longer in any sense believed in, a walkout that seems to have been presented to her as a fait accompli anyway.

It is difficult to specify what, exactly, Smith has done wrong as an individual, not that anyone has tried too hard. The caucus Smith is joining has changed leaders, having ejected one that was chosen without any support from within its own ranks. (Was Alison Redford’s ouster a betrayal of democracy? Thousands of PC members had made her leader, and hundreds of thousands of voters made her premier, yet no one thought they needed to be consulted before she was forced out of office.) The new leader has agreed in writing to support essential parts of the Wildrose agenda: The floor-crossing can easily and properly be characterized as a surrender on the part of the government, as some PC MLAs surely will.

Smith made two statements that, taken together, seem to provide a vindication of her actions, unless one adopts a concept of political honour that has never been invoked in Alberta before. In admitting, “I didn’t want to take down this premier,” she added that her explanation to Wildrose voters would be, “We won.” She is making a bet on the integrity, ability and good intentions of Prentice. No one knows yet that this is necessarily a bad bet.

And the polls, mysteriously, do not reveal any sudden flight of voters to the stalwart rump of the Wildrose. If loyalty to alleged democratic principle is important, why are ordinary Albertans already switching to the government side, along with Smith and the other eight wild geese? Alberta, after all, has as many political parties today as it did before the floor-crossing.

The Alberta Liberals are a placeholder of the type people seem to want the Wildrose to be: a hollow zombie entity that persists for the sake of existing. Where is the Liberals’ reward, in the form of popular support, for contributing to the health of Alberta democracy? This contribution, mind you, takes the curious form of dividing the province’s left and helping to sustain Conservatives in power for an eon. How many critics of the Wildrose floor-crossers are simply angry that Smith and company would not make the same “contribution” on the other side?

Everybody knew Smith was a poor fit with the evangelical core of the Wildrose grassroots. It is certainly a common article of faith throughout Canada that donor influence can be harmful in politics, yet Smith is unapologetically lambasted for perpetrating a crime against Wildrose money by walking away from it.

If her switch is purely selfish, its uniqueness in Canadian history is hard to explain. The move comes at quantifiable personal expense, since she has stepped down as leader of Alberta’s official opposition. She has given up some cash and the sycophantic warm fuzzies of party leadership in exchange for achieving sincere ideological objectives. Let the rotten vegetables fly!


In defence of the Wildrose defectors

  1. “One wild ride, for one wild rose”.
    “In defence of the Wildrose defectors”

    Is there a trilogy in the works? Now, that would be precious.

  2. All true, but it only applies within the confines of Alberta.

  3. I have seen the mob comment that the Bill 10 mess was the catalyst for the floor crossing occurred after the . People seemed to link the PC’s willingness to step to the right on that issue was the reason for the Wildrose defection. Personally I think that’s complete nonsense and I doubt many believe it, but it makes me think that people will use any little thing to hang the social conservative boat anchor on Danielle Smith (event though she voted against Bill 10!). I have a feeling that this won’t be forgotten until Ms. Smith is out of office entirely.

  4. If the author only knew of the treachery that took place at the hands of Smith and her staff prior to this betrayal perhaps his limited view would be a little but clearer. This whole situation in no way resembles the stories that are being written. The truth is she screwed up and now she’s running away from her mess. Her tampering and manipulation of the party is common knowledge. Research, does a story good.

  5. Again here, Cash evokes the mythical ‘libertarian vs socon’ battle in the Wildrose. That pretty much ended with the leadership race. Those in the know realize the true battle was between the party brass and their attempts to wrestle control of the party from the grassroots.

    “…actually, I consider myself to be quite socially conservative.” – Danielle Smith, 2010

  6. Nice opinion but in my opinion lacking in informative research into why Alberta and Canada’s Democratic foundations were rocked but not fully broken by the duplicitous acts of Alberta’s Premier Jim Prentice and the former Wildrose leader and democratic turncoat MLA Danielle Smith along with double (floor)crosser MLA Rob Anderson and the other unprincipled 6 MLA’s . Yes of course it is democratically legal to cross the floor how ever many times one so chooses. This recent floor crossing was decided in the darkness and secrecy of night and behind closed doors without even a vote form the Wildrose party and people that voted them into office in the first place. There was not even a notice nor a hint of the democratically challenged double dealing. here is an excerpt that will let people know that an effective opposition is not only necessary but vital to continued democratic freedoms that we currently enjoy. If there were not 5 loyal and courageous individuals((Heather Forsyth(interim leader)Shayne Saskiw, Rick Strankman, Pat Stier and Drew Barnes)in the Wildrose that stood by the people in their constituencies and are staying the course. Without their stalwart integrity and character the Current Alberta Premier Jim Prentice/Danielle Smith co-conspirators would have totally decimated the most effective Official Opposition Party in as many years in Alberta. It doesn’t matter that the current Premier of the pretentious and entitled Alberta Government seems to be doing everything the Wildrose Official Opposition Party was requesting it does not mean that it will continue after the honeymoon with Alberta voters is finished as the current Premier of Alberta has only been in office for a couple of months and on the surface it seems he will be a great Premier of Alberta and do everything for the people(white washing the Alberta public has been a favorite tactic with the long ruling Alberta Tory regime) Here is an excerpt that will state that not only is an effective Official Opposition needed it is a requirement of the democratic foundations that so many have sacrificed to provide for us to enjoy. THE OPPOSITION IN A
    Prepared by:
    Gerald Schmitz
    Political and Social Affairs Division
    December 1988
    I submit, therefore, that you do not have full political democracy, let alone the economic as well as political democracy for which my party stands, unless you include along with the ingredients that are taken for granted, such as universal suffrage, the secret ballot and majority rule, a full and unquestioned recognition of the rights and functions of the opposition to the government of the day. Only in this way can you protect the rights of minorities; only in this way can you make sure that the force of public opinion will be brought to bear on the legislative process, and we are indeed fortunate in Canada to have inherited from the United Kingdom a parliamentary system of government, the genius of which is the responsibility of the government to a parliament in which the rights of those who support the government and likewise the rights of those who oppose it are clearly recognized.
    – Stanley Knowles, “The Role of the Opposition in Parliament,” Address to the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto, 21 March 1957.
    If Parliament is to be preserved as a living institution His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition must fearlessly perform its functions. When it properly discharges them the preservation of our freedom is assured. The reading of history proves that freedom always dies when criticism ends. It upholds and maintains the rights of minorities against majorities. It must be vigilant against oppression and unjust invasions by the Cabinet of the rights of the people. It should supervise all expenditures and prevent over-expenditure by exposing to the light of public opinion wasteful expenditures or worse. It finds fault; it suggests amendments; it asks questions and elicits information; it arouses, educates and molds public opinion by voice and vote. It must scrutinize every action by the government and in doing so prevents the short-cuts through democratic procedure that governments like to make.
    – Hon. John G. Diefenbaker, “The Role of the Opposition in Parliament,” Address to the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto, 27 October 1949.
    The Hon. Lester B. Pearson, Mr. Diefenbaker’s successor as Prime Minister, and frequent victim of the latter’s parliamentary skills, was moved to add a few choice words of his own about the adversarial nature of the House of Commons:
    In national politics during the years when I was in the government, I watched the Opposition perform their duty vigorously and industriously, with courage and determination. They rightly insisted on their right to oppose, attack and criticize, to engage in that cut and thrust of debate, so often and so strongly recommended by those concerned with the vigour and health of Parliament and the health of democracy. I cannot forbear to add, however, that the application of this procedure has, in the past, been occasionally resented by those who are cut and thrust at.

    Have a great day and Happy New Year 2015 to one and all and the coming year may possibly see some more fireworks on the Alberta Political scene as there is no shortage of political drama on the Alberta political stage.

    • there is an error in the amount of defectors here is the correction it should read “and the other unprincipled 7 MLA’s “

    • “This recent floor crossing was decided in the darkness and secrecy of night and behind closed doors without even a vote form the Wildrose party and people that voted them into office in the first place.”

      I hadn’t realized that political parties vote on whether their member cross the floor. Care to cite an example of this happening?

      Also, periods and paragraphs are your friends.

  7. I’d agree, Alberta will get over it fast. There’s really not much of a problem with politics in Alberta. The electorate gets exactly the government (and lack of opposition they demand and deserve. There is no problem of under representation in Alberta.

    Having what has arguably been one of, or possibly the worst run province in the country over the last 20 years is an unfortunate side effect of demanding no viable opposition or political alternative, but Alberta has always gotten over that, too.

  8. The fact further electoral success for the mass defectors is possible or even likely does not detract from the repugnancy of their actions. They offered up pretty thin gruel as their bases, i.e. they don’t want to oppose a Premier who bought his premiership and hasn’t been in office long enough for the paint to dry on his new office.

    What specific evidence did they garner during Prentice 2 1/2 month tenure that convinced them what they’ve been asserting for several years now – the PC rot is systemic and entrenched – is no longer valid? What would have been the cost to their personal ambitions had they bit the bullet for a few more months to see if the considerable remnants of the Redfordian era revert to form or are transformed by the same Prentician fairy dust?

  9. With the weight of their outright thievery and the draining of 700 billion out of the Heritage Trust fund; plus no royalty taken on resources while tax payers foot the bills I would say the whole crew is gone this next election. The Liberals had the Wild Rose on the ropes so the bailed; that’s the long and the short of it.
    Now as a province and as a country we are in deep crap that is beyond Conservatives to dig us out of.

    #BC and Alberta have been hand in hand on every thing! Not the least of which is Christie’s new dam and the resulting lake it creates. The whole intricate story follows:

    The #Saudi market place is being destroyed by cheap LNG from Indonesia. To counter this they dropped their prices which effects us all. Saudi can produce oil close, probably under 5.00 per barrel range so there is a lot of room to move. China owns the Indonesia plants and has them up for sale saying there is no money in them. I suspect they will continue to drop prices until some country pays them the price they are asking for.

    Reuters reports that SNP (Sinopec)is planning to offload LNG from new export plants in Australia and potentially Papua New Guinea to BP, amid growing unease over the scale of an expansion that has seen the construction of 11 LNG import terminals since 2006 with plans for 25 more.
    SNP (China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation) also may sell excess volumes coming from its stake in Exxon’s (NYSE:XOM) Papua New Guinea LNG, in which it invested in 2009 when LNG prices were low but Chinese demand was expected to grow for decades to come.

    #Sounds like a great *opportunity for either the Saudi or Japan who were refused access to North America’s 3.00 per barrel market instead they were charged 15.00 per MFC and above. BC is on its way to building a large LNG terminal and their only market for the LNG was Japan.

    #Japan has come under new government who immediately set about recommissioning #3 nuclear plants that were closed and promise to #build 8 more within the next two years. There goes BC’s market!

    As a second position #Christie announced building a new dam down stream from their existing dam. This is 1100 MWH plant and has been turned down several times because #it cannot produce sufficient money to pay for it’s self.

    But, what she isn’t telling her people the dam will create a large lake from which to draw water year around for export to the US through Alberta pipelines. Alberta has a #fully engineered plan from the 80s costing them millions at the time. The# Weatherford Plan consists of 3 very large pipes and 8 pumping lifts each taking the power of a city to operate.. It will have the capacity when complete to move 2/3rd of the Peace River South but it need’s Christie ‘s new dam to pull it off. There is an election coming between now and then.

    #Like our oil, the #provincial treasury will see nothing of the revenue from the water sales but will pay for the pipe lines. In the meantime the world is overproducing BTUs; oil and gas to an extent it will take years to move the inventory. There’s no storage available!

    Want to know where the price of oil is going; watch the price of LNG and the plays on the Indonesian LNG plants. I suspect we will see several dollar drop yet. A small drop in LNG prices bounces back to huge drops in oil prices. I predict we will be staring 14.00 crude in the eye in the near future unless there is a sale of those Chinese LNG plants.