Plumbing the rural press for hints of how the Mudville Nine were induced to join the Prentice PCs

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PHOTOS: Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Rod Fox, elected as a Wildroser, contemplates his future in the Progressive Conservative backbenches. Below: The real Mr. Fox and former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, also quite real.

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Rod Fox sure didn’t sound very enthused about his recent switch from the Wildrose Party to the Progressive Conservative Party in the apologetic open letter he wrote to his constituents that was published yesterday in a Central Alberta community newspaper.

It’s quite dangerous to read this much into the watery gruel Mr. Fox provided us in yesterday’s edition of The Chautauqua, a community newspaper published according to a relaxed bi-monthly schedule on the first and third Friday of every month for the communities of Alix, Bashaw, Clive, Delburne, Donalda, Elnora, Erskine, Forestburg, Haynes, Lousana, Mirror, Pine Lake, Tees and Trochu.

RodFoxMug-RStill, having been told so little about the secret and protracted negotiations that led up to what is certainly the most bizarre Canadian political stories of 2014, the defection of the Mudville Nine to the PCs in mid-December, the temptation to grasp at this particular straw is irresistible.

Now, Mr. Fox, who until he surfed the Wildrose Wavelet to an MLA’s job in the 2012 provincial election, ran an insurance office in the town of Lacombe, makes much in his open letter about how difficult his decision was. “I made an extremely difficult decision to join the governing PC Party of Alberta … a decision that was reached after many hours of agonizing and soul searching.” At the end, he concludes: “I thank you for your understanding in this difficult decision.” (Emphasis added.)

Now, some Lacombe-Ponoka voters who had come to despise the PCs and supported the Wildrose Party as a conservative alternative, not to mention Liberals, New Democrats and Alberta Party supporters from the riding who voted for Alison Redford’s PCs as an antidote to the more poisonous positions taken in 2012 by Wildrose Party supporters and candidates, may view Mr. Fox’s commentary as self-serving at best and suspect their member doth protest too much.

This is fair enough, I guess. Still, I’m inclined to take him at his word that his agony was real. After all, he knows his constituents and their sense of what’s right, and what’s not, better that we residents of other places do.

The reason is contained in the next comment in his missive: “I finally made my decision moments before it was due.”

Now, if nothing else, Mr. Fox has helpfully acknowledged in his epistle to the Ponokans that there was for all intents and purposes no consultation with his constituents.

This confirmation may not be particularly important now, but it will be later when at least some of the former Wildrose now PC MLAs are bound to succumb to the temptation to revise history a little and claim that their constituents knew all along that something like this was coming, and supported it.Danielle-L

Indeed, after a “Recall Danielle” campaign was launched over the holiday by some of former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith’s Highwood riding constituents, she soon responded with a statement that said “I am continuing to gauge the reaction from my constituents and will be doing more consultation in the New Year.” (Emphasis added.)

Well, this isn’t exactly untrue, but it certainly prepares the ground for future claims her consultation was more extensive and of longer duration than it actually was. Obviously, it would appear that Ms. Smith has put her former party’s support for legislated MLA recall provisions behind her.

More importantly, this also strongly suggests that the consultation all of Ms. Smith, Mr. Prentice and conservative godfather Preston Manning have indicated was going on for quite some time, possibly more than a month, did not include low-ranking Wildrose caucus members like Mr. Fox. No, most likely he only found out at the last moment, when a gun, metaphorically speaking, was held to his head.

But the most important clue in Mr. Fox’s letter, if you ask me, is the suggestion contained in that phrase that a tight deadline was in place as a high-pressure tactic to whip wavering Wildrosers into line.

This is certainly a tip that a lot of them who gave up and made the trek to the PC benches knew in their hearts that, on the level of common sense and basic ethics, it wasn’t the right thing to do. Mr. Fox’s comment also strongly suggests that some of them were wavering till the last moment.

Those that didn’t come across have subsequently been told by Mr. Prentice they’re still welcome in the PC caucus. So what was the high pressure about? Were Ms. Smith and House Leader Rob Anderson told there would be no cabinet posts for them if they failed to bring enough followers along? Or does this mean, as some have argued, that the PCs under Mr. Prentice have now in fact become the Wildrose Party of Alberta and that it’s the would-be progressives in the party’s big tent that are now out of luck?

Well, many of us would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at those secret conclaves! We would certainly like to know whether agonized Wildrose MLAs were threatened, as well as cajoled, to encourage a positive outcome to their soul searching. It would also be interesting to know what inducements they were offered.

These are things we are unlikely ever to find out from Canada’s “most ethical and transparent government.”

The official and authorized Wildrose talking points, thanks to the apparently more politically polished Kerry Towle, MLA for the neighbouring riding of Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, can be found parked adjacent to Mr. Fox’s letter on the same page of The Chautauqua, for those readers who wish to compare and contrast.

Such are the things unavailable online one can discover by bothering to read the rural community press in Alberta.

If The Chautauqua sounds familiar, by the way, as it did to me, that’s because it’s the name of a Methodist church camp in Upstate New York that came to be associated with the 19th Century adult education movement U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt called “the most American thing in America.” And what could be more American than the new Wildrose Conservative Party of Alberta?

The Jasper Fitzhugh, though, remains the community newspaper with the most peculiar name in this province.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Categories Alberta Politics