Hatched in secret, today’s expected mass Wildrose defection to PC benches brings party to a pathetic end

Posted on December 17, 2014, 2:20 am
10 mins

The captain of the RMS Wildrose and her officers slip quietly away from their sinking ship in the darkness. Actual Wildrose leaders may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith and Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson. Both are expected to be rewarded for abandoning ship with cabinet posts in PC Premier Jim Prentice’s government.

As of today – even before we are certain of everything that has happened in the last 48 hours or what will happen in the next 48 – we can be confident of this: the Wildrose Party is finished.

I do not mean it’s washed up in some metaphorical sense, or that the party is simply unlikely to win the next election.

No, I mean that thanks to the deal cooked up between the leadership of Opposition Leader Danielle Smith’s party and Premier Jim Prentice’s unreformed Progressive Conservatives, whatever the details are, the Wildrose phenomenon is done like dinner. 

Even if it has a half-life in the Legislature as the rural Wildrump Party, it will be as electoral zombies, the living dead.

Even if by some miracle Mr. Prentice’s PC caucus grew some principles and told the Wildrose surrender party to go to blazes, the remaining shattered caucus would have not a shred of credibility.

No one will now want to be associated for long with a name that will become a synonym for perfidy and surrender, undignified and unsavoury. Any holdouts of the Wildrose Legislative caucus who decline to make the humiliating walk to bow before Mr. Prentice’s throne would do better to rename themselves Social Credit!

Indeed, the only reason left for them to hold out now is to fight over the party’s substantial war chest – raised in significant part from small donations given by the party’s now-scorned true believers.

In an act of cowardice and duplicity that is genuinely shocking – and these strong words are completely fair and reasonable under the circumstances – the principal leaders of the party have abandoned their followers and their principles as well, if they ever really had any.

According to media reports, Ms. Smith is expected today to lead most of her pathetic caucus to Mr. Prentice’s PC benches in the Legislature. This is a development unprecedented in Canadian Parliamentary history. Rumours say she will be rewarded with the meaningless bauble of the deputy premiership, and Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson with another cabinet post.

For those of us with a healthy skepticism about what motivates the principal figures of the Canadian right, the self-interested self-immolation of Alberta’s Wildrose Opposition over the past few days is nevertheless both astonishing and genuinely contemptible.

Carried out in secret, without a whisper of what they planned to their own supporters, the Wildrose captain and her leadership elite silently slipped into the lifeboats and rowed stealthily away from their sinking ship. Their presumptive goal: to put their own careers and wellbeing ahead of the sacrifice and effort of their adherents.

Together with the Progressive Conservatives they claimed to despise, who until a few days ago they described as the archfiend incarnate, they will now create, in the words of their articles of unilateral surrender to Premier Jim Prentice, the most ethical and transparent government in Canada.”

Oh please! It is to laugh aloud. Or, for their naïve supporters, to cry tears of bitterness and shock, as many of them were doing yesterday on Twitter and other social media sites.

They’ll get over it, the persuasive Mr. Prentice presumably told the Wildrose leaders as he wooed them. I am not so sure. Their supporters’ sense of betrayal, if you ask me, is entirely warranted, and will run deep.

Whatever new expanded PC party emerges once the dust has settled in a day or two will be dedicated to two principles only: preserving the entitlement of its insiders, who will now include Ms. Smith and Mr. Anderson, and ensuring that Alberta’s bitumen flows unvexed to the sea.

The PCs’ strategy at least is understandable – and more in character – but they too hardly come off smelling like a rose. As was pointed out by many ordinary Albertans of all political stripes on social media yesterday, the PCs aimed their last campaign at the electorate’s mushy middle, promising mild progressivism in contrast to the Wildrosers’ frightening social conservatism.

And then they did this! Well, seriously, what did you expect? Except for Mr. Prentice and his ministers of health and education, these are exactly the same people who cheered Alison Redford through the last three bizarre years.

They fooled you once, so shame on them. No need to say anything more about that!

Surely the cynicism and contempt of Albertans for the Wildrose will run deeper than for the eternal Tories, if only because they pretended to be something a little different – and they fooled us for a spell, even some of us who didn’t support their market fundamentalist program.

No one said politics is easy. But history is rife with the names of people who accomplished something by sticking to their principles, and continuing to fight when the odds said their goals seemed impossible.

As the oft-quoted American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead so famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Well, if we imagined those at the front of the Wildrose Party comprised a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens, we have now been set straight. Danielle Smith, it’s said here, could have changed Alberta. But even if she becomes the deputy premier for a spell, she will sink into well-deserved obscurity before the decade is over.

What happened? No jam! The wind went out of Ms. Smith’s sails when she and her advisors realized it wouldn’t be all that easy. Anyone could run a successful campaign against Alison Redford. Jim Prentice was a tougher customer.

So when they hit a speed bump and won none of the Oct. 27 by-elections, the party shattered into a thousand pieces of glass.

In fact, their supporters were tougher than their leaders and could have made a good showing in the next election. But I guess winning by increments built up through hard work in opposition didn’t meet the schedule preferred by Ms. Smith and Mr. Anderson.

What happens next remains to be seen. Someone will form the opposition. Maybe the Liberals for a spell; maybe the Wildrump, if there are enough of them. There will be a fight over the money and someone will win it. Ms. Smith will smile and get to make a few announcements. Mr. Prentice will plead poverty and call an early election before the RCMP reminds us of all the things Ms. Redford got up to. This being Alberta, it’ll probably work.

You know what? I often complain that my Alberta New Democrats have very little to show for their stick-to-itiveness and principles beyond “moral victories.”

But I’d sure as hell rather have an Alberta NDP-style moral victory than suffer a collapse of principles and moral fibre the way the Wildrose Party just has!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

17 Comments to: Hatched in secret, today’s expected mass Wildrose defection to PC benches brings party to a pathetic end

  1. December 17th, 2014

    I like this post….Left right or center, principles and beliefs no matter what they be, how defined do matter, capitulation sickens me…

    The loyal opposition, do or will they still debate Bills, debate spending….Or will they just toast, bottoms up to everything.

    Cheers

    Reply
  2. December 17th, 2014

    I don’t think Wildrose is necessarily done if remaining Wildrosers don’t hesitate to disown Anderson and Smith. This will some flip flopping after having defended them for years, but it shouldn’t take too long to figure out that these two destroyed the party and disowning them is the only way to properly appreciate that.

    Prentice no doubt thinks that with this move he now has room to swing left. Expect a spending budget in a few weeks which will maintain space for Wildrose.

    Reply
  3. pogo

    December 17th, 2014

    Well the vote splitting on the right is out of the way. Everyone can see them for what they are. Sherman is part of the rat pack surely. He bought a crippled party for pennies on the dollar and he’s just cashing checks. It’s up to Rachel. Now’s the time for big ideas from the only voice with any credibility. Don’t play the triangulation game. Tell it like it is.

    Reply
  4. Vandervlist

    December 17th, 2014

    But was the WR ever a real party? Weren’t they just a branch plant of the PCs, created to vent stronger pro-oil and social-conservative views while slightly less right-wing leadership held sway within the PCs? Now that job isn’t needed anymore so they can be the big family they always were, in name as well as in practice. This makes the floor crossing an internal PC matter, really. “Thanks for your service, come home and claim your stipends.” Is this not the simplest explanation?

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      December 17th, 2014

      Problem is, they convinced quite a few people to donate money to them on the strength that they were a true opposition party with a real vision. To a lot of people that will constitute fraud, in spirit certainly, but possibly also in action. This could get more interesting than we could imagine at this point.

      Reply
  5. jerrymacgp

    December 17th, 2014

    Thus ends Alberta’s Wildrose experiment. Their roots are in the extreme social conservatism of the old Social Credit/Alberta Alliance parties, but in recent years they had gained a bunch of disgruntled former Progressive Conservatives, like Ms Smith herself, Mr Anderson, and a number of others, and had tried to morph themselves into a mainstream conservative party. But the conservative side of the political spectrum has too many divisions to fit under one tent: small-government, low-tax corporatist neo-liberalism, laisser-faire property-rights libertarianism, and faith-based social conservatism all cluster tightly on the right wing of the political spectrum. The PCs have the advantage of being in power, and have been able to use this fact to smooth over those differences; the Wildrose under Ms Smith did not have that luxury.

    Now that the right has reunited under the PC big tent, and the PCs have tacked further to the right under Mr Prentice, more centrist voters have a choice: they can continue to support the PC dynasty, or they can look at real alternatives, and the only viable one remaining is the NDP.

    Reply
  6. Murray Lee

    December 17th, 2014

    A little bird told me that 2 of the sitting Liberal MLAs will be resigning to pursue federal office; if both that and this unholy merger happen then if our math is correct, Rachel Notley will become Leader of the Official Opposition in Alberta as soon as the federal writ is dropped.

    I’m hoping that enough fellow Albertans finally come to their collective senses by the time the next provincial election is called. I’m ready for Rachel to be next Premier of Alberta!

    Reply
  7. Athabascan

    December 17th, 2014

    To Jim Prentice: Don’t accept Smith into your caucus.

    Reply
  8. Ted

    December 17th, 2014

    Are the rumours true that Rob Anderson will become the minister of newly created Ministry of Sidewalks in the Prentice government? If so, he will be the new apprentice.

    Reply
  9. Alex C Polkovsky

    December 17th, 2014

    This is awkward. It turned out that the luxury product and the cut rate down market one are both made by the same super vendor, in the same factory, paying the same slave wages. Years of never shipping one in the same truck (or, ahem, bus) as the other had enough consumers fooled.

    Suddenly, here we are. Cat out of the bag, curtain pulled back, emperor’s pale damn keister in the breeze. Is anyone out here ready to at least make a different mistake? Voting further right doesn’t count. It’s like saying the Tories are letting the infrastructure collapse, but not fast enough.

    So, Alberta, would you vote for the Alberta Lib Dem Green Gretzky 99 Lucky Star Party?

    Reply
  10. Filostrato

    December 17th, 2014

    This kind of thing puts the announcement this week of an NDP MPP in Ontario jumping ship to the provincial Libs in the shade.

    I remember a couple of years ago that almost all of the Alberta MP’s from the Fed Cons backed the Wildrose lot in the provincial elections. The Alberta Cons were so miffed that they took away the Cons voting rights and voice in the Alberta PC’s affairs. Does the ban still stand after the Rosies have decamped? How does this affect the HarperCons and their extreme right wing fellow-travellers in Alberta who seemed to share the same warped vision? My mind is tied up in knots…as usual.

    PC party members will vote on the resolution Saturday at this year’s AGM in Calgary. If passed, it would remove the voting privileges on provincial party matters automatically enjoyed by federal Conservative MPs.

    The resolution reflects a schism that became apparent during last spring’s provincial election when some Alberta Conservative MPs supported provincial Wildrose candidates.

    And from a Yahoo site after the election:

    “I think I can safely say that the majority of members of Parliament inside the Alberta caucus, that I’m aware of, are leaning Wildrose,” Calgary MP Rob Anders told the Ottawa weekly the Hill Times in mid April…[T]he Wildrose, whose campaign staff borrowed heavily from Harper’s old federal team, was ideologically attuned with Harper’s Reform roots and its rejection in rock-ribbed Alberta clearly stung…[Lee] Richardson and Rona Ambrose were among less than a handful of Alberta MPs who were supporting local PC candidates.

    As for Wildrump, it sounds like a twerking contest on a Z-list cable channel. Oh, wait…

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      December 17th, 2014

      As Deep Throat said in All the President’s Men: you’re missing the overall. Prentice is a Harper boy…and both of them are beholden to the Alberta oil oligarchs, so I have no doubt that all is forgiven in the executive suite (regardless of what the party riff raff say).

      But let it be said here, to all my brethren watching from the rest of Canada: this is how conservatives from Alberta operate;and worse, these self-same conservatives are also leading the country. They are duplicitous, mendacious, and, frankly, anti-democratic. They pretend to be in favour of democracy, but they really do not like it very much and their aim is to shrink it to such an extent that it can be drowned in a bathtub. What has happened in Alberta is a rare glimpse to other Canadians of what happens, and what could happen, if the same branch of conservatives, with the same backers, maintains control of the federal government for much longer. What you just saw in Alberta, where a tissue-paper opposition folds at the first hint of a stiff breeze, is what they want for the country.

      Reply
  11. Athabascan

    December 17th, 2014

    It’s official. Prentice is an idiot regardless of what the press and all the talking heads claim. Now he is stuck with a faction loyal to Smith within his own party- and he created it. Good luck herding these cats.

    They were all but dead politically and Prentice gave them a second life. Truly idiotic!

    Reply
  12. screech

    December 17th, 2014

    Listening to Rachel screech is like listening to nails on the chalkboard. Raj looks and sounds way better.

    Reply
  13. Shelley J

    December 17th, 2014

    Well said David.

    Reply
  14. Radachi

    December 17th, 2014

    Methinks Ms Smith is doing a Harper. He helped unite the right federally then snuck in to usurp the conservative title to run a reform government. Premier Prentice should watch his back.

    Reply
  15. December 17th, 2014

    But haven’t you always said that the PCs and Wildrose are really just wings of the same conservative ideological movement? Methinks you’re being a tad inconsistent to decry this merger.

    Reply

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