Last week, nine members of the official Opposition including former leader Danielle Smith, shocked the province in announcing that they were abandoning the Wildrose party and joining the Jim Prentice-led Progressive Conservative party.
Prentice and Smith announced last Wednesday that they would be putting aside partisan politics and joining forces heading into 2015.
Prentice said in a news conference at Government House that the government is stronger now with the inclusion of the Wildrose members.
“These MLAs are both wanted and needed in our (caucus),” said Prentice.
“Alberta is stronger today with these committed Albertans working together.” Smith said that of the four Premiers that she has been Opposition leader to, Prentice was the first that actually extended their hand to meet with her.
“Past premiers have merely paid lip service to these issues, saying the right things and then doing the opposite,” Smith said. “But Premier Prentice has shown me and my caucus that he is different.”
Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford, Dave Hancock and Prentice have been in power since Smith took over the leadership of the party in 2012.
Smith also said that the desire to take down the government was now gone, since Prentice took over the leadership in September.
“I don’t want to take down this premier,” she said. “I want this premier to succeed and I want to be part and parcel with helping him succeed.”
Richard Starke, Vermilion- Lloydminster MLA, said that he was somewhat taken aback by the announcement.
“There had certainly been many rumours about different moves, and they had been circulating for some time now,” he said.
Those rumours, according to Starke, started to become more real after the defection of Kerry Towle, and Ian Donovan, two Wildrose MLAs who crossed to the governing PCs earlier this month.
“It was anticipated that there was something going on, but certainly the magnitude of it and involved the bulk of the Wildrose caucus, that certainly was somewhat surprising,” said Starke.
While all caucus meetings are behind closed doors, and not much is known about what is said, Starke did say that there was a lively debate from all PC caucus members on Wednesday about the addition of the nine MLA in the government benches.
“The things that the premier has already said ... it was a thorough caucus with essentially all members of caucus speaking about the issue,” he said.
The decision was not unanimous, according to Starke.
“It was a decision that was in favour of the admission of Wildrose members,” Starke said.
Along with Smith, eight other MLAs crossed the floor including Rob Anderson (Airdrie), Gary Bikman (Cardston-Taber-Warner), Rod Fox (Lacombe-Ponoka), Jason Hale (Strathmore-Brooks), Bruce McAllister (Chestermere-Rocky View), Blake Pedersen (Medicine Hat), Bruce Rowe (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills) and Jeff Wilson (Calgary-Shaw).
While the five MLAs who decided to stay in the Wildrose benches are left scratching their heads over last week’s bombshell, Prentice said in the news conference that the door would remain open for them to join the PC party.
Starke said that moving into the 2015 calendar year, the message that the premier and the party have addressed is the sense of unity between the conservative parties.
“The premier has indicated he is open to all Albertans and all MLAs that are open to the fundamental principles of the PC brand.”
Starke said that moving forward, the party will be able to address the issues on the economic front.
“When we have a unified caucus, we will be able to address some of these issues that we are facing head on.”
Five members are left in the Wildrose Caucus, that include, Drew Barnes (Cypress-Medicine Hat), Heather Forsyth (Calgary- Fish Creek), Shayne Saskiw (Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills), Pat Stier (Livingstone-Macleod), and Rick Strankman (Drumheller-Stettler).
With last week’s shuffle, the standing in the legislature is the Jim Prentice led PC party at 72 seats, the Wildrose dropped to five seats, tied with the Liberal Party. The NDP has four seats.
There is currently one independent, Joe Anglin, who said that he is willing to work with either the Liberals or the Wildrose to become the official opposition.