Local minister defends leader, party

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Alberta has the finest leadership it’s had in a long time, said a local Progressive Conservative MLA and cabinet minister in defending Premier Ed Stelmach after two PC MLAs defected to the upstart Wildrose Alliance Party.

“The leadership that we have in the province today I think is amongst the best that we’ve ever had in this province,” Doug Horner said at a news conference Monday.

Horner took veiled shots at departing members Rob Anderson of Airdrie-Chestermere and Heather Forsyth of Calgary-Fish Creek, who both announced Monday they were switching to the Alliance.

“It takes some nerve and it takes some courage and it takes integrity even when times are tough to stay with the team and to work as a group and to work with your team leader,” Horner said.

In a letter posted on his website, Anderson explained he’s fed up with the lack of democracy within the Tory party, saying there are few free votes in the legislature or caucus.

“Virtually all legislation is created and developed by various unelected government appointees with direction from the premier and a small cadre of cabinet ministers whose distinguishing attribute is unconditional allegiance to their leader,” Anderson wrote. “All other elected MLAs generally have little, if any, real input into the decisions that impact the lives of their constituents,” he said.

Forsyth told CBC radio Tuesday that her constituents have been bombarding her with questions about Stelmach’s decisions in recent years.

“How can one manage in less than 50 days to destroy the economic engine of our province and Canada, the oil and gas industry, with a flawed royalty review?” she said. “How does one manage to be so mean-spirited and go after those who are helpless and take away basic necessities?”

Horner suggested the proper way to switch parties is to resign and run in a byelection under a different banner.

“We’ve certainly had that discussion in our caucus that if someone was to want to come to us, we would like to see them run for the nomination in their constituency,” he said.

New Democrat leader Brian Mason echoed those remarks Tuesday.

“These new members need to renew their mandate as Wildrose Alliance members and listen to the citizens in their constituencies,” Mason said.

Alliance leader Danielle Smith said byelections would cost taxpayers too much money and go against her party’s platform of fiscal responsibility.

The PCs now have 68 MLAs in the 83-seat legislature. The Alberta Liberals have nine, the Alliance three and the NDP have two. There’s also one independent — Fort McMurray’s Guy Boutilier.

Horner noted that the Tories still have a strong majority and the real test will come with the next general election.

Political scientist Chaldeans Mensah agreed, saying that Wildrose support is based on disenchantment with the government. But to be a real option for Albertans, the party has to show how it plans to marry its fiscal conservatism with real needs in health care and education.

Recent polls have put the Alliance ahead of the ruling PCs but it’s far too soon to speculate about the demise of the Tories, Mensah said.

“They have a formidable political base in the province. If economic fortunes improve I can see them recapturing large ground very quickly,” he said.

Despite explanations to the contrary, it’s inevitable that some will view the defections as a move to get in on the ground floor in a party that some think will someday hold power.

“An astute observer would certainly see an element of opportunism here,” Mensah said.

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