rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Explaining the revulsion: It's not the policy differences, stupid! It's the Wildrose corruption critique

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Danielle Smith & Jim Prentice

Why are Albertans so angry about the defection of 11 Wildrose opposition members to the government's benches? I mean, why are they really so furious?

This has been a bit of a mystery. No one, and that includes the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrosers who cooked up the floor crossing, relatively neutral non-conservative observers, and members of the public who find themselves so incensed, seems to fully understand why the reaction has been so visceral and passionate.

But there it is. It's pretty obvious that the shock and revulsion felt by ordinary Albertan citizens went way beyond what any of the schemers who came up with this brainstorm imagined.

Yet it is also true, as both former Opposition leader Danielle Smith and Premier Jim Prentice and their supporters have argued vociferously since the Big Shock on Dec. 17, that on most issues the positions of the two parties were in fact close to identical.

Indeed, most of the people who are so unhappy about the apparent betrayal by the 11 Wildrosers also understand this.

Now, both Prentice and Smith, a little disingenuously, have tried to suggest this state of concord between them was something new, a situation that developed only after Prentice put his Progressive Conservative Party under "new management."

In reality, though, it has certainly been true since Alison Redford was sworn in as premier and her approach to governing became obvious. But it was also clear during Ed Stelmach's tenure as premier that on all but one or two issues, the principal one being whether there should be modest increases on hydrocarbon royalties or none at all, there was little of substance to divide Wildrosers and Tories.

As for Ralph Klein's premiership, that was supposedly the Golden Age of market perfection and perfected austerity to which Wildrosers harkened back as their inspiration for Alberta’s planned future restoration.

So, really, what’s so infuriating about two political parties that for all intents and purposes took the same position on all matters of policy and ideology admitting the obvious and joining into a single entity?

The reason -- and it's surprising there's been so little commentary that comes right out and says this -- is that Albertans accepted the basic premise of the Wildrose Party's critique of the PC government, which is that it was entitled, arrogant and, under Redford's leadership, openly corrupt.

The Wildrose Party went from being just another loony right-wing fringe party to a serious contender only when elements of the petroleum industry decided Stelmach had to go because of his attempt to increase royalties. No one, even a dyed-in-the-wool lefty, could credibly argue Stelmach was corrupt, or even that he himself acted as if he were entitled, although the latter case could be made about some of his ministers.

It’s said here -- and I recognize this is impossible to prove or disprove -- that if Stelmach had stuck around in 2011, he would have defeated Smith and the Wildrose Party with ease and won a larger majority than Redford held onto in the 2012 general election. What's more, Alberta would probably have been better off for it.

But Alison Redford really was the perfect foil for a conservative insurgency that argued the government in fact had it right on core policy and ideology, but couldn't deliver on either because it was dirty.

After she settled in to power, Redford seemed to do everything she could to provide evidence to prove the key Wildrose complaint was right, and therefore Alberta needed structural change that could only be provided by a new party in power.

True, most Wildrosers were former Tories, but as Smith herself said in response to the defection of MLAs Ian Donovan and Kerry Towle in late November, when Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth first crossed the floor to join Wildrose, they went "from government to opposition because of principle. They gave up the perks of power to serve Albertans, not for personal gain because they wanted to put Albertans first." I think most Albertans, even those uncomfortable with what the Wildrose Party might do, accepted that as true. (Anderson subsequently crossed back; Forsyth did not and is now Opposition leader.)

It's also true there were other political parties in opposition that at least in theory could run an effective government if they had sufficient numbers of MLAs. But the fact is the Wildrose Party was the most likely to be able to do so. It had the support of many conservative Albertans who could never bring themselves to vote for a non-conservative party and had worked hard to moderate its positions on the most offensive social conservative doctrines -- notwithstanding a troll or two in its back benches, now in the Tory back benches.

Even when Prentice arrived on the scene and public opinion polls suggested Albertans were willing to give him a chance, deep skepticism remained about the PC government because Albertans had in significant numbers accepted the Wildrose arguments about Tory entitlement and corruption.

Other parties had said these things too, of course, but the fact a conservative party was saying them, for many voters, lent credibility.

At the very least, a large number of uncommitted voters wanted to hold Prentice's feet to the fire and make him prove his party, and by extension the province, really was under new management and that the new managers could be trusted.

The deeply cynical manoeuvre of Dec. 17 ensures they will never have the chance to do that.

It is ironic that it also ensures Prentice will never truly be able to prove that his government offers a clean slate, a meaningful change.

By accepting the 11 Wildrose defectors, including Smith, into the PC caucus, Prentice has for many voters reinforced the Wildrose Party's principal premise the PC Party is corrupt.

The only difference is that, now, conservative-leaning voters have also concluded there is nothing they can ever do about it. Their apparent return to the Tory big tent is a gesture of defeat, not faith.

This is the source of the revulsion and lasting bitterness felt by so many Albertans, a circle that extends well beyond the Wildrose Party’s committed supporters.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.