Danielle Smith & Jim Prentice

Say it ain’t so, Danielle?

Well, the Wildrose Party committed ritual political suicide today, defecting in even greater numbers to the Progressive Conservative caucus of Premier Jim Prentice than anticipated by the Edmonton rumour machine.

At the end of the day, not only had party leader Danielle Smith and House leader Rob Anderson abandoned their foundering Wildrose Party, so had seven other MLAs.

A chipper looking Prentice and an apparently tired Smith finally appeared at Edmonton’s Government House just after 4 p.m., gamely trying to spin this astonishing surrender as a “unification” to a room packed with about 50 uncharacteristically skeptical and cranky Alberta journalists.

Well, the journos had been waiting all day — unlike dilettante bloggers who have the luxury of only showing up only minutes before the action starts. Still, it’s hard to believe that this unification hooey will go over any better with the public than with the press.

At any rate, that was their story, and they were stickin’ to it: “The caucuses have agreed to unite under a set of aligned values and principles,” Smith said, sticking closely to the script and tightly inside the joint message box.

This, of course, was baloney on the face of it. Nine members of the Wildrose caucus chose to accept Prentice’s terms and join the PCs. Five did not, and will try to soldier on as the Wildrump Party. That is not a merger, unification or anything of the sort, as we will see when they start to fight over the Wildrose Party’s well-stuffed bank account.

The details of today’s events are in the daily press, of course, but from an amateur political observer’s perspective, a few themes from coming PC charm offensive began to coalesce, and a few other interesting tidbits emerged.

The principal arguments for the mass defection will be, first, that since everyone now realizes Prentice symbolizes conservative perfection, there was no longer a need for another conservative political party — no matter what the Wildrose Party’s own donors, supporters and members imagine.

“I don’t want to take down this premier,” Smith asserted urgently. “I want this premier to succeed!”

Second, of course, was the application of the Shock Doctrine in its pure form. Oil prices are low and therefore we must be disciplined. The discipline, it went literally without being said, will not be felt by the rich or the energy industry in the form of higher taxes or royalties. (“In this time of economic uncertainty … our province needs united leadership and shared purpose in tackling the challenges ahead:” Prentice.)

Knowing that this will be unpersuasive to many Albertans, and that yesterday’s “unification” will offend the good sense and values of large numbers of voters, however, the newly unified PCs also began to float the narrative that the Wildrose Party was really too full of knuckle-dragging social conservatives for a sensitive and liberal soul like Smith.

Look for more of this in the weeks ahead, although I don’t know how this is supposed to go over with die-hard Wildrosers the Tories would also like to woo.

And let’s not forget Ms. Smith’s hilarious claim she saw the need in the entrails of the Calgary-Elbow by-election for the two conservative caucuses to unite lest they become the victims of sneaky progressive vote splitting by the Alberta Party. The Alberta Party? Wait for this one to appear among the PC talking points soon too.

Rumours that the quid pro quo of the deal would be cabinet posts for some of the most prominent defectors will have to wait to be resolved. Prentice stoutly resisted questions from reporters about whether, or when, he would appoint Wildrose defectors to his cabinet. Not sure what this means: Prentice dictated terms? Or the PC caucus needs to be whipped into line?

That business, like everything else in this affair, will be conducted away from the curious gaze of taxpayers and voters according to the premier’s own timetable.

“I have made no decision related to cabinet,” he repeated, sticking manfully to his message box. “That’s not part of what we are discussing today.”

Finally, it was conceded openly by the principal characters, that this scheme has been in the works at least for several weeks, possibly longer — while Wildrose Party members and the public were kept in the dark. Together now… unified, as it were… they will bring unto us “the most ethical and transparent government in Canada.”

Today’s Wildrose Defectors to PCs

Danielle Smith (Highwood)
Rob Anderson (Airdrie)
Gary Bikman (Cardston-Taber-Warner)
Rod Fox (Lacombe-Panoka)
Jason Hale (Strathmore-Brooks)
Bruce McAllister (Chestermere-Rocky View)
Blake Pederson (Medicine Hat)
Bruce Rowe (Olds-Didsbury- Three Hills)
Jeff Wilson (Calgary Shaw)

Previous Wildrose Defectors PCs

Kerry Towle (Innisfail-Sylvan lake)
Ian Donovan (Little Bow)

Previous Wildrose Member, Now Independent

Joe Anglin (Rimbey-Rockey Mountain House-Sundre)

Wildrose Loyalists

Drew Barnes (Cypress-Medicine Hat)
Rick Strankman (Drumheller-Stettler)
Heather Forsyth (Calgary-Fish Creek)
Shayne Saskiw (Lac la Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills)
Pat Stier (Livingstone-Macleod)

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...