It was perhaps one of the biggest miscalculations in the history of modern Alberta politics.
As a number of factors conspired to influence the Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith made a decision which rocked provincial politics to its very core.
Smith, a staunch opponent of the Progressive Conservative government, partly responsible for the fall of two premiers, and the meteoric rise of the Wildrose party into a legitimate challenger, simply folded the tent.
Ian Donovan and Kerry Towle, one of Smith’s key lieutenants, started the ball rolling, as the Wildrose MLAs jumped ship and joined Premier Jim Prentice’s ranks. Four devastating loses in byelections took the wind out of Smith’s sails, as the woman many thought could be Alberta’s next premier pondered resigning as leader, or at the very least, calling for a leadership review.
Instead, after publically chastising Donovan and Towle, Smith joined them as members of the PC party, as she took eight other Wildrose MLAs across the floor. Outrage was swift and intense, as political observers, members of the media and most importantly, her own constituents and Wildrose supporters across Alberta, collectively criticized the move.
No matter what explanation she offered, the abrupt change of course painted Smith as a blatant opportunist, and it left the remaining Wildrose MLAs to pick up the pieces.
Few know the real story behind Smith’s monumental gaffe, along with the role Prentice might have played as the puppet master, but one fact remains — the PC dynasty is now poised to live on under its new leader.
Despite facing a massive revenue gap, and the passage of a budget which did not take into account the views of the majority of the electorate, at least according to the results of the online budget survey, Prentice and company are in the driver’s seat, just like they always have been.
An election call is on the way, and voters will select from a host of new candidates, and new leaders, as the PCs, Wildrose, Liberals and NDP all have newcomers at the helm. The difference, of course, is Prentice is pulling the strings. He has expertly orchestrated the grand collapse of the Wildrose, a process completed with Smith’s fall from grace, as one of the the province’s most powerful politicians fell meekly in a PC nomination battle in Highwood to Okotoks town Coun. Carrie Fischer, a relative unknown.
Former Wildrose member, Gary Bikman, MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner, also lost his bid for the PC nomination on the weekend, which completed a process which has resulted in six of the nine Wildrose floor crossers either quitting or losing their PC nomination battles.
It has set the PCs on a path few would have predicted when Prentice took control. Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford had both endured difficult leadership struggles, and it appeared the party was finally on the precipice of yielding power.
Now, thanks to Smith, it will likely take a monumental effort for one of Alberta’s opposition parties, or a historic PC collapse, for Albertans to wake up to a new government after the anticipated spring election.
Was it all part of a carefully-crafted scheme on the part of the PCs?
We may never know the behind-the-scenes story, but for Alberta’s political powerhouse, things simply could not have worked out any better in the end.