(WATCH: Two Wildrose MLAs, Kerry Towle and Ian Donovan, left the part to join the PCs Monday. Tom Vernon begins our team coverage.)
EDMONTON – Wildrose MLAs Kerry Towle and Ian Donovan left the party and crossed the floor to join the Alberta Progressive Conservatives Monday.
“I made my decision yesterday,” said Towle. “It was incredibly difficult.”
“Over the last 10 days, I’ve spent a lot of time chatting with my constituents and hearing from them that they wanted us to come together. They would like to see us move forward in how we make this a better Alberta,” she explained.
Towle said it was “absolutely not” about the vote during the Wildrose party’s annual general meeting over the weekend of Nov. 15. Wildrose party members voted 148-109 against adopting as policy a statement approved last year that affirmed the rights for everyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, and other differences.
But, on Monday morning, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and her caucus announced they have endorsed and will follow a resolution that specifically says it will respect the rights of gays and all other minority groups.
“It wasn’t necessarily the rifts that played a role in my decision,” said Towle on Monday. “I just felt that some of the decisions being made were taking our party in a way that was not in line with what my constituents elected me to do. That would cause me great concern.”
“We are a party of free votes, however, our membership was deciding how I as an MLA was expected to vote.”
Towle explained there were several issues that led her to explore leaving the party.
“I think the continued fraction on the direction of our leadership – I was on line with that direction, and they were not, and that was becoming harder and harder… my constituents were coming to me asking me to give this government and Mr. Prentice a chance, and felt that I could do more with them than against them, and I heard that message.”
When Wildrose MLAs arrived Monday morning, Towle’s office was cleaned out. Towle was not at Monday morning’s Wildrose caucus meeting. Donovan, however, was there. The two MLAs said they both starting exploring their options separately and did not know the other was planning on crossing the floor.
(Watch below: Former Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle has joined the PCs. She joins us to talk about what led to her decision.)
“I was not aware that my colleague was doing this,” said Towle. “I only found out last night.”
Towle, the member for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, served as the party’s critic for human services and seniors. She was elected in 2012. Ian Donovan was also elected in 2012. He represents Little Bow. Donovan was the Wildrose’s agriculture and rural development critic.
“In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been talking with quite a few constituents,” he said.
“I’m impressed with the new leadership.”
“I respect Danielle Smith to the utmost… It’s hard to follow somebody when they say they’re not sure they’re going to lead the team if they don’t win the next game,” explained Donovan. “For my constituents, I think I can do the best from the inside, making decisions around the table with the governing party, under the new leadership of Premier Prentice.”
Danielle Smith thanked Towle and Donovan for their service, and then spoke about Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth leaving the PCs to join the Wildrose.
“Rob and Heather crossed the floor from government to opposition because of principle. They gave up the perks of power to serve Albertans, not for personal gain, but because they wanted to put Albertans first.
“Today, we saw the opposite.”
“Now they [Towle and Donovan] will have to answer for their actions both in their constituencies and in the legislature,” said Smith.
Smith delivered a statement on the events, but did not answer questions.
(Watch below: Wildrose leader Danielle Smith comments on two of the party’s MLAs crossing the floor to join the PCs)
Prentice said he is “pleased and humbled” by the decisions of Towle and Donovan. “I’ve admired the work ethic and integrity of both of these individuals… they both have a passion for serving Albertans.
The PC caucus unanimously approved the move.
“To be perfectly clear, neither Kerry nor Ian asked for anything,” said Prentice. “Neither one has been promised anything and neither one of these people has asked for anything, and it speaks to their integrity.” Prentice explained the change takes effect immediately, but that it will take one day to move the two seats in the legislature.
Albertans shared some reaction on social media.
Those guys that rearrange desks at the #ableg have to be exhausted.
— Len Thom (@lenthomlaw) November 24, 2014
— Connor Turner (@ctoverdrive) November 24, 2014
As of 12:20 p.m. Monday, Towle and Donovan were no longer listed on the Wildrose website.
Danielle Smith will be addressing the issue later Monday afternoon.