EDMONTON – Alberta Premier Jim Prentice says any attempt by elected members of the Opposition Wildrose to join the government would ultimately be decided by his Progressive Conservative caucus.
Beyond that, the premier wasn’t commenting Tuesday on reports that several Wildrose members were seeking to cross the floor in a bid to reunify Alberta’s political right.
“We’ll see what happens,” Prentice told reporters. “Our caucus meets tomorrow, and all these matters are dealt with in our caucus.”
Sources have told The Canadian Press that Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith was to poll her team Tuesday afternoon on whether to join Prentice.
Smith and house leader Rob Anderson – widely reported to be the key drivers of the floor-crossing – did not return calls for comment.
Jeff Callaway, a member of the Wildrose party executive, said regardless of what happens with its elected members, the party will live on.
“It’s profoundly disappointing for MLAs to undertake floor-crossing initiatives for the sake of their own political self-preservation,” said Callaway. “But the fact is the party remains.
“Our fundraising is strong. We have a good constituency association roster. We will be in the next election and we will have a slate of candidates contesting it.”
Callaway says the party still has more than 21,000 members.
One of the Wildrose legislature members not present at Smith’s meeting Tuesday was Drew Barnes, who represents Cypress-Medicine Hat.
Barnes, who said he would not cross, said the Wildrose caucus needs to remain loyal to its base and has a responsibility to hold the government accountable.
“I hope my caucus mates don’t do this reunification agreement, whatever it is,” said Barnes.
He said many upset Wildrose party members are reaching out to him.
“I’ve had hundreds of members tweet me, text me, call me,” he said. “Many of them want to continue in a very, very strong way.”
WATCH ABOVE: Residents from High River comment on the possibility of a merger between the Wildrose and the PCs.
A document leaked to the media outlining the conditions of any merger states that since Prentice has adopted many Wildrose fiscal accountability measures, it would make sense for the two right-of-centre parties to join.
The document also promises that floor-crossing Wildrosers would be allowed to keep their seats and would get the premier’s endorsement for a PC nomination to run in the next election, slated for the spring of 2016. (Read the full document below).
“If an individual does decide to challenge an MLA despite the premier’s endorsement, there will be a call reminding them of the premier’s endorsement,” the document reads.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the document suggests the Wildrosers are less concerned with ideology and more concerned with keeping their seats.
“On both sides, it is primarily about a bunch of folks that want to keep their jobs, whether you’re talking about Tories or Wildrosers,” said Notley.
“That document does not read like a guide to grassroots democracy. That reads like a guide to clinging to power.”
The Wildrose formed out of a protest movement and positioned itself to the right of the PCs in the mid-2000s.
The party grew as Tory premier Ed Stelmach struggled with deficits during the last recession. Under Smith’s leadership, Wildrose was widely considered a contender to form government in the 2012 election before a series of gaffes in the final days of the campaign.
It flourished as premier Alison Redford’s leadership of the Tories fell apart in scandal, but hit rough waters when Prentice took over. It has been staggering to find its feet after losing four byelections to the Tories on Oct. 27.
Two Wildrose members – Kerry Towle and Ian Donovan – crossed the floor to join the government last month. They said he represents the best choice to lead Alberta.
Another Wildrose member, Joe Anglin, quit ahead of a caucus vote to oust him for, among other things, allegedly taping caucus meetings in secret. Anglin has denied this and Smith has never provided evidence.
The three departures left the Wildrose with 14 members compared with 63 for the Tories, five for the Liberals and four for the New Democrats. Anglin has been sitting as an Independent.
Smith has said the byelections showed the rural-based party still hasn’t made key inroads in the big cities.
The party has since dropped in popular opinion polls, and Smith has accused the mainstream media for fostering a narrative of the Wildrose as an angry and divisive party.
Last month, the party was sharply criticized for refusing to adopt as policy a resolution it passed last year to pledge its support for equal rights for specific minority groups, including gays.
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said while strong government needs strong opposition, the PCs under Prentice have moved so far to the right on fiscal and social policy they are indistinguishable from the Wildrose.
“We have a right-wing conservative government. We’ve got a right-wing conservative official Opposition. That doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Wildrose Reunification Agreement: