December 20, 2014 2:39 pm
Updated: December 20, 2014 4:28 pm

Danielle Smith’s move to PCs ‘unprecedented’

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice and former Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith speak to media after a caucus meeting in Edmonton Alta., Wednesday, December 17, 2014. Prentice's caucus met to discuss a bid by at least half the official Opposition to cross the floor.

Jason Franson, The Canadian Press
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CALGARY – The shocking decision by nine Wildrose MLAs to cross the floor and join the PC government has changed the political landscape in Alberta.

One of the MLAs who switched parties was former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith. The decision to leave her former party outraged many Albertans and led some to petition for recall legislation that would allow her to be removed as the MLA for the riding of Highwood.

WATCH: Interview with Danielle Smith on current state of Alberta


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It is not unusual for politicians to switch parties and not uncommon for a party leader to make the leap to a different political organization.

READ MORE: Wildrose move: one of Canada’s biggest political defections

But it is unprecedented for the leader of the official opposition to switch allegiances while still holding the reigns, according to political analyst Duane Bratt.

“We have had party leaders change allegiances, Bob Rae is the most notable, but we’ve never had the leader of an official opposition cross the floor while they’re still leader,” Bratt told Global News.

WATCH: Political scientist Duane Bratt joins the Morning News to talk about the nine Wildrose MLAs defecting to the PCs.

Bob Rae was leader of the NDP from 1990 to 1995 before becoming the interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada from 2011 to 2013.

There are other examples of Canadian politicians who have held leadership positions changing their allegiances, including Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.

Harper started his political career as a member of the Young Liberals and Mulcair was formerly a Quebec Liberal environment minister before he became a member of parliament and later leader of the federal NDP.  Both, however, made the switch before becoming leaders of their prospective parties.

There are also examples in Quebec of party leaders who have decided to switch allegiances after leaving their post. Most notably, Jean Charest, who was leader of the Federal Progressive Conservatives from 1993 to 1998 before becoming Premier of Quebec under the banner of the Liberal party. But that was a move from federal to provincial politics, and according to Bratt a difference in semantics as Quebec has only two major political parties.

In Alberta, of course, there is at least one example of a cabinet minister that switched parties. Ray Speaker was a cabinet minister in the Progressive Conservatives in the early 70’s before joining the Social Credit Party in the late 60’s. But for a party leader like Smith to cross the floor in the manner she did is extremely rare, even unprecedented Bratt tells Global News.

“Provincially it’s possible there was an example somewhere, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head.”

READ MORE: Tom’s take: the collapse of the Wildrose Party

Bratt says the only other time a leader of the official opposition has switched allegiances while still in a leadership position is pre-confederation, when George Brown offered to work with his rivals in a coalition that would work towards the construction of a united Canada.

READ MORE: Federal Conservatives “gobsmacked” over the political tectonic shifts in Alberta

What happens to the Wildrose Party now that Smith has joined the PCs remains to be seen. The new party president Jeff Callaway, however, says to expect a major announcement from the party on Monday.

WATCH: Jeff Callaway explains what’s next for the Wildrose

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