Central Alberta MLA Rick Strankman is quitting the UCP to sit as an independent until his term as an elected official comes to an end this spring because he says the party is crafting policy from the top down and not seeking input from grassroots members.
Last fall, Strankman lost the United Conservative Party nomination for Drumheller-Stettler to challenger Nate Horner, meaning he will no longer be an MLA following this year’s provincial election. Despite losing the party nomination, he says his critical comments are not sour grapes.
Strankman, who was elected as a Wildrose MLA in 2012, said in a memo posted online Tuesday that he has written to the speaker of the assembly and asked to be seated as an independent effective immediately.
“Since the amalgamation of the Wildrose and the Progressive Conservative parties, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that this is not including the grassroots principles of strong conservative Albertan values,” Strankman said in his statement, which can be read in full below.
He says he is quitting so that he has the freedom to speak up on policy issues ahead of the spring election.
UCP Leader Jason Kenney promised party members in 2017 that they would drive policy in what he termed his “grassroots guarantee.”
That guarantee appeared uncertain at last year’s party policy convention, when Kenney disputed a motion passed by members relating to gay-straight alliances in schools.
Kenney stressed at that time that he “holds the pen” on policy and that he would craft a platform palatable to all Albertans.
“The hyper partisan self-centered politics we see at play again today in Alberta has side-stepped the direct grassroots representation of Albertans to the point where the best interests are being put behind unwritten party interests,” Strankman’s statement said.
LISTEN: Drumheller-Stettler MLA Rick Strankman joins Rob Breakenridge to discuss leaving the United Conservative Party
Strankman said that was unacceptable, and his constituents urged him to leave the party and sit as an independent. He said that removed him from the “current undemocratic atmosphere that is being fostered.”
“I want my colleagues to reflect on where they came from and why they made the commitment they did to Albertans.”
Strankman, 65, has been a farmer for 30 years, and according to his profile on the UCP website, is a long-time activist and staunch believer in property rights and limiting government interference in the lives of Alberta families.
Strankman said he will continue to carry out his elected duties and will focus on economic development, as well as property rights.
Strankman was one of five Wildrose MLAs who did not cross the floor to the PCs in 2014, when then-leader Danielle Smith and 10 other MLAs joined the Progressive Conservatives under late leader Jim Prentice.
Strankman is no stranger to controversy. During the 2015 election campaign, he was criticized for a poster asking supporters to bring their wives’ pies to an “old fashioned pie” meet-and-greet event for the party.
WATCH: The Wildrose Party was dealing with some controversies after one candidate was dropped and another was forced to apologize for an offensive poster
A year later, he was one of nine then-Wildrose members who apologized for comparing the NDP government’s carbon tax to a famine caused by Soviet government policies in Ukraine during the 1930s that killed millions of people.
Strankman’s MLA biography says he became increasingly involved in politics and social activism in response to federal regulation of the agriculture industry, including legislation relating to the Canadian Wheat Board.
Strankman was jailed in 2002 after illegally taking wheat across the U.S. border in protest of the wheat board’s monopoly. He was later pardoned by former prime minister Stephen Harper.
Jason Kenney release the following statement, saying Strankman’s announcement was disappointing:
“Many Albertans, including myself, look up to Rick Strankman for his past service — including his principled stand against the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly. He has done great work as our Official Opposition Critic for Agriculture, and in so many other ways.
We are potentially less than 3 weeks before an election call. Our focus remains the same: end the NDP’s job killing policies, renew the Alberta Advantage to reignite our economy, and stand up to the Trudeau Liberals in Ottawa.
We always knew that having open, democratic nominations would create some tensions within the party. That is particularly true when an incumbent MLA is not selected by their local grassroots members.
But I will continue to respect the decisions made by the members, and call on all of our 150,000 UCP members to do the same. I look forward to working with our elected candidate for Drumheller-Stettler, Nate Horner.
I thank Rick sincerely for his service, and wish him the very best in the future.”
BELOW: Rick Strankman’s full statement
— With files from The Canadian Press