The now-former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and her eight colleagues shocked the province last week when they summarily deserted their own caucus to cross the floor to join the ranks of the PC in the provincial legislature.
Of course, there was no lack of expression of lofty goals of serving Albertans at a time of difficulty (given the decline in oil prices) and joining forces of conservative-oriented MLAs in the legislature, etc. to justify the move.
One hopes that the PC leadership and the defectors do not really think they can convince the electorate with that kind of talk, because if they do, it is kind of insulting the intelligence of the people or it means they are unbelievably naïve.
All thinking adults probably realize that in our age, politics has become a career for serving the interests of the practitioner of the profession first, the interest group(s) they are supported by second and the electorate third, if it ever comes to that.
There are two key questions here and we may not know the answer to one of them, at least in the short term, or maybe never.
The first is: Why did Premier Jim Prentice need to recruit nine MLAs from the main opposition? He already had a very, very comfortable majority and he could have any legislation he wanted passed without any problem.
The answer probably is that he wanted to stifle opposition at a time when he knows he will be sailing rough seas. With the panicky mode of the PC government becoming more visible with the fast decline of oil prices, the premier must have calculated that he could do well without a loud opposition as he will have to make some tough decisions he will find hard to sell to the public.
And given the fact that the Wildrose opposition has been given a lot of credit for the resignation of the last two PC premiers before Mr. Prentice, the move seems logical. Having lost their media-savvy leader, the remaining members of the Wildrose caucus do not really seem to be able to make a lot of noise.
The second question is: What is the quid pro quo? In exchange for floor crossing, what do the new PC MLAs get? Promises of ministerial or similar high positions, memberships in the boards of some big corporations or oil companies, some special interests? It is inconceivable that Smith and her eight followers have switched their allegiances while they must have predicted that there would be a strong and very justifiable backlash from the public. So, if they made the move despite that, they must have been rewarded or received promises for such rewards. Or was there some “strong persuasion” (read it arm twisting) involved?
Regardless of their motives, the outcome is not something Alberta can be proud of: A dominating majority and a silent/weak opposition at the legislative arm of the government, which equals to a lame governance machinery. Without a proper opposition to be able to voice objections to government’s practices and an executive council unwilling to take advice from a dissenting voice, how will our provincial government be much different from that of Vladimir Putin’s in Russia?
It looks like Mr. Prentice has learned a lot from Prime Minister Stephen Harper on how to silence opposition during his tenure with the federal government, an experience that might serve his purposes well as a politician but not for the future of the province.