Rick Strankman said he was “incredulous” to learn of a mass defection from the Wildrose Party that left Alberta’s official opposition with just five MLAs in the provincial legislature.
The MLA for Drumheller-Stettler since 2012, Strankman was just one day into a family vacation when he received the news on Dec. 17 that nine of his fellow Wildrose MLAs, including party leader Danielle Smith, would cross the floor to join the governing Progressive Conservatives under leader and premier Jim Prentice.
Strankman’s office issued a lengthy statement on his behalf on Tuesday, Dec. 23, in which he accuses his colleagues of abandoning “their responsibilities and obligations as members of the Wildrose caucus.”
He also accused both Smith and Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson of leading “a revolt against their own party and their own leadership” and persuading “seven of their colleagues to go along with their duplicitous act.”
He made a distinction between Smith and Anderson, whom he called perpetrators, and the other seven MLAs, whom he described as “collaborators.”
Strankman said that the party’s constituency associations, its 25,000 members and executive council were let down by the “act of betrayal,” as were the 442,429 Albertans who cast their vote for party candidates in 2012.
Ending his statement on a positive note, he remarked that the party would begin 2015 with a new leader to start its next chapter, likening it to a phoenix rising from the ashes.
“As one of the many thousands of Wildrose Party members who has stuck to principle, who has not betrayed the public trust, and who has not sold out in exchange for the promise of political baubles, I look forward to the rebirth of the Wildrose Party,” he was quoted as saying.
Repeated attempts to contact Strankman for comment were unsuccessful; a staffer from Strankman’s constituency office only remarked that the MLA was “blindsided” by the turn of events.
The Wildrose Party announced Dec. 22 that Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth had been selected as interim leader.
Previously the party’s culture and tourism critic, Strankman will add agriculture, Service Alberta, jobs, skills, training and labour to his portfolio.
On Tuesday, Dec. 23, Speaker of the House Gene Zwozdesky affirmed that the Wildrose Party would remain the province’s Official Opposition, despite its diminished numbers.
Ken Perreault of Castor, who serves as president of the Wildrose Party’s riding association in Drumheller-Stettler, declined to comment when reached by the Independent.
The defection increases the PCs’ majority in the assembly from 63 to 72 MLAs, leaving the Wildrose with just five MLAs. This puts them on an equal footing with the Liberal Party, with five MLAs, and barely ahead of the New Democrats, with four.
Joe Anglin, who represents Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, has sat as the assembly’s lone independent MLA since leaving the Wildrose caucus in November.