MLA welcomes public to Stettler open house

Nearly a month after a mass defection to the Progressive Conservatives left Alberta’s official opposition

Drumheller-Stettler MLA Rick Strankman hosted an open house at the Canalta hotel in Stettler on Friday

Drumheller-Stettler MLA Rick Strankman hosted an open house at the Canalta hotel in Stettler on Friday

Nearly a month after a mass defection to the Progressive Conservatives left Alberta’s official opposition with just five MLAs, Rick Strankman said the Wildrose Party is still rebounding from the blow.

The Wildrose MLA for Drumheller-Stettler described the atmosphere in the party caucus as somewhat like “recovering from shell shock.”

Still, Strankman said he and his colleagues are “determined to continue to go forward on the values that we got elected on” and “maintain the course in a difficult time.”

Strankman welcomed a steady stream of constituents and Wildrose party faithful to a seven-hour open house at Stettler’s Canalta Hotel, on Friday, Jan. 16.

While the event attracted modest numbers, Strankman said he had the opportunity to speak one-0on-one with residents on constituency issues.

“I was kind of hoping that there would be more people,” he said, adding, “We’re having good and open discussion.”

The conversation frequently turned to the nine Wildrose Party MLAs — including party leader Danielle Smith — who crossed the floor in the Alberta legislature on Dec. 17, giving the governing PCs a strengthened majority of 72 seats.

The crossover left the Wildrose Party with five MLAs. Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth was appointed interim leader five days later.

The party will continue to serve as the province’s official opposition, despite its reduction in numbers. The Alberta Liberal Party also holds five seats, while the NDP holds four and one MLA serves as an independent.

Strankman said he still receives regular emails about what he referred to as the “recent political departures.” He added that the party’s executive will soon announce details on the process to select a new permanent leader, but he won’t be seeking the position.

“From my activist role, I’ve learned that you can do lots — in capital letters — not necessarily from a leadership role,” he said, explaining that one can serve in an advisory capacity, or lead by example.

He said he has felt buoyed by the support of constituents and others who have affirmed his decision to remain with the opposition, citing as an example an email from a resident of Olds — whose MLA, Bruce Rowe, was among the nine to join the PCs.

The writer stated that he had never made a political donation before but, on a recent stop in Hanna, had overheard residents talking about Strankman.

He said he was impressed by what he heard of the MLA’s convictions and character, and decided to donate to the party.

“It’s those kind of stories that I’m happy to hear,” said Strankman. “It’s fulfilling in a personal way for me.”

The caucus shakeup also meant Strankman had to take on several new portfolios as a critic. Previously the culture and tourism critic, he now also serves as critic for agriculture, Service Alberta, jobs, skills, training and labour.

Strankman said he believes he’s a good fit for the agriculture portfolio as a “lifelong farmer,” while adding that the labour portfolio will be significant as the province grapples with the potential changes to its economy brought by falling oil prices.

Local Wildrose Party riding association president Ken Perrault was present at Friday’s open house, noting that despite the upheaval over the past month, he said the party would continue to promote its agenda in the legislature and across the province.