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Conservative MLAs defect, join Wildrose Party

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It seems 2010 will be an even worse year than last for Alberta's Progressive Conservatives, as two of their Calgary-area MLAs defected to the Wildrose Alliance Jan. 4.

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth and Airdrie-Chestermere MLA Rob Anderson announced they could no longer be part of a "dysfunctional" and "undemocratic" party.

"To watch what has happened is nothing more than wrong . . . It's time to do the right thing on behalf of my constituents," Forsyth, now in her fifth term, told reporters.

Anderson spelled out what he thought were the deficiencies of the Stelmach government, citing a flawed royalty review, behind closed-door salary increases and the awarding of untendered transmission line contracts worth billions of dollars.

"Defending poor public policy that has been developed by a small band of out-of-touch government appointees and insiders would be a poor investment of my life," reasoned Anderson, who was elected in March 2008.

According to Anderson, elected MLAs, save the premier and a small group of cabinet ministers, are allowed little, if any, real input into decisions affecting their constituents.

On this issue, Liberal leader David Swann echoed Anderson's sentiment, saying the PCs have ideologically-driven, authoritarian values.

"There is a lot of incompetence and corruption in this government," said Swann. " It's rule by edict; rule by the cabinet."

Jonathan Denis, PC MLA for Calgary-Egmont, said the opinions expressed by Anderson and Forsyth are not indicative when it comes to the PC's remaining 68 members.

"I don't know of one situation where [Anderson] wasn't allowed to speak," said Denis. "And I've never felt any fear in talking out."

Opposing parties are questioning if constituents in the respective ridings support the move. According to the Wildrose Alliance, there is adequate support; however, all other parties favour a byelection to demonstrate this.

With the Wildrose set to introduce a private member's bill allowing citizens to recall their MLA if one-third of their riding signs a petition, the move has been considered hypocritical.

"There's an inconsistency in the Wildrose's views," said Swann, who feels that because Anderson and Forsyth were elected as PCs, they are obligated to run in a byelection under their new banner.

But the Wildrose Alliance has held firm, calling a byelection costly and unnecessary.

The party now holds three seats in the legislature, with four being required for official party status. Though because an exception was made for the New Democrats (they were granted party status, yet hold only two seats), it is likely the Wildrose will soon hold official status.

According to Swann, the emergence of a new right-wing party could be advantageous for the Liberals by opening up what he calls the "sensible centre," and will also "make people sit up and pay attention" to provincial politics.

However, Swann said he prefers to stay out of "domestic disputes," and will focus on his agenda, which includes becoming a debt-free party by the spring.

Anderson rejects the role of Wildrose "pit bull" given to him by Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid, noting that due to a lack of debate within government, any dissonance is deemed nasty nowadays.

"I'm just trying to shine a light on the issues," he said.

A decline in Tory popularity was confirmed in a recent Angus Reid poll, which found the Wildrose would form the next provincial government if an election were held.

"We have work to do," admitted Denis, who maintains confidence in Premier Stelmach and is determined the defections could actually improve unity among his caucus.

According to Denis, the PCs have three focuses that should improve their popularity: an upcoming cabinet shuffle, the oil and gas sector competitiveness review and an improved budget.

In the legislature, the PCs now hold 68 seats, the Liberals nine, Wildrose Alliance three, New Democrats two and one independent.

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