I was working in the border city of Lloydminster when I first heard about the defections of Kerry Towle and Ian Donovan. My instant reaction? Outrage. How could Kerry Towle, one of the most outspoken Wildrose Party members and a strong critic of Jim Prentice, suddenly decide to hold hands with the devil himself? I had been losing faith in Danielle Smith’s leadership since early in the by-election campaign, and I had pegged Towle as a strong candidate to replace her if the by-election failure led to a leadership campaign. That made Towle’s defection especially painful to watch. However, when Danielle Smith came out and made her statements about the defections, and assured party faithful that there would be no more, I was truly proud to call her the leader of the Wildrose Party, and I believed every word she said.
I shouldn’t have.
Today’s defections were truly shocking, and as a loyal Wildrose supporter, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so betrayed by a group of people I worked so hard to support. At first I was outraged. Outrage turned to panic, as I began to wonder who the hell I’m supposed to support in the next election, as it certainly won’t be Jim Prentice. It was around that time that Drew Barnes started speaking loud and proud about his loyalty to his constituents, and the fact that he would not defect. Barnes spoke like a true leader, and it would not shock me at all if he is the party leader going into the 2016 election after today’s events. Other Wildrosers, including Heather Forsyth (who is set to retire from politics after this term), Shayne Saskiw and most recently, Pat Stier also went public with their intentions to remain true and loyal to their constituents and party supporters. The dust is still settling on the rest of the caucus, but I would expect the Wildrose to maintain its status as Official Opposition. Other past candidates including Kathy MacDonald, Tim Grover and John Fletcher also made their party loyalty public. I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see them run as Wildrose candidates in 2016.
As anger turned to fear, fear has now turned into hope. I truly believe in this party. I still believe we can form government in 2016. We have dedicated members, strong candidates and true leadership in Drew Barnes. There is a ton of work to do, but I have every bit of confidence that this party is only getting started. With the shift in leadership, and the exit of many of the party’s more outspoken members, this could very well end up being the best thing to ever happen to the Wildrose Party. Yes, I understand that this sounds crazy, but bear with me here. Ever since Smith’s refusal to ditch racist and homophobic candidates in 2012, the Wildrose Party has had a reputation as a bigoted party. Although that is absolutely untrue, I can certainly understand why some people would believe this. With Smith’s exit, this myth should be laid to rest. There has also been much criticism of Rob Anderson. Although I was a strong supporter of Anderson prior to today, again, I understand the criticism. The loud, usually negative voices of Smith, Anderson, Towle and Jeff Wilson have led to the Wildrose maintaining a reputation as “Team Angry”. The removal of these voices from caucus should help the party to shed that label.
All in all, with the remainder of caucus, and the excellent candidates coming up, there is a ton of hope for the WRP. The fiscally conservative policies of the party will shine bright while oil is sagging, and with the right kind of campaigning…POSITIVE campaigning, the Wildrose can form government in 2016, so let’s get to it!
You ain’t seen nothing yet, folks. The Wildrose Party is only just getting started. For now, we rebuild, but don’t be shocked when we come ready to play in the 2016 election campaign!