The man who helped found Alberta’s centre-right Wildrose Party and recruit Danielle Smith as its leader says she has “betrayed the party and betrayed its principles” by leading eight of her fellow MLAs across the floor into the Progressive Conservative caucus.
As the second largest party in the Legislature and the official opposition to the PCs since the 2012 election, Wildrose was widely credited with forcing the resignation of Premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford. Now it is a shadow of its former self.
Link Byfield, the conservative and Christian journalist who reportedly chose the party’s name and helped carve out its policy of fiscal responsibility and restoration of democratic principles, spoke to LifeSiteNews in response to Smith’s recent comments blaming the party’s “neo-cons” for driving her out.
“Her explanation is self-evidently fatuous,” Byfield said. “Our goal was to restore functioning democracy to Alberta. Where the legislature holds the government accountable for its actions. That was what Wildrose stood for and that is what it has done brilliantly, and Danielle did brilliantly too. That job still needs to be done and she has abandoned it.”
Smith, however, told Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell she was driven from the party by social conservatives who didn’t like her views on homosexuals. She cites the party’s November AGM where a motion she championed explicitly committed the party to defending homosexual “rights.” But the party opted to stay with its foundational statement simply affirming the equality of all Albertans.
“I was gravely disappointed. I was facing a backlash within my own party,” she told Bell. According to her, a group came to the convention to teach her a lesson for her decision to walk in Calgary’s Gay Pride Parade.
“It really was a turning point. It was one thing that made it impossible for me to continue as leader. After five years of fighting this battle to get acceptance of a more mainstream position I thought we had won that battle. But our members organized to vote against a direction I had set.”
Byfield said that Smith knew when she joined the party that it had a socially conservative membership, and leadership, who had agreed to “sit on their hands” as far their social views went and concentrate on conservative fiscal and democratic policies.
“We would be socially responsible,” Byfield said. “That’s not to say many of us weren’t so-cons. And I would never say we weren’t created to provide a right-wing alternative to the Progressive Conservatives. But we knew we had to avoid the fate of small, right-wing parties—of being trapped in a one-issue box.”
Smith’s problem, Byfield said, was that she became too attached, after the 2012 election, to becoming so mainstream that she alienated her own party faithful.
The issue of homosexual “rights” was raised again in the fall sitting of the Legislature by the Liberals, who introduced a bill to force gay-straight alliances into every school. Smith had wanted to promote a similar bill that would have de-funded schools that refused GSAs, but pulled back, said Byfield.
Still, the first sign of a clear schism came when the caucus voted to affirm the gay “rights” motion the AGM had rejected.
If Smith couldn’t live with her party, said Byfield, “she simply should have resigned. Then she could have run in the next election for the Progressive Conservatives. All of us are in shock because of the direction she went.”
Byfield’s comments were supported by another early Wildrose member, former Reform and Conservative MP Dave Chatters. “Danielle is entitled to her opinion. But so are others in the party. I don’t agree with her libertarian views. But what I really object to is her destroying the party.” Chatters too believes she should have resigned and stood for re-election as a Tory.
Byfield also rebutted Smith’s original (pre-Bell column) explanation for her floor-crossing, that it was necessary to unite the province’s small ”c” conservatives to defeat the Left. “That’s absurd. They got 20 percent (Liberals and New Democrats together) of the popular vote. They were not a threat.”
Byfield, who is fighting cancer, said he was “very pessimistic” about the party’s future. Chatters was more optimistic: “More than 400,000 people voted for Wildrose [in 2012]. But numbers don’t matter as much as attitude.” Chatters said that with oil revenues so low, the government will be tempted to make up the difference with more taxes. “They won’t get any opposition from the Liberals and NDP,” he warned.
Smith’s move has reduced the Wildrose caucus to five members, tying it with the Liberals as second largest in the Legislature. This opens the question of which party will be accorded the privileges, budget, and responsibilities of the “official” opposition. The caucus is expected to name an interim leader today.