Nation, the eventual marriage of convenience between Guy Boutilier and the Wildrose Alliance is probably the second-worst kept secret in Alberta politics (behind only my eventual run). I won't go into the gory details of what led to Boutilier's ouster from the PC caucus, as it's been covered ad nauseum already. Both Boutlier and his former boss Ed Stelmach did things that I don't like to get to that point, and both did things that I respect.
Boutilier will join the Wildrose Caucus when next the Legislative Assembly sits, giving the Wildrose Alliance 4 seats and an iron-clad argument for caucus funding, recently denied in a rather disheartening show of a lack of understanding of the spirit of our democratic institutions in favour of the letter of the rule book.
Let the above paragraph be noted as probably the only time in the history of EVER that Rob Anderson and I will agree on anything, likely including the time and colour of the sky.
In joining the Wildrose Caucus, Boutilier will join the aforementioned rookie MLA Rob Anderson (Airdrie-Chestermere), Klein-era cabinet minister Heather Forsyth (Calgary-Fish Creek), and the party's deputy leader Paul Hinman (Calgary-Glenmore - Leigh Patrick Sullivan, you told me so).
Of some concern to the party's right wing, and some of the founding members from the Alberta Alliance and Wildrose Party rolls, is that of that 4 member caucus, 3 of them were PC's a year ago. Oilpatch-destroying, deficit-running, democracy-disrespecting, Bill-44-supporting PC's. For that matter, the party's leader Danielle Smith and the party's new president Hal Walker are also both expatriate PC's with deep roots in the Progressive Conservatives - so, those same oilpatch-destroying, deficit-running, democracy-disrespecting, Bill-44-supporting, out-of-touch and arrogant PC's we keep hearing about from the Wildrose Alliance - ARE the Wildrose Alliance.
Albertans can be forgiven for wondering what, exactly, this party stands for that is so opposite the PC's that they can accept just about any member of the PC Caucus or braintrust into their tent, so long as they promise to say bad things about Ed Stelmach.
Which brings us back to Boutilier... Boutilier was never considered a right-wing radical within the PC Caucus. He was a steady centrist. A bit of a loose cannon, but that trait wasn't so frowned upon that the former mayor of Fort McMurray couldn't get himself a higher profile, having served in the Klein cabinet AND in Stelmach's first cabinet. The falling out between Boutilier and Stelmach was public, and it was ugly, and it left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths - but none moreso than Guy himself, who has since been waiting for the right moment to finally plunge the knife into his former leader.
Politically, the timing of this move makes sense. With Boutilier boosting their caucus to 4 members, the WAP can spend the summer agitating for the caucus funding they know they've got coming to them, while at the same time repeating over and over the mantra that the Stelmach Tories denied them funding, with 3 members, that they had granted the 2-member NDP caucus. "The Tories are scared of democracy, but we out-smarted them". The formal addition of Guy to their caucus also gives the WAP more media attention going into their AGM, and makes them the talk of the summer BBQ circuit. "What skeletons will Guy bring out of the closet? Who will be the next PC to jump ship? Will the PC's allow the WAP caucus funding? Do we have by-elections in our future?". At the VERY least, this move is going to occupy the headlines of our provincial political consciousness until the final report and recommendations of the Boundaries Commission are released, expected to be late July.
As I've said before, I'm not a big fan of labelling this party as "Scary", because we haven't yet seen what the membership of the Danielle Smith-led Wildrose Alliance thinks that their party stands for. A lot of party memberships were sold during the leadership race that saw Smith crowned as leader. A lot of people and companies made donations to leadership candidates, expecting that they were buying access for their ideas and issues.
The Wildrose Alliance holds its AGM and policy convention this weekend in Red Deer. Coming out of that event, we're going to know a LOT more about the Wildrose than we know today.
We're going to know what policies their membership thinks are important enough to give their stamp of approval to. We're going to know whether the "shift to the centre" proposed by political strategists in order to win the WAP a chance at governing this province is something their party membership is interested in supporting. We're going to know whether the "recommendations made by caucus" in the policy document released to party members hold a lot of weight, or whether the membership is holding true to its founding principle of "we, the members, tell you, the caucus, what to do - NOT the other way around".
What we WON'T know, though, is how the party rank-and-file feel about their party being run and represented by people who were, until recently, the same folks they were trying to kick out of office. We won't know about that until the private conversations start to go public.
The repercussions for these decisions to be made by the party membership-at-large are huge. If they steadfastly refuse to shift to the centre, and ratify far-right policies, will moderates like Boutilier and Forsyth stay? Would the PC's take back any moderates who jumped - MLA's and constituency-level volunteers alike? If the WAP DOES shift to the centre, will that drive away the conservative ideologues? Will they start yet another party?
All of the Wildrose membership, expat PC's and dyed-in-the-wool Wildrosers alike, see Ed as the enemy.
But is "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" enough to keep this party together? And what happens to the 2 solitudes of the WAP when Ed really IS gone, and they lose their common enemy?