The Twitter reaction was predictable, if not disappointing. Alberta Party supporters were, naturally, overjoyed. Progressive Conservatives, for the most part, revelled in the fact that the Liberals were taking one on the chin for a change, instead of themselves. And the Wildrose Alliance gang was, curiously, attacking the move.
I say it was a curious reaction, because a strong Alberta Party is an absolute boon for the Wildrose Alliance. Unless they've deluded themselves into believing that they can win a popular majority outright, they have to know that the more votes that the Alberta Party can siphon from the Progressive Conservatives, the more seats the Alliance can hope to win.
Also curious was the apparent lack of memory exhibited by many of the PC and Wildrose supporters on Twitter, who attacked the Alberta Party for accepting the former Liberal leadership contender and current independent MLA. The PC's accepted a defector from Liberal-land in 1998, when Gene Zwozdesky left the Liberal caucus, sat as an independent for one month over the summer (I'm not 100% certain the legislature was even in session, for him to "sit"), and then joined the PC caucus. The Wildrose, of course, did much the same with Guy Boutilier in 2010. They ALSO accepted 2 defectors straight from the government benches (and strategy meetings) in January of 2010.
That said, though, I can understand the criticism - because, with only a few exceptions, most of the criticism seems to be of a similar variety to the stuff I toss around all the time - in particular, at the Wildrose: "I'm not saying they're WORSE than my party... but their actions clearly show that, despite their earnest claims to the contrary, they are NO BETTER THAN WE ARE".
So goes the criticism of the Alberta Party today - and while I certainly see where their detractors would get this idea from, I'm not sure I entirely agree with the notion that accepting Taylor as an MLA is somehow hypocritical of the fledgling party.
While statements have come to light that were written in a blog post by (now, not then) Alberta Party President Chris LaBossiere that clearly show his distaste for the notion of switching caucuses without seeking the approval of the electorate, I had to opportunity to ask an eerily prescient question of Mr. LaBossiere during the Alberta Party convention, which I was observing on-line. During a "web forum" featuring several party organizers, I asked if the party would be accepting floor-crossers - a practice to which, with due respect to my friend Duncan, I am very much opposed. To his credit, LaBossiere replied that yes, without equivocation, the party had decided that MLA's who wished to join would be welcomed. This, despite the fact that it wasn't consistent with his own opinion on the subject - which I think speaks well for the man, that he can support a position other than his own because it is the expressed will of his membership.
So, I don't see the Alberta Party as having done anything wrong with regards to today's news. They've gotten their first MLA, they've captured the imagination of their supporters and the attention of the media, and their interim leader, Sue Huff, suggested today that there may be more MLA's yet to come. Huff isn't prone to hyperbole, but I HAVE heard that particular tune before - anyone know what happened to the "10 or more" PC MLA's who were poised to jump to the Wildrose Alliance about 10 months ago?
What does the Alberta Party do for an encore? Do they try to woo suspended PC Raj Sherman? Do they, as rumoured this evening, pursue Taylor's neighbouring MLA and ideological cousin, Kent Hehr? Only time will tell.
I've got to say, I like Dave Taylor. We met a few times, and he and I see eye to eye on a lot of issues. I'm not going to call him "articulate", because the man is a trained radio journalist, and it's quite frankly insulting to call a former talk show host well-spoken. It's like calling a former supermodel a "handsome woman". If you've been on the radio for more than 5 years, of COURSE you're articulate - unless, of course, your name is Eric Francis.Dave, though, is taking some heat tonight - and not without good reason. Now, of course much of the criticism leveled at Dave is coming from the same people and same directions as the criticism of the Alberta Party - it's politically-motivated. Which is fine, I guess. It's part of "the game" (I wonder at what point those who wish to lead us will stop thinking of billions of dollars and power over the lives of their fellow citizens as "a game", but I digress). The point is, it's easy to dismiss the Taylor critics as partisan attack dogs, and move on.
Except, of course, for the fact that they're raising a perfectly reasonable point.
Taylor, upon leaving the Liberal caucus, stated that he wouldn't join another caucus without standing in a by-election as a member of that party.
His supporters point out that there was "wiggle room" in the words that he used. Which is true.
But unless Dave wants to stand in front of the media assembled at the Legislature on Tuesday and tell all of us that he chose his words that carefully so as to fool Albertans (I wouldn't recommend that strategy, but hey: it's not MY career), I think he's going to have to own the fact that it's just flat-out something that he shouldn't have said.
He's not required to step down by law, and thus he likely won't. Conspiracy theorists suggest that Ed Stelmach, whom they paint as either a bumbling fool or a Machiavellian villain depending on the day (and yet never seem to realize that he can't be BOTH) wants Taylor to step down so that he can leave the seat empty, keep the Alberta Party out of the legislature, and then call a snap spring election. Which brings me back to this critical point, that I apparently can't seem to repeat often enough:
The governing party isn't holding nominations. It won't have them done until the end of June. As of today, it hasn't held a single, solitary nomination meeting. There will NOT be an election if the party that decides on the timing of that election doesn't have nominated candidates.But whether or not Dave is required by the law of the land to step aside, he has to own the fact that this move flies in the face of his earlier statement (in spirit, if not by the letter). Thus, the criticisms of him today were valid, despite their political-rather-than-moral motivation.
If it were ME, and *I* were an MLA, I wouldn't do it. You can't promise to never sit outside of the caucus you were elected to - sometimes, you don't get a choice in the matter. But you can promise to never join a DIFFERENT caucus without taking it back to the voters, so they can have their say. It's not the politically smart thing to do, because it doesn't give you "outs"... but it's the RIGHT thing to do. And anyone who casts a ballot at some point in the future with an "x" next to "Oberhoffner" can rest assured that I'll stand by those words.
After all - if the best our current crop can do is argue back and forth about how "those guys are no better than we are!" - shouldn't we try to get some more MLA's who believe that their word is a sacred bond with their bosses, the constituents?
Shouldn't we DEMAND better, if they're not going to give it to us of their own accord?
The Alberta Party did well today. Dave Taylor can still salvage his role in this, and move forward without any undue baggage from this week.
And Albertans are going to have to come to grips with the fact that their jobs just got a whole lot harder come election time: Now, more than ever, it's clear that the character of your local candidates means just as much - and maybe more - than the colour of button that they're wearing, or the leader they say they support.
Candidates matter. Good candidates make good MLA's, regardless of party affiliation - which, quite frankly, could change by the time you get to vote again.
Let's find some good ones, across the board.