Fact Check: Wildrose floor crossing
Some misconceptions have emerged about Preston Manning’s involvement with the decision by some Wildrose Party MLAs to cross the floor last December. Below are the facts concerning Preston’s involvement.
Claim: Preston orchestrated the merger attempt
False. By the time Preston Manning was contacted in mid-December by the Wildrose Caucus, discussions were well underway between the two sides.
Mr. Manning was asked to attend a caucus meeting in Edmonton to share his experience of “political realignment” at the federal level. He was advised by the Wildrose leadership that some of their MLAs were being approached about re-joining the PC caucus and that discussions were under way with respect to possible terms and conditions. Leadership on both sides appeared to be increasingly concerned that continued vote splitting would be harmful to one or both in the upcoming provincial election.
Preston explained to the Wildrose caucus that grassroots party members were heavily involved throughout 'unite the right' activities at the federal level. However, several members of the Wildrose caucus chose a different approach; crossing the floor to the Progressive Conservative Party.
Claim: Preston ‘persuaded’ members to cross the floor
False. Preston’s involvement was limited to a single meeting with the Wildrose caucus, well after discussions between the two parties had begun and by which time many caucus members had already made up their minds.
When the terms and conditions on which the PC leadership appeared prepared to accept Wildrose members into their caucus were outlined, they included a professed willingness on the part of the government to adopt large portions of the Wildrose platform, in particular its proposals for balancing the provincial budget. Preston observed that whether members accepted or rejected these terms would depend largely on whether or not they trusted the PC leadership to fulfill its commitments and how other party members and constituents would react to whatever decision was made. Again, Preston explained to the Wildrose caucus that grassroots party members were heavily involved throughout 'unite the right' activities at the federal level. However, several members of the Wildrose caucus chose a different approach.
Claim: Merging the parties without grassroots involvement was Preston’s idea
False. Mr. Manning was asked by the caucus to describe the “Unite the Right” process that was used at the federal level. He did so, stressing the vigorous effort that was made to secure the approvals of both the caucus and party executive, to consult grassroots members, to seek members’ support through several major conferences and referendums, resulting ultimately in the creation of a new entity, the Canadian Alliance. The process took almost three years to complete.
The reaction of those caucus members who responded to this description was that such a process was not possible for the Wildrose Party, due to the imminence of an election, the shortage of time, and the unpreparedness of the party executive to initiate such a process.
While Mr. Manning stressed the vigorous effort at the federal level to involve the grassroots in merger discussions, he has expressed regret publicly at not insisting strongly enough that grassroots approval and adherence to a democratic process be a requirement in pursuing any realignment between the two parties.