11/25/2014 01:41 EST | Updated 01/25/2015 05:59 EST

Wildrose floor-crossers to sit as far away as possible from old mates in house

EDMONTON - Progressive Conservative backbencher Kerry Towle began the first day of her new political life Tuesday watching her old boss fight for the issues she once championed for the Wildrose party.

Towle quit the Wildrose along with Ian Donovan on Monday, saying internal problems with the Wildrose and the promise of a future under Premier Jim Prentice prompted the decision.

Towle sat with a thin smile frozen on her face in the back row of the government side of the chamber during question period as Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith critiqued problems with seniors care.

Smith asked about the lack of long-term care beds, the lack of baths given to seniors, and the controversial rules that have forced senior couples to live apart in different care homes.

"This government takes married seniors in long-term care and forces them into separate nursing homes up to 100 kilometres away from their home. This is devastating for seniors and for their families," Smith told the house.

Seniors Minister Jeff Johnson said "there is progress" on bringing seniors together and on eliminating the rules that keep them apart.

These were all issues championed by Towle as she built a reputation over the last two years as a strong and fierce defender of seniors' rights for the Wildrose party.

But in an emotional news conference with Prentice Monday, she suggested she could no longer countenance interference in caucus matters. She also said her constituents told her to look at working with Prentice.

Towle was very close to Smith and was one of her key lieutenants.

Earlier Tuesday she said she has not spoken to Smith since she crossed the floor but hoped to reach out at some point.

"When she's ready I hope so, but I understand that my position has hurt her deeply," said Towle.

"I lost a dear friend yesterday and members of caucus. I understand that and I have to live with that."

Smith avoided reporters heading into the legislature and has yet to answer questions on the defections.

The floor-crossings were the latest setback for a party and caucus that has been in freefall since it lost four byelections to Prentice and the PCs on Oct 27.

Some internal critics have accused Smith and her advisers of bungling the byelection strategy by trying to link Prentice to the scandals of former premier Alison Redford.

Smith's caucus, now at 14, also recently parted ways with MLA Joe Anglin over allegations he was secretly taping caucus meetings. There is no proof of that and Anglin has denied it.

Earlier this month, the party revived criticism it is anti-gay when members at the annual general meeting voted down a proposal to put into policy a definitive statement of equality that mirrors the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Anglin, who now sits as an Independent, says his contacts with the caucus tell him up to four more Wildrose MLAs may cross the floor.

"I know they're contemplating it," he said.

"I think Danielle has surrounded herself with people who have been advising her poorly and they need to be gone."

Three of Smith's MLAs — Bruce Rowe, Jeff Wilson and Drew Barnes — have voiced their support for her and the party on Twitter.

Donovan told reporters he is comfortable with his decision to leave and also said Smith needs to get rid of the advisers around her.

"(They're) not listening to caucus," he said.

"The whole party was started on the idea of grassroots and listening to MLAs and they went away from that, so best of luck to them in their future."

Earlier Tuesday, Donovan told the CBC that he believes the PCs are more socially conservative than the Wildrose.

That prompted NDP Leader Rachel Notley to ask Prentice if that means the PCs have replaced the Wildrose as the socially conservative bastion of the legislature.

In doing so she mocked the comments made by a former Wildrose candidate who warned gays to repent or face eternity in hell's "lake of fire."

"Does this mean the premier's new management is pro lake of fire?" Notley asked.

None of the government members stood to reply to the question, sending a silent message they believed it was so undignified it didn't merit an answer.

Prentice later told reporters that on his watch the Tories are fiscally conservative and socially progressive.