01/06/2015 03:54 EST | Updated 03/08/2015 05:59 EDT

Ex-Wildrose boss Danielle Smith faces competition to be Tory candidate

EDMONTON - Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith will not get a free pass to become the Progressive Conservative candidate in her constituency.

Suzanne Oel, president of the Progressive Conservative association in Highwood, said Tuesday a number of people have expressed interest in running for the party, but she wouldn't say how many.

Oel said the only fair thing to do is continue with plans to hold a nomination vote. The board doesn't have the authority under its own laws to appoint a candidate unless no one else has expressed interest, she explained.

"Our board has decided in respect of the Highwood voters that we would hold a full and open nomination."

Smith could not be reached for comment.

Three weeks ago, she made headlines across the country when she led eight Wildrose members across the floor to join Premier Jim Prentice and the PC government.

The move left the Wildrose party with just five members as the official Opposition and raised questions about the party's long-term viability.

There are now 72 PC members in the 87-seat legislature.

Smith and the other floor-crossers have since been criticized for engendering cynicism in politics and sacrificing their public responsibilities for a seat at the government table.

Former Wildrose house leader Rob Anderson, who crossed with Smith, announced he won't run in the next election. Anderson, in a Facebook post, said it's time to focus on work in the private sector and spend more time with his family.

"It's time to focus on the next chapter of my life, primarily on them," he wrote.

Anderson said he informed Prentice before Christmas that he would not be running again. That was a week or so after he crossed the floor.

Prentice, in a statement Tuesday, said: "As a father, I understand Rob's decision and thank him for his commitment to public service."

Former Wildrose president David Yager took to Twitter to blast Anderson.

"Ringleader abandons circus because he can't win, destroys trust in Alberta politics in the process. Nice job Rob," he posted.

Anderson leaves behind a legacy of twice being elected under the banner of one party only to ultimately serve another.

In 2008, he was elected as a Tory but jumped to the Wildrose over unhappiness with then-premier Ed Stelmach's top-down leadership and bloated budgets. Anderson won a seat for his new party in 2012.

In recent weeks, he and Smith were the subject of recall petitions in their ridings — a symbolic gesture given that Alberta does not have such legislation.

Wildrose interim leader Heather Forsyth had little to say about Anderson except "I wish him well."

Forsyth said the floor-crossers underestimated voters who don't like their loyalties being bartered like poker chips.

"They don't like people making their decisions for them without asking them."

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Anderson probably quit after reading the writing on the wall from an angry and betrayed electorate.

"He's probably been subjected to a lot of distinct unhappiness from voters, as all of those Wildrosers should," said Notley.

The issues of contested nominations and promises made to the Wildrose party have been the subject of speculation.

An agreement leaked to the media before the Wildrose members crossed the floor on Dec. 17 promised that Prentice would endorse them as candidates in the next election.

That election was to come in the spring of 2016, but there's been a growing feeling that Prentice will call an early election this year. He has refused to say if he's contemplating going to the polls early, saying he's focused on the budget with oil continuing to fall below US$50 a barrel.