HIGH RIVER, Alta. - Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith issued an apology to her constituents Saturday saying she should have waited to hear from Albertans before she and other caucus members crossed the floor to join the governing Progressive Conservatives.
Smith took to Facebook on Saturday to say she's "sorry" that she "did not take more time to allow Albertans to consider and debate the idea of reunification before Wildrose MLAs joined the PC Caucus."
She went on to state that in hindsight, "it is clear that there needed to be more engagement and discussion to prepare Albertans for this change."
"It has not gone as expected. It has not been an easy path. It has angered a lot of people," Smith stated in the post.
"For that I am truly sorry."
In December, Smith led eight of her MLAs across the floor to join Premier Jim Prentice's government, leaving just five Wildrose members to be the official Opposition.
Smith told reporters in High River Saturday that she misread how angry the public was going to be after moving so quickly to join the government.
"I blame myself for that. I think I misunderstood just how angry people would be. I have to take responsibility for the fact people were surprised...it was unexpected. But in the end there were just certain factors that we had to deal with," Smith said.
She said the move had to be approved by the government caucus and the next meeting after December wasn't until Jan. 28. Smith said Prentice also made it clear that he wanted to start the nomination process in January.
Smith said she has no regrets about crossing the floor and that she will seek the PC nomination for Highwood in southern Alberta, the seat she currently holds.
"I did what was best for my constituents. You make tough decisions sometimes. Not every decision is a popular one," Smith said.
"I will be running and seeking the nomination. I will leave it to our members to decide what they think of the decision in the next election."
Smith said in the Facebook post that it became clear to her at the Wildrose annual general meeting last fall that the membership was more interested in being a protest party than becoming government.
Reaction to the post ranged from supportive to angry.
"This isn't an apology. You are blaming WRP membership. Because of you we are going to have higher income taxes or a PST," Craig Smith commented below the post, making reference to Prentice's suggestion earlier this month that Alberta should discuss the introduction of a sales tax.
"If we get a PST they should call it the DST (Danielle Smith Tax)," he added.
David Evans, however, was sympathetic on Smith's views about where Wildrose was headed.
"I believe the WRP, whom I supported, went way off side at the AGM, failed to be seen as anything other than a redneck right wing gong show, and as such I understand the defection to the Conservative party," Evans posted.
Smith said in the post that she had hoped that the Wildrose executive committee would put a motion for unification with the Tories to a vote of the entire membership, but she said they chose not to.
She said that after nearly six years of attempting to create a fiscally conservative and socially mainstream party, Wildrose members rejected that path.
"Being an 'NDP of the right' was never the type of movement I wanted to lead," Smith stated.
Smith also noted in High River on Saturday that she discussed with her former caucus members how falling oil prices made it unrealistic to expect the government to maintain the status quo.
"I just said when we have $50 oil it just frankly is dishonest to tell Albertans that we can balance the budget without raising taxes, without going into debt and to pay off debt. I was very clear that we couldn't continue on with the other hat I was wearing, taking that decision," she explained.
"It's just frankly not possible to find $7 billion worth of savings within the current budget."
The nine defectors have been criticized for abandoning their duty for personal gain, and one of them, Rob Anderson, said he won't run in the next election.
Earlier this month Suzanne Oel, president of the Progressive Conservative association in Highwood, said a number of people have expressed interest in running for the party, but she wouldn't say how many.
— With files from Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton
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