I’ve been trying to find the courage to write to you for some time now. I first wanted to sincerely thank-you for your work in holding the NDP Government to account. Your consistent opposition to their destructive agenda has been crucial and, I believe, will directly contribute to their ultimate replacement at the next election. As you well know by now, being in opposition is a very difficult and exhausting job – but what you are doing is absolutely critical for our province’s future and I hope you know how much your sacrifice towards this cause is appreciated.
I also wanted to write to ask for your compassion and understanding as I try to express to you my thoughts on a very sensitive and delicate matter.
As you are aware, a large number of Albertans, including, most notably, Mr. Jason Kenney, are seeking to merge the Wildrose and PC parties and the vast majority of their supporters into one conservative movement and party. I sincerely hope you will all consider contributing to this unity movement as much as you can. I believe it to be critical to the future of Alberta – and not just because it would mean defeating the NDP - but more importantly, it will allow the new unified party to form a strong and stable conservative majority capable of implementing a long term agenda of free market and other conservative policies that will return Alberta to economic prosperity and fiscal stability. Our province has not had this opportunity since the end of Premier Klein’s government, and I hope you will seize this historic opportunity for our beleaguered province.
My primary reason in writing you today however, is to ask for your forgiveness for my involvement in what transpired in the failed late 2014 attempt to unify the PC and Wildrose caucuses.
Please make no mistake; every one of the MLAs involved was as devoted an Albertan as you will ever meet; committed to the same ideals and principles that you are fighting for now. We had fought a long and exhausting battle against the very PC Party we grew up supporting and admiring, because we believed its leaders, at the time, had them moving in the wrong direction. As I am sure you are now understanding as you work alongside them, the vast majority of PC MLAs during this time period (like those in the Legislature today) were every bit as committed to Alberta and to conservative principles as we were, but there were grave differences as to the direction their leaders had chosen to pursue. Danielle, myself and the Wildrose MLAs, staff and members who we served with for those 6 years, felt we had to stand up and oppose what we believed to be some harmful policies at the time. We became quite an effective opposition, and did a lot of good work.
But the fight took its toll on many good people from both sides of the conservative family – some more than others of course. It was difficult fighting against fellow conservatives, so many of whom we truly admired and respected. Sadly, it became too personal for too many, and I certainly contributed my fair share of vitriol and took a lot of punches as well. That, more than anything, is one of the greatest regrets of my political career. My youth and energy during that time certainly brought with it a great deal of passion and effectiveness in driving public opinion and government policy at times, but I often let too much anger and overzealousness poison my rhetoric, and as a result, I contributed to several burnt bridges among conservatives. I often wish I knew then what I do now about the power of patience, listening, compassion and understanding. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to learn these lessons in my 8 years of politics – it’s made me a better person today - as painful as those lessons were to learn! Standing for what’s right doesn’t have to mean tearing down those who share a different view. In the long run, it’s often counterproductive to what you’re trying to ultimately achieve.
Needless to say, as time wore on over the years, many of us (certainly including me) became exhausted by the constant conflict and unending political partisanship and personal attacks launched in both directions.
When Premier Prentice was made leader of the PC Party, the tone changed completely. I truly admired him a great deal personally – so did we all. He made me and many of my colleagues believe that if we could look past our differences with those on the PC side and combine our efforts towards his new direction for the Government, we could implement so many of the policies we had been working towards for so long. He seemed to have this ability to help both our and his caucus members to see the best in one another. For the first 4 months of his tenure, it seemed like there was a real chance to put Alberta back on track – to form the long term sizeable majority necessary to repairing our finances, property laws, education and health care systems; and to do so by bringing the conservative family back together again. We negotiated a list of bedrock Wildrose policies that we (along with our staff who we were promised would all be welcomed with open arms into the governing caucus) would be tasked by the Premier to implement as members of both the PC caucus and cabinet. The hope was that by implementing these policies over the 16 or so months before the next planned election, the Wildrose Party executive and members, after an invitation from the Premier to do so, would be convinced that this was the right direction and leader for the province, and would subsequently join the movement.
Well, needless to say, it didn’t happen that way. The plan was fatally flawed to begin with and never carried out even if it hadn’t been.
We were wrong. Not in trying to bring the two caucuses together – that was the right thing to do (as is now clear to most). And I still believe Premier Prentice would have been an amazing leader for our province had things transpired differently (he was truly a great and forward thinking leader – may he rest in peace).
Where we went wrong was how we went about doing it. We should have been patient. We should have campaigned amongst our membership and constituencies and received a mandate to do it. We should not have charged ahead without remembering to consult with those we represented. It was two bold and brash a move without first preparing and asking permission from the membership of both parties. Maybe folks weren't ready to hear what we had to say about the need for unification (that was certainly the fear), but we could have tried - and we didn't.
Frankly, and speaking for myself, I was too naïve, exhausted, and wanted so badly to believe it was real; that the fight was finally over; that all the divisiveness of the past could be put behind us; and that we could work together with an exceptionally qualified leader at the helm, towards a better future for the province and my constituents.
It has been almost 2 years since that fateful day in December of 2014, when we crossed the floor to join Premier Prentice and his caucus. I cannot begin to tell you how difficult much of this period has been for my colleagues, our families, and for me personally. I wish you could appreciate the endless sleepless nights, the tears shed, the confusion, the guilt, the fear and the feelings of utter helplessness that these MLAs and our families endured during that time. These are truly great men and women (and their beautiful families) who didn’t deserve what they had to endure. For the first several months, there were death threats, threats of physical violence and retribution, a constant barrage of vicious insults and a stream of social and mainstream media labelling us as traitors, power-mongers and every other name one can imagine.
Thankfully, for every insult thrown, there were many more in our communities there to provide a quiet kind word, a warm embrace, an invitation to an evening out or a firm handshake and “thank-you for your service.” Personally speaking, words cannot express how grateful Anita and I were and still are to these constituents and friends – including your very own Angela Pitt. We really don’t know how we would have made it through without them. And frankly, in many ways, I feel more a member and closer to my community today than I did as an MLA.
Over the last two years, I have seen and heard several of your MLAs, staff and party members attack the character and motives of these former MLAs (including myself) in the media and on television. I understand where it comes from – I really do. Perhaps some of it is deserved on my part. But I ask you sincerely to please stop. I am sorry; I made a mistake; I apologize. We, like many of you, only wanted to build a unified conservative movement that would get our province moving in the right direction again; but we certainly made a mistake in how we attempted to do so in the end.
We’re not bad people with traitorous motives or that lack in principle. Like you, we’re just regular Albertans who deeply love our province. We had some fantastic successes and certainly some epic failures, but we gave everything of ourselves and our families for many long years of dedicated service to our communities and our province.
My sincerest hope is that you, your staff and the members of your Party can find it in your hearts to forgive me and the others involved on both sides, and that one day we can all sit down together again as the friends we once were…and still should be.
All the very best to you and your families as you continue your great work.
Former MLA - Airdrie