Skip to main content
gary mason

As acts of political betrayal go, Sandra Jansen's decision to leave the Alberta Progressive Conservatives to join the governing New Democrats falls far short of being shocking – at least by recent historical measures.

The gold standard for floor-crossings, of course, is Danielle Smith's decision in December of 2014 to leave her post as leader of the Wildrose Party, taking eight of her colleagues with her, to join forces with the ruling Tories.

It shook the foundation of Alberta politics completely, opening the door to Rachel Notley's ground-breaking victory a few months later.

Gary Mason: Not so progressive: Trump-style politics seep into Alberta

Read more: Alberta Tory MLA Sandra Jansen defects to NDP, citing sexism and personal attacks

That said, an MLA's decision to leave her party to join another is always controversial. And there is always the sense, too, that the person has not only deceived the party she is leaving, but the voters who elected her in the first place.

And on that front I'm not sure the constituents of Calgary-North West will treat Ms. Jansen kindly should she decide to run again.

There is always a sense among voters, in this situation, to feel that they have been duped. Members of the public never like being taken for fools. When David Emerson was elected as a Liberal in the riding of Vancouver Kingsway in the 2006 federal election and then shortly thereafter joined the Conservatives to sit in Stephen Harper's cabinet, his constituents were livid. The move sparked protests, and calls for a by-election.

I doubt Ms. Jansen's move will ignite similar outrage.

The cynical view of her decision goes something like this: When it dawned on her she was never going to win the Progressive Conservative leadership race, which she entered and then later withdrew from, she decided to take her ball and go play for another team. There are many people who will never accept an alternative explanation. That's politics.

However, there is another view that at least deserves airing.

While it is far from a fait accompli, there is an emerging belief that Jason Kenney is going to emerge victorious in his leadership bid, running on a platform to unite the right under a new name. While she doubtlessly hopes Mr. Kenney does not prevail, because she can't stand his politics, Ms. Jansen also likely holds the view his triumph is unavoidable; ergo, she is leaving a party that won't exist much longer anyway.

It is also difficult to see where someone such as Ms. Jansen would fit into a party led by Mr. Kenney. She is a classic Red Tory if there ever was one. She likely has more in common with Ms. Notley's New Democrats than she would a conservative party led by Mr. Kenney.

Ms. Jansen also recently confessed to being rattled by what she described as some extreme online bullying and harassment, as well by some in-your-face verbal tirades at a recent party policy conference over her position on women's reproductive rights. When she publicly explained how this behaviour had truly shaken her, few in her party called to offer support. Ms. Jansen surely took it as a sign that maybe it was time to move on.

Personally, I can see why she no longer felt the Tories were a home for her.

Ultimately, however, the question becomes: If she felt she could no longer sit as a Tory, should she have left her caucus to join a party for whom the majority of her constituents did not vote? Or should she, instead, have gone to sit as an Independent, defusing any rage a move to the New Democrats might generate?

And rage there is.

Shortly after Ms. Jansen announced her decision, someone named Mark Toner wrote on Twitter: "As one of your constituents I am ashamed of you!! How dare you backstab us like this!! Go to hell!!"

He later deleted the remark.

Regardless how you regard Ms. Jansen's move, what is indisputable is that Alberta is once again experiencing extreme political turbulence. For conservatives, there is a lot at stake, a point that has been driven home by the emergence of Stephen Harper as a vocal advocate of Mr. Kenney.

The former prime minister's interventions on Mr. Kenney's behalf – joining the provincial Tories so he can vote for his former cabinet colleague, and addressing a group of young conservatives at a recent policy conference – have caught many by surprise. If anything, his presence has helped give the Kenney campaign an even greater sense of inevitability.

The New Democrats know the next election fight will look a lot different than the last one. Sandra Jansen knows it, too.