An Alberta Progressive Conservative MLA crossed the floor yesterday to become the first sitting member of the nascent Alberta Alliance, saying Premier Ralph Klein helped hand the federal election to the Liberals with his controversial comments on health reform.
Gary Masyk, an Edmonton Tory whose riding will disappear under new electoral boundaries, said Mr. Klein "put some jitters" in Conservative supporters by warning that the province would unleash reforms two days after the election that could violate the Canada Health Act. The government later postponed its plans, saying it needed to consult with Albertans.
"I felt that the Progressive Conservatives of Alberta didn't do Alberta any favours and I had to prove that I couldn't just talk the talk, I had to walk the walk, so I went from a governing party to basically a . . . root-level party," he said.
Federal Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLennan, who won her Edmonton constituency by more than 700 votes, said Mr. Klein's remarks "very possibly" helped her.
As well yesterday, provincial Finance Minister Pat Nelson said Mr. Klein is leaning toward sending Albertans to the polls some time in the fall. The Premier has previously said he was considering calling an election either this fall or next spring.
"It's looking like he's favouring the fall, some time," Mrs. Nelson said, adding only "the boss" knows for certain what the date will be.
Marisa Etmanski, a spokeswoman for Mr. Klein, sought to play down the remarks: "It's an option that he may or may not choose."
In a statement, Mr. Klein said his MLAs are "of course sorry" to lose Mr. Masyk as a member of their caucus, which now has 73 MLAs in an 83-member legislature.
"The decision is obviously Gary's and voters will judge his decision for themselves if he runs in the next election as a candidate for another party," he said. ". . . Our party tried to find options for him to run as a member of our team in the next election."
The Alberta Alliance Party -- which says it is in talks with other Tory MLAs -- had its founding assembly in February of 2003 and is based on a platform that resembles that of the former Canadian Alliance. Its leader, Randy Thorsteinson, is the former leader of the Social Credit Party.
"Gary's making history today. It's the first time we're aware that a member of a sitting government has gone to a brand-new party. . . . This is the start of something new in Alberta," Mr. Thorsteinson said.
Also yesterday, the government, which released its annual report, said buoyant energy prices resulted in an extra $510-million windfall in the 2003-04 fiscal year, with the extra money channelled into the province's sustainability fund.
Of that amount, $500-million is to be spent on health-related capital projects. Details of the new spending are to be unveiled today by Health Minister Gary Mar as part of a wider announcement.
With a report from Patrick Brethour