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Premier Jim Prentice and former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith descend the staircase at the Government House after a day long meeting in Edmonton, Alberta on Wednesday, December 17, 2014. Smith and eight other opposition MLA's crossed the floor to join the Progressive Conservatives. Amber Bracken for the Globe and Mail

AMBER BRACKEN/The Globe and Mail

There are those who think that Jim Prentice, the Premier of Alberta, should go to Donald Ethell, the Lieutenant-Governor, and ask for a dissolution of the Legislature, because Danielle Smith and eight other former Wildrose MLAs have crossed the floor and joined the Progressive Conservatives.

In fact, Mr. Prentice is not making a U-turn – illegal or otherwise – in accepting Ms. Smith and her colleagues. Their common statement of "shared principles" does not reveal any radical divergence from the Conservatives' policies that would warrant the seeking of a new mandate and a new legislature.

But there is some comfort for Alberta Conservatives who do not welcome the refugees from the crumbling Wildrose Party.

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There has to be a provincial election no later than the end of May, 2016 . And every Progressive Conservative riding association – all 87 of them – has to hold a nomination meeting sometime this year. This applies to both Mr. Prentice and Ms. Smith.

Ms. Smith is now the Conservative MLA for Highwood, in southern Alberta, a region where Wildrose has been strong, as is evangelical Protestantism. But it is also close to the relatively small-l liberal city of Calgary. According to the riding association president in Highwood, Suzanne Oel, a number of people are thinking of running against Ms. Smith for the nomination, tentatively scheduled for March. It's possible that quite a few members of the riding association will not be eager to welcome their former opponent as their candidate – though there could also be solid grounds for taking advantage of her incumbency.

Some of the other former Wildrose MLAs may well be in the same situation. Loosely speaking, the nomination contests (if in fact they are all contested) may add up to something like a set of U.S.-style primary elections – or a plebiscite on the floor crossings.

Those who think that Mr. Prentice ought to go back to the polls to get a whole new mandate should be comforted by the prospect of some strenuous nomination contests.

Many understandably may look upon Ms. Smith's and her colleagues' switch as opportunistic. But she seems to have realized that she had little in common with Wildrose MLAs who pronounced that gays would burn eternally in hellfire – a difference more vivid than a simple distinction between economic and social conservatives. We can well believe her when she said, "I didn't want to take down this premier."

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