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December 29, 2014

Despite widespread public opinion that people involved in politics are only in it for their own personal gain, most likely the exact opposite is true. Most candidates in provincial and federal elections stand for office with little likelihood of winning, let alone snagging a front row spot at the public trough. Those candidates are aided by scores of helpers and donors who have even less to gain – maybe some new friends or the feeling of contributing to a cause in which they believe.

Nevertheless, when one gets closer to the wheels of power, a transformation often occurs. One has put untold hours into the party, sacrificed much and still not seen tangible results for all that labour. "Tangible results" need not refer to money in one's pocket or other personal perks. It could simply mean the opportunity to implement the ideals which drew you into politics in the first place.

Such, it would appear from her own comments, was the situation in which Danielle Smith, former leader of Alberta's Wildrose Party, found herself as did her caucus colleagues. They had worked untiringly in building the party and in opposing government actions.

Things were looking good with significant prospects of winning the next provincial election. Then, the governing Tories elected a new and, for the moment, popular leader, and Wildrose suffered a stiff setback during four October byelections. It looked like all that work was going down the drain, that Wildrose would not win the next general election and would be condemned to more years in opposition, perhaps with no realistic hope of ever forming the government.

Meanwhile, it seemed like the Tories were coming around to Wildrose's way of viewing government. Why, the Wildrose MLAs likely asked themselves, fight those who are basically doing what you want them to do?

So, Smith and 10 of her colleagues caved in and joined the Tory caucus – two in early November, the rest in mid-December. A couple of them may get cabinet posts. At last, they would have real influence in government policy.

This scenario puts the best face on the mass exodus of Wildrose MLAs into the Tory caucus. But even in that scenario, their move stinks to high heaven.

Even ignoring Smith's duplicitous comments during the lengthy period when Wildrose was secretly negotiating a way onto the government side of the legislature, one cannot be happy with those elected by their constituents to serve in one party bolting to join the very party they said they would oppose.

Elected officials sometimes forget that most are elected, not on their personal merits, but on those of their party. Then, once elected, to put one's personal interests and desires above those of the party is simply very selfish.

The only honourable course for an elected official desiring to switch parties in mid-term is to resign his or her seat, seek the nomination of the new party in an open contest and then try to win re-election in a byelection. That this so rarely happens is one major reason that political life is held in increasing disrepute by the people whom politicians are elected to serve.