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Two Alberta MLAs cross floor to join upstart Wildrose

CALGARY — Historic cracks have appeared in Alberta's Tory political dynasty.

For the first time in the party's 38 consecutive years in power, two Progressive Conservatives have willingly crossed the floor to another party – the upstart Wildrose Alliance.

The two are former cabinet minister Heather Forsyth from Calgary and backbencher Rob Anderson from Airdrie-Chestermere.

Both have been critical of Premier Ed Stelmach's leadership and say they look forward to working with Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith.

"Alberta once again needs to have a stable economy, strong fiscal policies and attract capital to work here," Forsyth said Monday.

"And once again the Alberta Advantage needs to be back on the agenda, and after meeting with Danielle Smith and other members of the Wildrose Alliance, I am confident that we can work together to build the province Albertans deserve."

The right-of-centre party has only one seat in the legislature but has been leading the government and all other political parties in recent opinion polls.

The premier was on vacation and was not available for comment.

Tom Olsen, a spokesman for Stelmach, downplayed the defections, which give the Wildrose three seats in the legislature. He noted that the government still has 68 members in the 83-seat assembly.

"Alberta, like the rest of the world, is facing a recession and we have actually dealt with the recession better than most jurisdictions because the premier had the foresight to establish a fund of $17 billion to see us through this kind of situation," Olsen said.

"It is difficult economic times and tough decisions have to be made, and teams stay together behind their leader and that is what 68 members of the Stelmach government are doing."

The Liberals have nine seats in the legislature and the New Democrats two. Former Tory Guy Boutilier, who represents the oilsands region of Fort McMurray, left the government to sit as an Independent last year after he was dropped from cabinet.

Stelmach's popularity has been waning in the face of an economic downturn that has put Alberta's once booming energy-fuelled economy on the skids.

His policies of running a massive deficit to help keep people employed and saving money on needed infrastructure projects have been blasted by fiscal hawks who have been urging the government to make deep spending cuts.

Stelmach weathered a party leadership review in November with 77 per cent support, but the grumbling among some members of his party continues.

Forsyth has been at odds with the premier since he dumped her from cabinet after the last provincial election. She had been critical of his leadership during the campaign.

Anderson is a first-term backbencher from the Calgary area.

Smith welcomed the two former Tories to her party.

"Since we are not the party in government, we cannot offer them a cabinet post or the trappings of power," she said.

"Instead, they would be making a decision to cross the floor and join with our members based on principles and a recognition that the Stelmach Tories no longer represent the interest of Albertans."

Bill Graveland reports for The Canadian Press.

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