Hal Walker, key Tory organizer, bolts to become president of Wildrose Alliance

CALGARY - One of the linchpin backroom organizers of Alberta's governing Progressive Conservatives jumped ship Thursday to head up its bitter right-wing rival.

CALGARY - One of the linchpin backroom organizers of Alberta's governing Progressive Conservatives jumped ship Thursday to head up its bitter right-wing rival.

Hal Walker, who is also a close friend of former Tory premier Ralph Klein, announced he was leaving the party he had served for more than three decades to become interim president of the Wildrose Alliance.

He said the failed policies and leadership of Premier Ed Stelmach are the reasons.

Walker said he's disillusioned with the flip-flop on oil royalty policy, mismanagement of the health-care system and a budget this year that went heavy on infrastructure spending while racking up a record $4.7-billion deficit.

He also said there's frustration that Stelmach and his inner circle of advisers and ministers are running the government by fiat.

"The way things are being done is certainly a disappointment to me. I have heard that concern from people outside the party but also people within the caucus and cabinet. They have taken me aside and said, 'We don't have any say on anything that happens here."

He said he's known Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, and party legislature members Rob Anderson, Paul Hinman and Heather Forsyth, for a long time.

"It was us talking with each other and me seeing that they were really representing 'small C conservatism.' It made a lot more sense for me to be aligned with that party."

Walker's unhappiness with Stelmach was clear even before the defection.

Last fall, Walker, the former head of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, dispatched a caustic email to 200 business leaders and Tory decision makers lamenting changes Stelmach's direction and changes to the royalty structure that drove investment dollars out of the province.

"Would you people please wake up!" he said in the note.

Stelmach's office responded by inviting Walker to a meeting in Calgary; however, the premier did not attend.

Smith, also a disaffected Tory, says Walker will be interim president until the annual general meeting in June, "at which time I hope he will be elected to a full term."

"Like me, he had hoped that the Progressive Conservative party could be changed from within," said Smith.

"And like me, he came to the same conclusion just a little bit later that the party can't be changed from within and it's time to build a new conservative alternative so we can take our province forward."

Smith and Walker said the priority is to raise funds and begin this fall to elect riding candidates for an election Stelmach says is coming in 2012.

The defection is another blow to Stelmach, who has already seen two Calgary area caucus members - Anderson and Forsyth - and other key party people bolt for the Wildrose Alliance.

Anderson has said he left because of misguided policies, too much power concentrated in Stelmach's inner circle and that anyone who challenged decisions was intimidated into silence.

The Alliance has just three members in the 83-seat legislature, compared with 68 for the Tories, but has been surging in recent polls at the Tories' expense and is viewed as its main rival heading into the next election.

Walker has resigned his post on the board of Klein's old riding in Calgary-Elbow, which is now held by Justice Minister Alison Redford.

The Alliance said Jeff Callaway, the former president, will now serve as vice-president of fundraising.

 
 
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