Shawn Graham's majority just got a little bit more comfortable. Tory MLAs Joan MacAlpine-Stiles and Wally Stiles have crossed the floor.
I am blown away by this I must admit. The couple, both first elected in 1999, were married as MLAs in 2005. Joan served in Lord's cabinet from the beginning to the end including in a lot of high profile roles. She was minister of municipalities (99-00), business (00-01), family and community services (01-03, 05), tourism (03-06) and status of women (06). Wally was government whip for much of Lord's term - both before and after Tanker had the job - as well as caucus chair at one time. He also served as chair of the only important standing committee chaired by the government - crown corporations - and as chair of the special committee on auto insurance before the 2003 election. I've always had a lot of time for Wally Stiles and thought he was far more qualified to enter cabinet than the 2003 additions of Wayne Steeves, Brenda Fowlie and Tony Huntjens.
I am surprised though to see this because floor crossings are pretty rare in New Brunswick. Other than people going to sit as independents, I think the last floor crossing was when Peter Trites went from the NDP to the Liberals in 1987.
I am also surprised because Wally represents one of the safest Conservative seats in New Brunswick. It was one of 3 seats to go PC in 1991 and was the seat the then PC leader Dennis Cochrane chose because he thought he could win it even with the party in shambles. It went to the Liberals in 1995 but only due to a huge vote split with CoR, the result was Lib 2398, CoR 1673, PC 1650. Perhaps the two are planning retirement? Wally is very popular Petitcodiac, but he'll have to work a lot harder to win as a Liberal and he certainly won't get the 69%, 61% and 65% he got in 1999, 2003 and 2006 respectively.
The Liberals have gone from having 1 of 4 Moncton seats in February to 3 of 4 in April and from 2 of 7 Greater Moncton seats to 5 of 7. Very huge shift.
One must wonder if MacAlpine-Stiles is heading to cabinet soon due to the shortage of both women and Monctonians in the cabinet. I would imagine Chris Collins is a littel depressed this morning. She would be a natural fit for Local Government as she was a long time Moncton city councillor and held the job under Lord in the early months of his government. Thus she could join the cabinet without a need for a shuffle. Finance Minister Victor Boudreau doubles as Local Government Minister and could just shed this portfolio for her.
I will be curious to see the reaction to a floor crossing however, a lot of folks are turned off by them, while I am of two minds.
I am also very curious to see how Stiles, who was one of the most vocal critics of Shawn Graham's leadership abilities before the last election, eats his crow.
UPDATE: FYI Spinks has a post up on this as well. The thrust of his arguement is a call for a by-election to allow the voters to "ratify" their decision to cross the floor.