Al­berta’s right united again

PCs and Wil­drose ap­prove merger of two par­ties

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA -

Al­berta’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape pro­foundly shifted Satur­day as its two main con­ser­va­tive par­ties — en­e­mies for a decade — over­whelm­ingly agreed to end their feud and work as one to de­feat Pre­mier Rachel Not­ley’s NDP.

In separate votes, mem­bers of the Wil­drose party and the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives voted in a land­slide to merge into the new United Con­ser­va­tive Party.

Wil­drose sup­port­ers voted 95.4 per cent in re­sults an­nounced at a ho­tel in Red Deer late Satur­day af­ter­noon.

About two hours later, Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Leader Ja­son Ken­ney an­nounced at Cal­gary’s Stam­pede Grounds that 95 per cent of his mem­bers rat­i­fied the pro­posed deal, which had been bro­kered by both par­ties in May.

“What a day for Al­ber­tans! What a day for con­ser­va­tives and what a day for Wil­drose mem­bers!’’ Wil­drose Leader Brian Jean told more than 300 sup­port­ers.

“(It’s) a new be­gin­ning, where we’re one step closer to putting power back in the hands of the or­di­nary work­ing peo­ple of Al­berta.’’

Ken­ney told his sup­port­ers that hope was on the hori­zon.

“We are re­new­ing the Al­berta ad­van­tage with this demo­cratic de­ci­sion made to­day. Tens of thou­sands of Al­ber­tans have de­cided to put the fu­ture ahead of the past (and) to fo­cus on what unites us rather than what di­vides us,’’ he said.

The votes fire the start­ing pis­tol on what is ex­pected to be a bruis­ing lead­er­ship race, cul­mi­nat­ing in a de­ci­sion on Oct. 28.

Ken­ney and Jean have al­ready an­nounced they will run, as has long­time PC strate­gist Doug Sch­weitzer.

Wil­drose fi­nance critic Derek Filde­brandt is also con­sid­er­ing a run but said he’ll wait un­til the rules of the race are set be­fore an­nounc­ing his plans.

He also fore­shad­owed the ran­cour to come, say­ing no mat­ter what hap­pens, he won’t sup­port his for­mer boss, Jean.

“I’m not go­ing to get into it right now,’’ Filde­brandt told re­porters.

“To­day is a day about uni­fi­ca­tion.

“We’ll have plenty of time to beat the crap out of each other in the com­ing weeks and months.’’

A found­ing con­ven­tion will be held and the plan is to have con­stituency as­so­ci­a­tions and can­di­dates ready for the next elec­tion in spring 2019. The two cau­cuses — eight in the PCs and 22 in the Wil­drose — will meet Mon­day in Ed­mon­ton to pick an in­terim leader.

The votes ful­fil a plan launched a year ago by Ken­ney in his ul­ti­mately suc­cess­ful bid to be­come leader of the PCs on a plat­form of merg­ing with the Wil­drose.

It was an his­toric coda for the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives, a party that swept to power in 1971 un­der Peter Lougheed and gov­erned Al­berta for more than four decades be­fore be­ing swept aside by Not­ley’s NDP in 2015.

The Wil­drose move­ment took root over a decade ago, com­posed in part by dis­af­fected Tories who felt the PCs had aban­doned their com­mit­ment to fis­cal con­ser­vatism and grass­roots con­sul­ta­tion.

It was a bit­ter feud, with mem­bers even threat­en­ing to come to blows in the leg­is­la­ture cham­ber. PC leg­is­la­ture mem­bers at times bolted to the Wil­drose benches and the Wil­drose party al­most closed up shop in late 2014 when then-leader Danielle Smith and most of her cau­cus crossed to the PCs.

Ken­ney says vote split­ting lever­aged Not­ley’s NDP to ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment in the 2015 elec­tion and only a united con­ser­va­tive party can pre­vent a re­peat.

Ken­ney and Jean both say NDP poli­cies — in­clud­ing a car­bon tax and heavy debt spend­ing for op­er­a­tions and in­fra­struc­ture — are ex­ac­er­bat­ing a trou­bled econ­omy buf­feted by low oil and are threat­en­ing to swamp fu­ture Al­ber­tans in un­sus­tain­able red ink.

As far as the NDP is con­cerned, the new UCP is a black wed­ding.

“This week­end was re­ally about the par­ties be­ing ready to em­brace the worst in each other,’’ Deputy Pre­mier Sarah Hoff­man said in an in­ter­view from Ed­mon­ton.

Hoff­man said the Wil­drose are sign­ing on to a PC party fa­mous for its self-serv­ing en­ti­tle­ments and the PCs are link­ing up with a Wil­drose team de­ter­mined to make life worse for Al­ber­tans by promis­ing bud­get cuts es­ti­mated to run into the bil­lions of dol­lars.

The Wil­drose had a high hur­dle to clear for the merger: 75 per cent had to say yes.

More than 42,617 Wil­drosers took out mem­ber­ships to vote. Of that fig­ure 24,598 cast bal­lots, for a turnout of 57.7 per cent. Of the vot­ers, 23,466 voted yes and 1,132 voted no to de­liver the 95.4 per­cent­age.

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