Al­berta Con­ser­va­tives emerge as UCP to fight NDP

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - DEAN BEN­NETT

ED­MON­TON — The for­mer pres­i­dent of Al­berta’s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives says some mem­bers feel adrift af­ter most voted to em­brace a new party, ef­fec­tively con­sign­ing one of Canada’s great po­lit­i­cal brands to the ash heap of his­tory.

Kather­ine O’Neill, said Sun­day she’s been hear­ing from many PC vol­un­teers and mem­bers who now feel “po­lit­i­cally homeless” in a party they feel is tack­ing too far right on so­cial is­sues.

“There’s a lot of griev­ing go­ing on to­day,” said O’Neill. “(These) peo­ple have lit­er­ally put their blood, sweat and tears into the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive party and I know a lot of these peo­ple and they’re heart­bro­ken. There are a lot of mem­o­ries, a lot of hard work. And now they’re not re­ally sure where they could go and best use their ef­forts.”

O’Neill headed up the PCs dur­ing the re­cent lead­er­ship race that saw for­mer fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive cab­i­net min­is­ter Ja­son Ken­ney elected on a plat­form to merge with the Wil­drose, the of­fi­cial Op­po­si­tion.

That plan came to fruition Satur­day night when mem­bers of both par­ties, in separate votes, chose over­whelm­ingly to join forces as the new United Con­ser­va­tive Party.

O’Neill is fis­cally con­ser­va­tive, but so­cially pro­gres­sive. She’s now head­ing up a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee called Al­berta To­gether that is look­ing to back a party with sim­i­lar val­ues. Many at the Al­berta To­gether meet­ings have been em­brac­ing the cen­trist Al­berta Party.

Dave Quest, a for­mer PC leg­is­la­ture mem­ber, said he was cut­ting up his PC party mem­ber­ship card af­ter three decades.

“I don’t be­lieve the UCP will be the party that I joined as a Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive,” he said.

Quest said that un­der for­mer PC pre­mier Ed Stel­mach the gov­ern­ment had to fast-track in­fra­struc­ture con­struc­tion that had been al­lowed to lag when the PCs, un­der Ralph Klein in the 1990s, fo­cused on debt re­duc­tion and bud­get cuts.

“Should (the UCP) form gov­ern­ment, it will be a 1990s fis­cally driven agenda and it won’t be what’s best for the prov­ince,” said Quest.

The Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives won power in 1971 and gov­erned Al­berta for al­most 44 years be­fore be­ing de­feated by Pre­mier Rachel Not­ley and her NDP in 2015. The Wil­drose lasted a decade.

Ken­ney has stressed vote split­ting by the Wil­drose and the PCs led to the NDP win and that only a coali­tion can pre­vent a re­peat in the 2019 elec­tion.

Other PCs, in­clud­ing most of the eight-per­son cau­cus, em­braced the Wil­drose merger, and the race for a leader for the new UCP has be­gun. That vote is Oct. 28.

JEFF MCIN­TOSH, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Ja­son Ken­ney said the merger had to be done to de­feat the NDP.

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