Al­berta PCs, Wil­drose un­veil unity deal

The Province - - NEWS - DEAN BEN­NETT

ED­MON­TON — Al­berta’s two con­ser­va­tive par­ties are merg­ing to form the United Con­ser­va­tive Party.

Wil­drose Leader Brian Jean and Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Leader Ja­son Ken­ney an­nounced the de­tails of their unity deal Thurs­day.

The deal still has to be ap­proved by 75 per cent of Wil­drose mem­bers and just over 50 per cent of PC mem­bers. If it goes ahead, the new party will set up a lead­er­ship com­mit­tee with an eye to elect­ing a new leader by Oct. 28.

“The mem­bers will al­ways be in the driver’s seat,” Jean said. “If ap­proved by the mem­ber­ship, it would set us on a path to re­gain con­trol of our prov­ince for now and for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

Ken­ney said the pro­posed deal rep­re­sents the re­uni­fi­ca­tion of a fam­ily which has been di­vided for too long and en­sures the de­feat of the cur­rent NDP gov­ern­ment.

“Hope is on the hori­zon,” he said. “We are not seek­ing to im­pose an agree­ment but rather pro­pose a way for­ward.”

He spoke di­rectly to PC mem­bers, some of whom have left the party in re­cent weeks, say­ing that they fear it’s be­com­ing less pro­gres­sive and adopt­ing a more so­cially con­ser­va­tive po­si­tion.

Ken­ney him­self fu­elled those fears in late March when he said he favoured schools telling par­ents if their chil­dren joined a gay-straight al­liance. Crit­ics said telling par­ents could ef­fec­tively “out” a child be­fore he or she is ready and put them at risk of harm or os­tracism.

“If this agree­ment is rat­i­fied, it’s not the end of a proud legacy, but ... a fresh start and a new be­gin­ning,” Ken­ney said.

Premier Rachel Not­ley said her party is fo­cused on steer­ing the prov­ince through the cur­rent down­turn rather than mak­ing huge cuts to gov­ern­ment pro­grams, in­clud­ing health care and education, “to fund tax breaks for the top one per cent.”

“That is not a path to re­cov­ery,” she said.

“I’m happy to have that de­bate with one right-wing party or 10 right-wing par­ties. It doesn’t re­ally mat­ter. I’m con­fi­dent that our choice to stand with Al­ber­tans is the right one.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Wil­drose and PCs had been meet­ing for the last two months to ham­mer out an agree­ment.

Ken­ney won the PC party lead­er­ship in March on a plat­form to merge, and both Ken­ney and Jean have said they’ll run for the lead­er­ship of a con­sol­i­dated party.

If the deal is passed, the new party will move quickly to es­tab­lish an ex­ec­u­tive and con­stituency boards in time for the next elec­tion.

By law, that elec­tion must be held some­time in the spring of 2019. Premier Rachel Not­ley has the op­tion to call a vote ear­lier if she be­lieves cir­cum­stances war­rant, but has stressed she plans to fol­low the law.

Any merger could end more than a decade of drama and ac­ri­mony.

The Wil­drose emerged about a decade ago, founded by con­ser­va­tives who felt alien­ated from then-premier Ed Stel­mach’s PC gov­ern­ment.

The for­tunes of both par­ties have since waxed and waned, usu­ally at the other’s ex­pense.

PC mem­bers Rob An­der­son and Heather Forsyth bolted to the Wil­drose benches un­der Stel­mach in early 2010, has­ten­ing his demise as PC leader a year later. In late 2014, Wil­drose leader Danielle Smith led a floor-cross­ing of most of her cau­cus — in­clud­ing An­der­son — to the gov­ern­ment benches when Jim Pren­tice was PC premier.

The move back­fired. The Wil­drose ral­lied un­der Jean to win 21 seats in the 2015 elec­tion and re­tain its sta­tus as of­fi­cial Op­po­si­tion.

The PCs fin­ished third with 10 seats. None of the Wil­drose floor­crossers made it back to the house.

Pren­tice quit pol­i­tics and the elec­tion loss led the party to a reap­praisal of its mis­sion and ul­ti­mately to the March elec­tion of Ken­ney.

— POST­MEDIA NEWS

Wil­drose Leader Brian Jean, left, and Al­berta PC Leader Ja­son Ken­ney an­nounce that they have reached a deal to merge the par­ties and cre­ate the United Con­ser­va­tive Party, dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in Ed­mon­ton on Thurs­day.

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