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RED DEER, Alta. /Troy Media/ – Brian Jean and Jason Kenney both want to play right wing. They both want to be team captain. Neither wants to play with the centre or – particularly – the left wing.
Welcome to conservative politics in Alberta, two years and change before the playoffs – the next provincial election.
Kenney, after last weekend’s leadership convention, is the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.
He has insisted from the moment he launched his leadership bid that he intended to unite what’s left of the PCs with the Wildrose.
But surely Kenney didn’t enter this hard-fought, often bitter contest to win the leadership of the Conservatives just to surrender that crown to someone else.
And surely he didn’t walk away from a seat in Parliament, and a long and fruitful career in the national spotlight, to take a backseat to Jean.
Jean, the leader of the Wildrose Party, Alberta’s official Opposition, is willing to talk merger with Kenney.
But he’s sounding plenty of cautionary notes – including on the issue of ultimate leadership.
I’m not going to get into the details of how this merger will work, he said on Monday.
But he insisted that the creation of a new conservative party would require the approval of Wildrose members.
And Jean said he intends to be Alberta’s next premier – and that any new party would have to be constructed using the Wildrose’s legal framework.
And so the would-be right-wing leaders begin the slashing – at the opening faceoff.
Kenney told a press conference on Monday, after he and Jean sat down for 35 minutes, that a joint Wildrose-PC team will draft a proposal for unity over the next six weeks. After that, if Jean and Kenney accept the agreement, it will be vetted by the parties’ caucuses.
Brian and I agreed on every point, Kenney said. We discussed the initial steps in the process to take us to unity.
The ultimate test, of course, would come at election time. The voters, if faced with a united-on-the-right group of candidates, can determine if they are a better fit to direct Alberta’s future than Premier Rachel Notley’s New Democrats.
In the last provincial election, the NDP earned 40.57 per cent of the popular vote and 54 seats. The centrist Progressive Conservatives under the late Jim Prentice earned 27.8 per cent of the voice and 10 seats. The rightist Wildrose drew 24.2 per cent of the vote, mostly in rural Alberta, and won 21 seats.
On the political spectrum, there was a distinct difference between the PCs and the Wildrose, despite Prentice’s successful pre-election courting of several now-deposed Wildrose MLAs.
Kenney’s very ethos declares that the PCs, going forward, will not represent Prentice’s brand of progressive conservatism. Nor Peter Lougheed’s, Don Getty’s, Ed Stelmach’s, Alison Redford’s or even Ralph Klein’s.
Can he carry the PCs’ 27.8 per cent support with him to a more right-leaning coalition?
It seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened in Alberta politics – and recently.
The last provincial election, less than two years ago, brought the kind of generational change few Albertans could have imagined, let alone witness.
And the disaffected could still come out of the woodwork. Just slightly more than 54 per cent of eligible Albertans voted in 2015. The rest couldn’t be bothered, even as the province stumbled through deeply unsettling times.
So the potential remains for the right to rise, behind a leader yet to be determined.
But a word of caution for anyone who is pinning his or her hopes on a right-wing party that’s ready for the opening faceoff.
A group of Alberta lawyers, with allegiances to the PCs or Wildrose, believe the legal issues related to a merger can be solved in a manner that ensures the combined entity gets to enjoy the combined financial assets of the two parties.
Elections Alberta officials dispute this, but the lawyers say registering the two parties as corporate entities and then merging the entities into a single corporation will solve the problem.
And so even in its infant steps, a new right-wing Alberta party would be enmeshed in corporate culture.
Don’t you feel reassured? The lawyers have a solution – putting corporate Alberta in charge again.
John Stewart is editorial vice-president with Troy Media Digital Solutions Ltd. and editor-in-chief of Troy Media. John is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.
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