The plan to unite the right and merge Alberta’s Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties is happening.
Wildrose leader Brian Jean and Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney unveiled plans Thursday afternoon to unify the political parties into the United Conservative Party.
In a joint media conference, Jean and Kenney announced a tentative agreement has been reached but must be ratified by members of both political parties. If the agreement is approved by a majority of members, the new party will immediately set out to elect a new leader by Oct. 28
“The foundations of this agreement stay true to the promise I made to the Wildrose grassroots members – to pursue unity in a way that maintains our principles, and our grassroots way of doing things,” Jean said. It’s been the mission of our party to inspire Albertans and restore common sense conservative ideas to government.”
Kenney said the move puts Alberta ahead of their respective parties in order to get the province “back on track.”
“With this agreement, we end a decade of division by uniting common sense Albertans. This ensures the defeat of this disastrous NDP government, and the election of a free-enterprise government that will renew the Alberta Advantage. To the many Albertans who are struggling today, this agreement sends a clear message: that help is on the way.”
Kenney and Jean have both previously said they will run for the leadership.
The Wildrose has previously said it will need 75 per cent or more of its members to approve the deal while the Progressive Conservatives say they will require a simple majority of 50 per cent plus one.
A group of representatives from both parties has been meeting for the last two months to hammer out a deal.
Premier Rachel Notley reacted to the news Thursday morning, saying the two conservative parties do agree on one thing.
“They agree on making massive cuts to government services and programs to education to health care to nurses to teachers in order to fund tax breaks to the top one per cent,” Notley said at a news conference.
“That is not a path to recovery. And I’m happy to have that debate with one right-wing party or 10 right-wing parties, it doesn’t really matter. I’m confidence that our choice to stand with Albertans is the right one.”
Notley said her government went in to the 2015 provincial election understanding that the Alberta economy was about to go into a significant recession.
“We made a choice to invest in Albertans and to have their backs. That is a very different choice than either of the other two parties wanted to make or would make.”
“They’re a group that are moving increasingly to more and more extreme positions to the point that they may fall right off the map and I guess if they do, they’ll have company,” Notley said.
Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark called the move a “hostile takeover” rather than a merger.
“The stream of PC supporters who have been leaving will quickly become a flood as they come to understand it is no longer the party of Peter Lougheed, but a return to what Peter Lougheed fought against,” Clark said in a statement.
“Albertans reject polarized politics. Albertans know it is possible to look out for our neighbours and balance a budget. We know it’s possible to have efficient, effective public services and balance a budget. We know it’s possible to unapologetically defend minority rights and balance a budget,” Clark added.
Jean recently said he was optimistic about the unity talks but the direction of the party will be decided by the grassroots at the end of the day. Smith addressed that.
“Another [stumbling block] was around the respect for grassroots members. Whether or not they would be, for instance, perusing more of a delegate-style convention to choose a leader — which is how Jason Kenney was chosen — or more of a one member, one-vote style, which is how Brian Jean was voted in.”
There is a sense of urgency for conservatives looking to unite the right as Notley must drop the writ for the next election in the spring of 2019.
“I know that they are all quite keen to try to get that [leadership] race wrapped up before the end of this year, because let’s face it, the NDP could call an election early if they chose to,” Smith said.
— With files from Melissa Ramsay, Global News, and The Canadian Press