By tradition, the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party has warmly embraced its federal cousins. The cozy relationship is even enshrined in the provincial party’s constitution, which allows Tory MPs from Alberta, as well as 15 delegates from the federal party, automatic voting status on provincial party affairs.
But when about 1,000 provincial Tories meet in Calgary Friday and Saturday, they will vote to strip their Ottawa counterparts of that privilege further highlighting a growing division on the right in Alberta. The split became glaring during last spring’s provincial election when some Harper government supporters actively campaigned for Danielle Smith, and her upstart Wildrose Party, which is now the official opposition in Alberta.
Linda Johnson, a rookie Tory MLA from Calgary, is among those who support the formal constitutional amendment up for debate this weekend at the party’s annual general meeting. She argues that the PC Party in Alberta should be a “distinct entity” from the federal Conservatives. MPs shouldn’t continue to be invited to provincial AGMs or have voting privileges, according to Ms. Johnson, unless they have valid Alberta party memberships.
“During the last election we saw several federal cabinet ministers and their staffs actively support ‘other party’ candidates,” she wrote in support of the proposal, “This does not bode well for the future of Alberta.”
She doesn’t name the individuals, but it was no secret that federal Tories, including MPs Rob Anders, Brent Rathgeber and Brian Storseth, as well as backroom organizers Tom Flanagan, Jim Armour and Vitor Marciano, were firmly supporting – or actually working for – Wildrose.
Duane Bratt, a political scientist with Mount Royal University in Calgary, said the proposal reflects the battle that occurred during the provincial election, where the long-governing Tories were actually faced with a formidable challenger.
“The federal Conservatives are not considered full, trustworthy members of the Alberta PC party,” Prof. Bratt said, “If they were to show up [at provincial meetings], they would be moles for the other side. That’s a legitimate issue.”
Debate around the role of the federal Tories, he said, has the potential to “sideswipe” other issues up for discussion at the convention. Party faithful will also decide whether to dump the controversial preferential voting system for leadership races, and select a new party president.
Political scientist Chaldeans Mensah of Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, said the debate over federal inclusion in the party fold further shows the fracturing in conservative politics in Alberta, as traditional Tory supporters back Wildrose.
“If it passes,” Prof. Mensah said of the amendment, “It would be a good day for the Wildrose. It will then allow the Wildrose to really tap into that kind of support.”
The PC party’s constitutional review committee is also recommending members vote for change, but only because allowing it is no longer “common practice” between various levels of political associations.
Ms. Johnson denied that the motion was shot at the federal Tory government and described it as part of the natural evolution of parties in a “living document.”
“My office is in the same hallway as the Prime Minister’s here in Calgary,” Ms. Johnson said, “We attend each other’s events and we know each other.”
“It’s a question that’s being asked,” she added, “And let’s see what happens at the AGM, and how the entire membership of the province that reacts to it.”
However, media won’t be allowed to listen in on the internal party debate on the issue and others. The Tories have had open-door policies in the past, but this year, reporters have banned from the convention’s events with the exception of an introductory speech by Premier Alison Redford, and a pair of availabilities with the leader.
“We’ve decided that we want to make sure that all delegates can have a free and open and frank discussion,” Ms. Redford told reporters Thursday.
She said she hasn’t formed an opinion yet on the question of new leadership election rules or whether to cut federal Tories off from automatic access to the provincial machine.
With files from Josh Wingrove in Edmonton