Brian Jean took over Alberta's shattered Wildrose Party a little over a month ago. Now, a week after the province's snap election that shoved Jim Prentice and his Progressive Conservatives out of office, Mr. Jean leads a party stronger than ever. He and 20 other Wildrose candidates are ready to be sworn in as Alberta's Official Opposition to a majority government led by Rachel Notley's New Democratic Party.
Do you feel like you won or lost this election?
Oh, definitely won. We came from a position where everybody said we were going to be devastated and gone. We had three incumbents and we got 21 seats – 18 new MLAs. If you look at the map, you'll see Wildrose green right across the province – whether it be north or central or south – we're everywhere. And that's a very good launching pad for the next election. You know, I've been leader now for 41 or 42 days – if that's not a record for accomplishments, I don't know what is. So did we win? Of course we won. We won a good majority of the rural of seats and we won the confidence of Albertans. We are the Official Opposition, which is there to keep the NDP and the government in check. So yes, a big win.
A minority government would have been good. I would prefer the Wildrose being in government and the NDP being in opposition because I think we could have sat down and worked a lot of bills out. Certainly I'm much more pleased to be in second place than I would be if I were in third or fourth. This is an opportunity. We're training 21 MLAs to be 21 ministers.
Is there room to unite the Wildrose and PCs?
The best way to unite the parties is to buy a membership in the Wildrose. It is only $10. They can unite under the Wildrose banner, which is obviously the choice of Albertans to be the Official Opposition. And I think the stronger our Official Opposition is, the better. And the best opportunity the PCs have to unite with us is to buy a membership and to see how we will keep our word and focus on low taxes and balanced budgets, and those things that Albertans find near and dear to them, such as health care and education. I am always open to any PC MLA [and party member] buying a Wildrose membership. And of course, when they have a Wildrose membership, they can give us ideas on where they think we should go with their priorities.
You've said you want to work with the premier-designate Rachel Notley, but the main planks in your respective platforms – what to do about taxes – are directly opposed. So, how is this going to work?
We're not going to vote to raise taxes, so that would be a position where we would not be able to support her government. But there are some things we can work together on. We know there are some problems on the inner workings of government – transparency and accountability is something we want to work on. I don't think we should be permitting governments to shred paperwork when they leave. I think that's one place where we can work together. I think we can work on making sure that we take [donation] money out of elections, so people can't buy elections – for instance, [changing the rules on donations from] corporations and unions. It is going to be interesting to see what happens with union donations because we know, for instance, that even though we asked before the election was actually over to see who had donated to the NDP, they did not come forward with a clear list as we did of who had donated. So we believe that it will be interesting to see whether they will ban corporate donations and union donations. But we can work with them on that.
And of course health care and education are two of our other priorities. So those types of things we can work with her on.
You prefer a minority government. Would you prefer the PCs or the NDP to stand across the floor from you?
That's not my decision. That is the people of Alberta's decision. And I respect the decision they made. I think at this stage it is pretty obvious the PCs are gone. The PC party has had 40 years of power in Alberta and I think Albertans clearly don't want them any more in the legislature. And I think they are on the last throes of a party that is extinct. But we'll have to wait and see, and that is going to be up to the voters and we'll decide to support whatever our base tells us to.
Your 24-year-old son passed away shortly before the writ dropped. How did you deal with that throughout the campaign?
It was the worst thing that ever happened to me times 100. I'm not through it yet. It is the worst thing in a person's life.
This interview has been edited and condensed.