In one of the most extraordinary moments in modern political times in this country, delegates at an Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership convention voted Saturday for someone who wants to banish their party's storied name to the dustbin of history.
Jason Kenney, the former federal cabinet minister and Alberta MP, won just over 75 per cent of the vote for a first-ballot win running on a platform to end the PCs as they exist. His plan is to unite right-wing forces in the province – including those in the Opposition Wildrose party – under a new, fresh, free-enterprise political entity.
There is virtually no precedent for this in the country's history.
Until two years ago – two years ago – the Alberta Progressive Conservatives had ruled the province for nearly 44 years. Over that multidecade span, they had grown stale and arrogant. As well, along the way party members opted for leaders who severely damaged the Tory brand.
In 2015, voters gave them their comeuppance; handing governance of a province that had become synonymous with conservatism over to the left-wing New Democratic Party. It was a progressive revolution few saw coming.
On Saturday in Calgary, the counter-revolution began.
Whether Mr. Kenney realizes his utopian conservative dream remains to be seen; there is an incredible amount of work that needs to be done, cards that need to fall his way. The Tories now have to figure out how they go about engaging the party membership in a discussion about ending things as they have existed for nearly 50 years, about turning out the lights on the PCs for good. There will almost certainly have to be another vote. What will constitute a majority to wind up one of the most storied political franchises in the country's history remains to be seen. This will not be simple.
The Wildrose, meantime, have already said it will take a majority of 75 per cent of its members to proceed with any unity agenda. Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, meantime, said he is happy to compete for the leadership of such a unified force but it has to happen on Wildrose's terms, not that of the Progressive Conservatives.
As you might imagine, there is much snorting, and pawing in the dirt, among those in both camps. Matters are bound to get ugly as the two sides try to hammer out an accord with which both are comfortable.
There are many who can't imagine how such a task can be undertaken in time to fight the next election in the spring of 2019. In his victory speech, Mr. Kenney referenced the efforts to unite conservative forces federally back in 2003 to form the Conservative Party of Canada – a process he said took only 10 months.
Given the ease with which he took over the Alberta Progressive Conservatives, perhaps Mr. Kenney is not someone who should be underestimated.
All of it is certain to assure Alberta's politics remain the most fascinating in the country. As politically practical as the unite-the-right strategy may be, it is difficult to gloss over what happened in Calgary on Saturday.
Delegates at a convention of a party that ruled the province for more than four decades, and just recently lost an election for a host of reasons, voted in a new leader who wants to blow all that history to smithereens. Because of one loss, the plan now is to end the Tories as they have been known, in favour of something that is not even in its embryonic phase.
Hard to believe. But then, perhaps nothing about Alberta politics should surprise us these days.