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Jason Kenney to focus on uniting PC and Wildrose Party members

Jason Kenney, centre, reacts to his leadership win at the Alberta PC Party leadership convention in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, March 18, 2017.


The new leader of Alberta's Progressive Conservatives will not push any members of his party to resign from the provincial legislature so he can run in a by-election.

Jason Kenney, speaking to reporters Sunday after securing the leadership of the party the night before, said he will instead focus on convincing PC members and Wildrose Party supporters to join together as one.

"I have no intentions of seeking a seat in the legislature in the immediate future," Mr. Kenney said in Calgary. "I don't want to displace any of our current members. I've got a lot of work to do outside the legislature."

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Gary Mason: Is Kenney's win the beginning of the end of the Alberta PCs?

Mr. Kenney's leadership campaign focused on uniting Alberta's right-leaning voters. He garnered support from roughly 75 per cent of the convention's delegates but his decisive victory has rattled many in the party. Troy Wason, the executive director of the PC Association of Alberta, resigned Sunday morning, Mr. Kenney noted.

However, Katherine O'Neill, a failed PC candidate in the last election, will stay on as party president. Ric McIver, who served as interim leader, will continue to lead the PC caucus in the legislature, Mr. Kenney said. The new leader said that while he will not be in the legislature, he hopes to be consulted on major policy decisions.

Brian Jean, the leader of the Wildrose Party, and Mr. Kenney are meeting Monday in Edmonton. Mr. Jean is open to reuniting Alberta's conservatives and has said he will challenge Mr. Kenney for the leadership of a united front. But first, the broader PC membership, along with Wildrose supporters, must vote in favour of gluing themselves together. The pair, however, have competing timelines. Legal manoeuvring will also pose challenges. Under Alberta rules, for example, parties cannot simply vote to merge their organizations and bank accounts. Instead, they must surrender their assets.

Mr. Kenney wants to immediately appoint negotiators to discuss merger plans with the Wildrose. The process, he acknowledges, will be difficult and time-consuming. In the meantime, he urged PC and Wildrose MLAs to work together in the legislature.

Ms. O'Neill said Sunday's closed-door board meeting was positive, with folks rallying behind Mr. Kenney. "You can tell around the table today that people want to work with our leader," she said. "There are a lot of unanswered questions still, but people want to be at that table helping move us to next steps."

Mr. Kenney did not display any PC paraphernalia at his press conference. Instead, one of his leadership campaign signs decorated the podium. The new leader said he will stick with the party should unification negotiations fail. He has not fully fleshed out a policy platform beyond unification, but should he defeat the New Democratic Party in the 2019 election, he intends to eliminate Alberta's carbon taxes and reduce other taxes. The leader, however, favours the NDP's ban on corporate and union political donations.

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"One of the reasons the PC Party lost the public's confidence is because it developed a reputation for being arrogant, for a leadership that told people what to think rather than listening to them," Mr. Kenney said. "It would be both arrogant and irresponsible for a leader at this stage to dictate a detailed policy agenda to a united party that does not yet exist – before the grassroots members can be consulted."

Mr. Kenney has proposed a big tent-style party in order to defeat the NDP. This strategy has both the most socially progressive PC members and most right-leaning Wildrose representatives nervous. Mr. Kenney defeated PC MLA Richard Starke and a third leadership hopeful, Byron Nelson, who in their final speeches over the weekend railed against Mr. Kenney's unification strategy. However, when the results of the race were announced, Mr. Nelson took the mic to nominate Mr. Kenney for the leadership and Mr. Starke served as the seconder.

The former federal politician kicked off his leadership campaign last summer, before the race officially started, and outorganized his competitors right down to the final details at the convention. Mr. Kenney, for example, arranged a press conference to coincide with his arrival at the convention, with volunteers holding supportive signs in the background. His competitors did not make similar politically polished efforts.

Scores of PC members, including former cabinet ministers, were displeased with the direction of the race. For example, Sandra Jansen, one of the most left-leaning PC members, dropped out last year and crossed the floor to join the NDP government. But Mr. Kenney is reaching out to progressive voices. Donna Kennedy-Glans, a centrist, also quit the race, but joined Mr. Kenney's transition team this weekend.

"I am a pluralist. And a bridge builder. I do not apologize for accepting a seat at the table to make sure that voice is heard," Ms. Kennedy-Glans wrote on Twitter following the appointment.

With files from Canadian Press

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