Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives on Saturday essentially voted to dismantle their party – an organization that dominated politics in the province for roughly 44 years.
PC members on Saturday nominated Jason Kenney to lead their party. Mr. Kenney, a former federal cabinet minister, campaigned explicitly on a mandate to dissolve the provincial PCs and unite it with its right-leaning cousins in the Wildrose Party. Mr. Kenney’s challengers wanted to keep the PC brand alive, arguing uniting with the Wildrose means abandoning their socially progressive principles.
Roughly 75 per cent of the convention’s 1,500 voting delegates supported Mr. Kenney in the first round of voting.
“Today we have chosen unity,” Mr. Kenney told supporters after he was declared the winner. “Today it is springtime in Alberta.”
Mr. Kenney entered the leadership race last summer, before the contest was even declare open. He wants to melt away the PC apparatus, convince Wildrose to join his team, and create a third party in an effort to take on the ruling New Democratic Party. The NDP took over in 2015, ending more than four decades of PC rule.
“Today is the beginning of the end of this disastrous socialist government,” Mr. Kenney said of the NDP. He described the government as “tax-hiking, job-killing, debt-loving, mean-spririted, [and] incompetent.”
The Official Opposition has indicated it is open to uniting, however Wildrose leader Brian Jean has proposed an accelerated merger timeline. Mr. Jean has already said he will run for the leadership of a united party should his members favour a merger.
Mr. Jean congratulated Mr. Kenney’s victory. “Wildrose has its dancing shoes on when it comes to creating a single, principled, consolidated, conservative movement,” Mr. Jean said in a statement Saturday. “Our Wildrose team has actively been meeting with our grassroots to get feedback on the direction forward for our party and that work will continue.
“I hope to meet with Jason on Monday and share with him more about the direction I have heard from our members.”
Mr. Kenney, who served as a federal cabinet minister under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper but does not have a seat in Alberta’s legislature, garnered 1,113 of 1,476 votes in the first round of voting in the in the delegated convention. Challengers Richard Starke, who is a PC Member of the Legislature, and Byron Nelson, who does not hold office, joined him on stage. Rona Ambrose, the interim leader of the federal Conservative Party of Canada, introduced Mr. Kenney to the Calgary crowd Saturday afternoon.
Mr. Kenney crystallized support by campaigning not against his opponents but by focusing on what it would take to remove the NDP. Rachel Notley’s left-leaning team took office in 2015 and has struggled as energy prices continue to dampen the province’s finances. Alberta is scheduled to run a $10.34-billion deficit in the upcoming fiscal year. The NDP does not expect to balance the budget before 2023-24. Further, the province’s debt is expected to hit debt $71.12-billion in fiscal 2019-20, roughly double what it is right now.
While voting delegates threw substantial weight behind Mr. Kenney, the nomination has already caused fissures within the party. Thomas Lukaszuk is a former provincial Tory cabinet minister who once represented Edmonton-Castle Downs. After Mr. Kenney secured the nomination, Mr. Lukaszuk tweeted photos of four cheques totally $27,000 his former riding association wrote to charities last week. Mr. Lukaszuk said he authorized the payments so Mr. Kenney would not get his hands on the party’s money.
The PCs’ board meets Sunday, according to Katherine O’Neill, the president of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta. She pledged to work with Mr. Kenney, who is 48.
“There’s a lot of hard work to do and I have committed from day one that I’ll work with the new leader,” she said after Mr. Kenney’s speech.
Ms. O’Neill argued Mr. Kenney’s election is not about blowing up the PC party. “It is talking about unity and bringing together like-minded conservatives. That’s our job.”
She and the board will meet with Mr. Kenney to “map out next steps.”
“Our membership has sent us a very clear message today that they want us to explore this,” she said.
Albertans are scheduled to return to the polls in 2019. Unifying the PC and Wildrose parties would require legal wrangling, convincing members skeptical of their current opponents to join hands, and erecting a brand new apparatus.
Mr. Starke, who came in a distant second in Saturday’s leadership race, said he will stand by Mr. Kenney. “I was asked from stage as were all other members to hold him to account and to provide him with the input that he’s asked for and I will be doing that,” Mr. Starke told reporters.
“We must have a society that is inclusive and welcoming to all, one that has socially progressive values as well as balancing those with fiscal conservatism, and that the Progressive Conservative Party that has had principles that have served Albertans and our party very well for a long time, that those principles be maintained.”Report Typo/Error